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Chhattisgarh polls: 15 % voter turnout in initial hours

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Chhattisgarh polls: 15 per cent voter turnout in initial hours
Chhattisgarh polls: 15 per cent voter turnout in initial hours

Amid war-like security cover, the second phase of the assembly polls in Chhattisgarh across 19 districts, began on Tuesday.

Early voters queued up outside the polling stations across the remaining 72 constituencies to decide the fate of 843 candidates including nine ministers in the second and final phase.

Amid elaborate security arrangements the polling is taking place in 18010 polling booths. Electronic voting machine (EVM) developed technical snag at five places and halted the polling process at one polling centre in Raipur, two each at Kota and Balrampur.

The first phase of polls, in the 18 seats spanning Bastar and Rajnandgaon, on November 11 witnessed a 75% voter turnout, despite a Maoist boycott call. This has raised expectations that phase 2 will also see a high turnout.

In 2008, this areas had witnessed a turnout of 71%.

The vote is the second of the six phases between now and December 4, during which five states – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Delhi – go to polls, setting the tone and serving as a virtual semi-final for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The second phase has none of the hype that preceded the first phase, but it will seal the fate of 843 candidates, including nine cabinet ministers and the assembly speaker, and is not exactly inessential. In 2008 both the Congress and the BJP won 35 seats each out of the 72 seats.

In this part of the state – central and north Chhattisgarh – the Maoist presence is not so strong as compared to Bastar, but pockets of influence exist. However, authorities remain vigilant. “Maoist presence exists in Dhamtari, Gariyaband, parts of three districts of Mahasamund, Raigarh and Jashpur besides few pockets of Balrampur in north,” additional director general of police (anti-Maoists operation) RK Vij told HT.

Around 80,000 Election Commission officials and over 100,000 security personnel have been roped in to conduct the polls, and 3,000 surveillance cameras have been installed at the polling booths.

The main battle is between the ruling BJP, which has governed Chhattisgarh since 2003, and the Congress. The BJP could score a hat-trick or the Congress, which headed the first government after the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, could stage a comeback.

Political observers predict that given the state’s track record, the contest promises to be somewhat of a nail-biter. Unlike Bastar and Rajnandgaon, where Maoist insurgency was the overarching poll issue, for the 13.9 million eligible to cast their votes on Tuesday, the determining issues could range from corruption to law and order to development.

“In these 72 seats, the biggest fear for the ruling BJP is the anti-incumbency factor against the ministers and some of the party leaders who are in the fray,” said political analyst Shashank Sharma. And though chief minister Raman Singh seems to believe that the Narendra Modi factor will “be a bonus”, other party leaders admit that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate’s appeal among the locals is rather restricted.

Moreover, after the first phase of polling, a perception has taken root that the Congress may snatch some seats from the BJP. “The role of Bastar zone to act as deciding factor in forming the government has been much-hyped, so much so that it is feared that the emerging perception will influence voters, who by instinct want to be on the winning side,” said another political analyst Parivesh Mishra.

The Congress remains upbeat. “The BJP has failed on all fronts. We will snatch power from the BJP,” said senior leader Ajit Jogi.

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