Raipur, Apr 8 UNI | 4 months ago

Campaigning in southern Chhattisgarh's insurgency-affected Bastar (Scheduled Tribes) parliamentary constituency, which is to witness polling on Thursday in the first of three-phase elections in this tribal-dominated state, concluded today amid tight security bandobast.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's sitting MP Dinesh Kashyap is waging a grim battle against Congress nominee Deepak Karma -- son of slain 'Bastar Tiger' Mahendra Karma -- and the Aam Aadmi Party's Soni Sori in an eight-cornered contest.

The outcome would be decided by a 12,98,971-strong electorate -- including 6,65,290 women -- expected to exercise their franchise at 1,797 polling centres spread over six Naxalism-affected districts.

Authorities shifted about 240 booths from virtually-inaccessible and highly-sensitive areas to safer places while declaring 1,407 as critical in view of the Maoist boycott call.

"Though campaigning was by and large peaceful, 16 people -- including 15 security personnel -- were martyred in a rebel ambush near Tongpal in Sukma segment six days after the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the schedule," Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Kumar Kujur said.

Top police officers said that about 150 companies of central paramilitary forces were deployed across Bastar to help state police maintain law and order and ensure peaceful voting. For the Assembly polls conducted last year, the ECI provided 650 companies of central forces for Bastar.

Even as the Congress and BJP candidates were provided 'Z' category security owing to ultras' threat to their lives, electioneering was virtually confined to urban areas as no nominee ventured into the interior.

After sealing Bastar's borders with Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, authorities pressed half-a-dozen Indian Air Force helicopters into service for conveying 153 polling teams to and from highly-sensitive areas in view of the outlaw threat, lack of road connectivity and other factors.

In order to facilitate early evacuation of officials and electronic voting machines to the district headquarters after voting, the ECI decided to conduct polling between 0700 hrs and 1500 hrs in seven of the eight hypersensitive Assembly segments of the constituency. Only the urban segment Jagdalpur is scheduled to witness nine-hour voting till 1600 hrs.

Chief Minister Raman Singh left no stone unturned to woo tribal folk. Dr Singh -- camping in Bastar for the past two days -- addressed a rally each in Bijapur, Dantewada and Kondagaon before the campaign deadline passed.

Earlier, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate-cum-Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi kick-started their respective party's campaigns from Kondagaon with an appeal to tribal folk to exercise their franchise sans fear.

(Posted on 08-04-2014)