Ballot Beats Bullet in Maoist Hotbed of Bastar, Records 56% Voter Turnout
Shyamgiri, where BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel were killed when their convoy was ambushed by Naxalites two days before polling, recorded a whopping turnout of 77%.
Narayanpur: Polling parties return to Orchha after conducting first phase of elections, in Narayanpur, Chhattisgarh, Thursday, April 11, 2019. (PTI Photo)
Bastar: Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, often called ‘Ground Zero’ due to the prevalence of Maoist activities, on Thursday sent out a message expressing its faith in democracy after 56% voters turned out to vote in the parliamentary constituency in the first phase of polling. Shyamgiri, where BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel were killed when their convoy was ambushed by Naxalites on Wednesday, recorded a whopping turnout of 77%.
Voters of all age groups not only defied Maoist threats but also braved the scorching sun to queue up outside polling booths. The voting process got underway on an encouraging note and picked up as the day progressed.
Overwhelmed with the response, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel applauded voters and thanked security forces, journalists and political parties.
Security arrangements were in place to ensure peaceful voting and helicopters were used to transport voting parties to and from polling booths in Maoist-affected areas. Drones were also used to monitor any possible Maoist movement in several regions. The state’s Chief Electoral Officer Subrat Sahu maintained minute-to-minute vigil on proceedings from Raipur through webcasting. Senior administrative officers and politicians queued up at various polling booths to encourage commoners to vote.
Earlier in the day, a Naxal was killed and a Special Task Force (STF) jawan suffered injuries in a gun-battle in Narayanpur district during polling for the Bastar seat. Other than this, no major violence was witnessed.
Several images of elderly people and women carrying infants lining up to vote flooded out of the tribal-dominated state through the day. One of them showed the family members of Bhima Mandavi standing outside a polling station two days after the gruesome killing.
Mandavi’s father Linga, his wife and other family members voted in village Gadapal, having immersed his ashes. Around 150 people remained standing outside the polling booth in Gadapal even after 3 pm, the stipulated time of closure.
Mandavi’s family has demanded a CBI probe into his killing.
Other Maoist-affected areas such as Bijapur, Sukma, Konta and Narayanpur witnessed serpentine queues of voters at polling booths.
In a separate incident, the police arrested four Maoists and recovered three guns from their possession in Bijapur area. A bomb threat was received from the Kirandul-Bicholi route as well, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
In the Maoist hotbed of Sukma, offenders had used trees to block roads on Wednesday night in order to disrupt voting. However, security forces managed to clear the roads by the next morning.
However, Maoist threats appear to have intimidated voters in some remote areas in Dantewada, including Alnar, Purangel, Kalepal, Samalwar, Gumiapal and Hiroli, where only a handful of voters came to polling booths.
Security personnel on Thursday morning removed posters put up by Maoists at Halbaras polling booth in Kuakonda. In an encouraging trend, a large number of women voters turned out at the polling booth, with some of them walking up to 10-12 km.
With nine candidates in the fray, the main contest is between the Congress’s Deepak Baij and the BJP’s Baiduram Kashyap.
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