Three Lok Sabha constituencies in Chhattisgarh, all having Naxal presence, will go to the polls Thursday amid tight security to decide the fate of 36 candidates. Kanker, Rajnandgaon and Mahasamund Lok Sabha seats will vote in the second phase of polling in the state where around 60,000 security personnel will be on duty.
There are 36 candidates in the fray in these seats, but the main fight is likely to be between the ruling Congress and the main opposition BJP. "All preparations have been done for conducting elections in Mahasamund, Rajnandgaon and Kanker seats in the second phase in the state on April 18," said a functionary at the office of state's Chief Electoral Officer CEO). A large part of the Kanker Lok Sabha constituency is Naxal-affected where security forces are maintaining extra vigil to ensure peaceful polling, he said. Some pockets of Rajnandgaon and Mahasamund are also struggling with the Maoist menace.
The Kanker Lok Sabha constituency has eight assembly segments and of these, polling in four - Anatgarh, Keshkal Bhanupratappur and Kanker - will be held from 7 am to 3 pm in view of Maoist threat, the official said. In rest of the assembly segments - Sihawa, Sanjari- Balod, Daundilohara and Gunderdehi - polling time is from 7 am to 5 pm, he added. Of the 2,022 polling booths in the Kanker Lok Sabha seat, 490 have been marked as hypersensitive and 28 as sensitive, where additional security force will be deployed to prevent any untoward incident, the official said. The Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha constituency also consists of eight assembly segments. One of them - Manpur-Mohla - will witness polling from 7 am to 3 pm, while voters in rest of them can exercise their democratic right from 7 am to 5 pm, he said.
Of the 2,322 polling stations in Rajnandgaon, 279 have been marked as hypersensitive and 302 as sensitive, he said. The polling time in the Mahasamund constituency is from 7 am to 5 pm except in six hypersensitive booths at Odh, Kamabhaundi, Amammora, Badegobra, Sahbinkachhar and Kodomali villages where the voting time is from 7 am to 3 pm, he said. Of the 2140 polling booths in the Mahasamund constituency, 254 have been marked as sensitive, the official added. The maximum contestants - 14 - are in Rajnandgaon followed by 13 in Mahasamund and 9 in Kanker.
Altogether 49,07,489 voters - 24,69,110 women, 24,38,320 men and 59 members of the third gender - are eligible to exercise their franchise in these seats. The BJP has fielded Santosh Pandey, general secretary of the party's state unit, in the high-profile Rajnandgaon seat by denying ticket to sitting MP Abhishek Singh, son of former Chief Minister Raman Singh. Pandey is pitted against Congress candidate Bholaram Sahu, a former MLA. In Kanker, the BJP denied ticket to sitting MP Vikram Usendi, president of its state unit, and fielded a fresh face, Mohan Mandavi. The Congress has pinned its hopes on Biresh Thakur, also a greenhorn, in the seat.
In Mahasamund, the BJP chose former MLA Chunnilal Sahu over two-time MP Chandulal Sahu and he is taking on sitting Congress MLA Dhanendra Sahu. "A massive security blanket of around 60,000 personnel, and drones, has been thrown around the three constituencies for polls," Deputy Inspector General (Anti- Naxal Operations) Sundarraj P told PTI. Over 35,000 state and central forces were already stationed in these three regions. Now in view of the Lok Sabha polls, another 200 companies (roughly around 25,000 personnel), from paramilitary units like the CRPF, ITBP and BSF, have been brought in to guard the constituencies, he said.
Patrolling has been intensified by security forces in interior forests and along inter-state borders in Kanker and Rajnandgaon districts, the DIG said. Polling parties were ferried by helicopters to around 80 hypersensitive booths, the IPS officer said. Drones will keep a hawk eye and track the movement of Naxals, especially in areas close to polling booths and camps of security forces, he added. Ultras, like previous years, have given a poll boycott call though posters and pamphlets found in some pockets of Kanker, Rajnandgaon and Gariaband (part of the Mahasamund constituency) districts, the official added.
On April 4, four BSF personnel were killed in a Naxal ambush in Kanker district. Chhattisgarh, which has 11 Lok Sabha seats, is voting in three phases. The first phase covered the Naxal-hit Bastar (ST) constituency on April 11. The remaining seven seats will vote in the third and last phase on April 23. In 2014, the BJP had won 10 seats, while the Congress could bag only one.
(With inputs from agencies.)