Raipur: In what is being viewed as a ‘semi-final’ ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, 18 constituencies spread across nine Naxal-affected districts of Chhattisgarh will go to polls in its first phase of Assembly elections on Monday.

One-fifth of the 90 constituencies will vote for the high-decibel battle with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) eyeing a fourth straight term and the opposition Congress seeking to return to power after 15 years.

The constituencies of Khairagarh, Dongargarh (SC), Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Mohla-Manpur (ST), Antagarh (ST), Bhanupratappur (ST), Kanker (ST), Keshkal (ST), Kondagaon (ST), Narayanpur (ST), Bastar (ST), Jagdalpur, Chitrakot (ST), Dantewada (ST), Bijapur (ST) and Konta (ST) will go to polls on Monday.

Polling on 10 seats – Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur, Konta, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal and Kondagaon – will be held from 7 am to 3 pm.

Voting in the remaining eight constituencies – Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon and Khujji constituencies in Rajnandgaon district and Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot in Bastar district – will take place from 8 am to 5 pm.

The first phase of the state assembly elections will be held in 18 constituencies, while the remainder 72 constituencies will go to polls on November 20. The counting of votes will take place on December 11.

A day of the polls, the Congress suffered a major setback as its state vice president Ghanaram Sahu resigned from party membership. He was reportedly peeved over not being given a ticket from Gundardehi. Reports have suggested that Sahu may join the BJP on Monday.

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It’s Raman Singh vs Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Niece

Raman Singh, the longest serving Chief Minister of the saffron party, is locked in a direct fight with his former mentor Karuna Shukla, niece of the late Vajpayee.

The Congress cleverly fielded her against Singh, to deny him a walkover. The former had ended her 32-year-long association with the BJP in 2014 and joined the Congress.

Singh had last time defeated Alka Mudliyar, wife of slain Congress leader Uday Mudliyar who was killed in the Jiram valley Naxal attack in 2013.

In Narayanpur segment, the Congress has renominated Chandan Kashyap against BJP minister Kedar Kahsyap. Chandan had lost to Kedar last time.

The Congress has also given a second chance to Vikram Mandavi from Bijapur (ST) seat against state Forest Minister Mahesh Gagda. Mandavi had lost to Gagda in 2013.

Prominent BJP leader and Kanker Lok Sabha seat’s incumbent MP Vikram Usendi is contesting from Antagarh (ST), where the Congress has fielded a fresh face, Anoop Nag.

Usendi had won Antagarh seat in 2013 polls. However, he resigned after he was elected as the Lok Sabha member from Kanker seat in 2014.

The ruling BJP has also fielded two sitting MLAs – Santosh Bafna (Jagdalpur) and Sarojani Banjar (Dongargarh).

The election will also see a formidable third factor in an alliance stitched by Mayawati’s BSP with the Chhattisgarh Janata Congress of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and the CPI.

Opinion Polls Predict Close Fight Between BJP, Congress

Predicting a close fight in Chhattisgarh, C-Voter poll survey gave 41 seats to the Congress with a 42.2 per cent vote share, with six seats to others and 16.2 per cent vote share. The BJP is projected to get a slightly lower 41.6 per cent vote share and 43 seats.

It has predicted that the Congress will be marching ahead with a 40 per cent vote share, bagging 47 seats, while the ruling BJP would have to settle for 40 seats and others for three seats.

On the other hand, the CNX poll survey has projected that the BJP could get 50 and Congress 30 seats, with others getting 10 seats, while the CSDS poll gave 56 to the BJP, 25 to the Congress and nine to others.

Security Beefed up Amid Maoist Attacks

As many as 4,336 polling booths have been set up for the first phase of the state polls. There are 31,79,520 voters, including 16,21,839 males, 15,57,592 females and 89 of the third gender.

Nearly one lakh security personnel, including paramilitary forces, have been deployed across the state for the first phase, amid the threat from Maoists who have called for a boycott of the elections.

These are in addition to the existing paramilitary personnel and 200 companies of state forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations in the tribal-dominated state.
Indian Air Force and BSF choppers have also been pressed into service.

A total of 650 companies (roughly around 65,000 security personnel), including of paramilitary forces like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and other state forces, have been sent by the Centre for poll duty, he said.

Maoist outfits have given calls for boycott of the election and executed over half-a-dozen attacks in the last 15 days, three of them major ones which left 13 people dead including a cameraman of national broadcaster Doordarshan who was covering the election campaign.

On Sunday, a sub-inspector of the Border Security Force (BSF) lost his life when Maoist detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in Kanker district while a Maoist was gunned down in an encounter in Bijapur district.

High-voltage Campaigning by BJP, Congress

During the campaign for the polls, BJP leaders highlighted how Naxalism, which was at its peak during the Congress rule in the state, was contained during the last 15 years and also the development works taken up by the government.

Top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Smriti Irani, campaigned for the saffron party and highlighted various achievements of the Raman Singh government.

The stakes are very high for the saffron party on these 18 seats as it had lost 12 of them in the last polls held in 2013.

Addressing a poll rally in Jagdalpur, PM Modi accused the Congress of supporting “urban Naxals” who ruin the lives of poor adivasis.

“The urban Maoists who live in air-conditioned homes in the cities, look clean and whose children study abroad, remote control the adivasi children in the Naxal-dominated areas,” Modi said.

“I want to ask the Congress why it supports the urban Maoists when the government takes action against them and come to Bastar and speak against Naxalism,” he said.

Sensing that there is a fight on Raman Singh’s home turf, BJP President Amit Shah staged a road show in Rajnandgaon town hours before campaigning ended on Sunday.

The BJP show of strength was dubbed one of the biggest election road shows in Chhattisgarh and Shah advised voters to ensure Raman Singh wins by not less than 70,000 votes difference.

On the other hand, the Congress camp is encouraged by the huge turnout of locals at a roadshow carried out by Congress President Rahul Gandhi on November 9 in Rajnandgaon town with Shukla and state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel.

The Congress accused the BJP of “failing” to control the Naxal menace and referred to the chit fund and civil supply scams. It also targeted the chief minister’s son Abhishek Singh over his alleged offshore assets.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had held five rallies and a road show while campaigning for the first phase of the Assembly polls.