Amid threats of Maoist violence, 18 of the 90 constituencies in Chhattisgarh will go to the polls on Monday to elect a new Assembly in the first phase of a battle in which the Congress is desperate to end 15 years of BJP rule.
The election, widely seen as a ‘semi-final’ ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, 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.
The BJP, ruling the state since 2003, has 49 seats in the outgoing Assembly, the Congress 38 and the Bahujan Samaj Party one in the 90 member Assembly.
A total of 190 candidates are in the fray in the 18 constituencies spread over eight districts where Maoists have been active for over a quarter century.
Polling in 10 seats will start at 7 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. while the remaining eight seats voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The 10 seats where early voting is being held are-Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur, Konta, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal and Kondagaon.
The rest of the constituencies — Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot — will see polling from 8 a.m.
Chief Minister Raman Singh is vying for a fourth consecutive term and his main opponent is BJP-turned-Congress leader Karuna Shukla, a niece of late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In the high stakes battle, Shukla, a former BJP Lok Sabha member, has taken on Raman Singh at his home turf Rajnandgaon.
The other constituencies that will see voting are Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Dongargaon, Khujji, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Bastar, Jagdalpur, Chitrakot, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta.
Twelve of them are in the insurgency-hit Bastar region and six in Rajnandgaon district.
A total of 4,336 polling booths have been set up for the first phase of the state polls. There are 31,80,014 voters, including 15,57,435 males, 16,22,492 females and 87 of the third gender.
Nearly one lakh security personnel, including paramilitary forces, have been deployed across the state for the first phase.
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.
The Maoists, who have asked people to boycott the elections, have triggered several attacks in the last few days killing several people including a BSF trooper on Sunday.