**Raipur:** Defying Maoist threats, over 33 per cent of the electorate exercised their franchise on Monday by midday in 18 constituencies in the first phase of Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh where the Congress is vying to end 15 years of BJP rule.
According to the Election Commission, 33.86 per cent polling was recorded till 1 p.m. in the 18 constituencies spread across eight insurgency-hit districts. The turnout was highest in Kondagaon at 46.04 per cent while Bijapur with 16 per cent witnessed the lowest voting.
Maoists who have given a poll boycott call detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Katekalyan in Dantewada district, minutes before the polling began, narrowly missing a foot patrol of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
And two CRPF personnel were injured in a gun battle with the rebels in Pamed area in Bijapur district.
Maoists have carried out multiple attacks in last few weeks, killing several people including a BSF officer and a journalist.
The Congress alleged “rampant” EVM rigging in Bastar area but the poll panel rejected the charges.
“The BJP has completely lost the plot in Chhattisgarh and its desperation and desolation is more than evident with reports of rigging of EVMs pouring in from Bastar,” Congress Legislative Party leader T.S. Singh Deo said, asking the Election Commission to intervene.
The poll panel rejected the charges saying “certain sources were spreading rumours of EVM malfunctioning and rigging”. The panel said it promptly replaced over three dozen EVMs and 61 VVPAT machines due to technical snags.
Voting was on at 10 seats since 7 a.m. and eight others from 8. Polling would end at 3 p.m. in Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur, Konta, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal and Kondagaon.
Polling in Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot, which started an hour later, would continue till 5 p.m.
Over 31 lakh voters, including over 15 lakh men and in excess of 16 lakh women, are eligible to exercise their franchise in 4,336 polling booths on Monday when a total of 190 candidates are in the fray.
The BJP lost 12 of these 18 seats in 2013.
Among the prominent faces in the first phase are Chief Minister Raman Singh pitted against Congress’ Karuna Shukla in his home turf Rajnandgaon. Shukla, a niece of late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee switched to Congress from the BJP in 2014.
The Congress has promised farm loan waiver, minimum support price for crops as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendations and special women police stations.
Hoping to retain the state for a fourth straight term, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised to give Rs 2 lakh interest-free loans to women to start business; distribute free books and uniforms to students till Class 12; form a journalist welfare board and to build a Film City in the state.
Also contesting is Mayawati’s BSP which has aligned with the Chhattisgarh Janata Congress of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and the Communist Party of India.
Twelve of the 18 seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and one is reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) category.
The second phase of polling in 72 seats would be held on November 20. Counting of votes would take place on December 11.