Chhattisgarh: Over 60 per cent turn out to elect new Assembly (Roundup)

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Raipur, Nov 20 (IANS) Polling for the second and concluding phase for 72 seats spread across 19 districts in Chhattisgarh ended on Tuesday with more than 60 per cent of the over 1.5 crore electorate casting their votes to elect a new Assembly.

Amid allegations of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) tampering and malfunctioning in several areas, the Election Commission (EC) said over 60 per cent turnout was recorded till 5 p.m.

The final figure is expected to go up with many voters still standing in queues outside booths after the scheduled closure of polling and the poll panel is still in the process of compiling data.

From first-time voters to centenarians, people from all walks of life queued up to cast their votes. Among the oldest to exercise their right were 106-year-old Samudri Patel from Baikunthpur in Korea district and 102-year-old Raj Kunwar from Boriyakala in Raipur district.

The highest turnout was recorded in Bindranawagarh at 68 per cent and Baikunthpur at 63.21 per cent.

The EVM malfunctioning was reported from several booths across Dhamtari, Jashpur, Raipur, Ambikapur, Khallari, Raigarh Patan, Sihawa and Korba, with the Congress accusing the state’s ruling BJP of “electoral malpractices” and “attempting to disrupt” the poll process.

A Congress delegation led by P.L. Punia met the EC in the national capital over the alleged “attempts to misuse and tamper with EVMs in Chhattisgarh”.

Punia said the BJP “wary of losing the polls, was trying to influence the polling process through malpractices”.

The Congress also demanded suspension and arrest of BJP candidate Siddhnath Paikra in Samri seat of Balrampur district for “distributing money” to voters.

“Is malfunctioning of EVMs a mere coincidence or a conspiracy to vitiate the polling process,” asked state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel in the state capital Raipur.

The EC rejected the allegations of widespread malfunctioning of the voting machines and asserted that faulty EVMs were promptly replaced without any disruption to the voting process.

“Only 47 ballot units, 37 control units and 131 VVPATs needed replacement during the polls. The replacements were handled swiftly by the local polling personnel,” said EC spokesperson Sheyphali Sharan.

The state, carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, for the first time witnessed a three-way contest with the ruling BJP fighting it with the opposition Congress and the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati-led alliance emerging as a formidable third front.

A total of 1,079 candidates were in the fray, with both the Congress and the BJP contesting all the 72 seats.

The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has contested 25 seats and its ally and former Chief Minister Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (J) in 46 seats.

The Aam Aadmi Party fielded candidates in 66 constituencies in the state where the BJP is in power since 2003.

An electorate of over 1.5 crore, including over 77 lakh male and over 76 lakh female voters, were eligible to vote.

Among the prominent faces in the fray in the phase for the Congress were Baghel (Patan), Leader of Opposition in the Assembly T.S. Singh Deo (Ambikapur) and former Union Minister Charandas Mahant (Shakti)

For the BJP, the list included state ministers Brijmohan Agrawal (Raipur City South), Rajesh Munat (Raipur City West), Amar Agrawal (Bilaspur), Prem Prakash Pandey (Bhilai Nagar).

For the alliance, Jogi contested from Marwahi, his wife Renu Jogi from Kota, and his daughter-in-law Richa Jogi, a BSP nominee from the Akaltara seat.

Elaborate security arrangements, including deployment of helicopters and drones, were been put in place for the balloting which took place at over 19,000 polling stations.

Extra security was put in place in Maoist-affected Gariaband, Dhamtari, Mahasamund, Kabirdham, Jashpur and Balrampur districts.

The first phase of election in 18 constituencies across eight Maoist-affected districts of the state took place on November 12 and saw 76.28 per cent voting.

The results will be declared on December 11.



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