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Bastar to vote in shadow of terror
Wednesday April 9, 2014 11:38 AM, Sujeet Kumar, IANS

Over 1.29 million voters of Chhattisgarh's Bastar Lok Sabha constituency, one of India's worst insurgency-hit regions, are set to exercise their franchise Thursday in the shadow of terror and guerrillas' poll boycott.

Eight candidates are in the fray in the constituency where roughly 80 percent of the total 1,797 polling booths have been declared "ultra sensitive".

The main contest is between the BJP nominee and sitting MP Dinesh Kashyap and Congress candidate Deepak Karma, son of late Mahendra Karma, the founder of a controversial civil militia movement - Salwa Judum.

The presence of Aam Aadmi Party candidate Soni Sori, a tribal woman from the district now on bail granted by the Supreme Court as she was facing charges of acting as a conduit for Maoists, has added a third dimension to the battle for Bastar.

Sources at police headquarters in Raipur say that besides Sori, none of the other seven candidates have dared to campaign in the interiors of Bastar because Maoists command most of the area.

"The terror angle has played big on minds of Bastar candidates. Except Sori, all candidates restricted their electioneering either to urban areas or the tribal settlements close to main roads as they lacked guts to enter vast forested belt for campaigning where rebels can strike at will," a top official at State Intelligence Bureau told IANS.

The official said that Sori, who had a fair idea of Bastar interiors, roamed freely for campaigning, mainly in Bijapur district.

The Bastar constituency has witnessed a string of deadly attacks in recent years and the Maoists, who are believed to have rocket launchers too, have targeted poll-duty choppers in past.

The Bastar constitguency, which is made up of six assembly segments, has more female voters at 665,290 than 633,681 male voters.

The BJP is winning the seat convincingly since 1998 but this time the Congress hopes to offer a close fight as the party nominee's father was a respected politician as well as a former MP from Bastar. He was brutally killed by Maoists last year in a deadly ambush on a Congress convoy.

Election officials say that holding peaceful polls in Bastar is the biggest challenge as Maoists have blockaded with landmine all roads leading to 153 polling booths in the forested areas and security forces are struggling to demine the area to allow forces to guard the voters during polling hours.

Authorities have no option but to airlift the polling teams to these booths by choppers and also bring them back to safer areas before sunset on the day of polling as rebels command these tracts since late 1980s.

About 40,000 troopers drawn from para-military and Chhattisgarh Police, have been deployed to ensure violence-free polling.

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at sujeet.k@ians.in)



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