Campaigning for the first phase of Assembly polls in 20 seats in Chhattisgarh ended on Saturday evening, with voting scheduled to take place on November 7.
The first phase of campaigning saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacking Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel over the alleged Mahadev betting app scam, while other leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party spoke on religious conversion, deteriorating law and order and corruption.
The Congress based its campaign on the slew of welfare schemes of the Baghel government for farmers, women, tribals and Dalits, and also attacked the BJP-led Centre for “handing over” resources to “industrialist friends”.
These 20 seats are in seven districts of the Naxal-affected Bastar division and four other districts, namely Rajnandgaon, Mohla-Manpur-Ambagarh Chowki, Kabirdham and Khairagarh-Chhuikhadan-Gandai.
Polling in Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta (all reserved for Scheduled Tribe category) constituencies will take place from 7am to 3pm, officials said.
Polling will take place between 7am and 5pm in the remaining 10 seats, namely Khairgarh, Dongargarh (Scheduled Caste), Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Pandariya, Kawardha, Bastar (ST), Jagdalpur and Chitrakot (ST), said a statement issued by the office of Chief Electoral Officer here.
“Polling parties are being sent to their destinations amid tight security since Saturday, particularly in Bastar region. Helicopters are being used to airlift EVMs, personnel and materials to polling stations in sensitive remote areas,” an official said.
“In total, personnel belonging to 156 poll stations in five districts, namely Sukma, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker and Narayanpur, will be dispatched using helicopters. This exercise started from Saturday,” he added.
In the first phase, the political fate of 223 candidates, including 25 women, will be decided by 40,78,681 voters, including 19,93,937 male, 20,84,675 female and 69 third-gender persons, while 5304 polling booths have been set up for the first phase, he said.
As per poll officials, the highest number of contestants are in Rajnandgaon constituency (29) while the lowest number of candidates are seven each in Chitrakot and Dantewada seats.
State Congress chief and MP Deepak Baij (Chitrakot), ministers Kawasi Lakhma (Konta), Mohan Markam (Kondagaon) and Mohammad Akbar (Kawardha) and Chhavindra Karma (Dantewada) are among the prominent candidates from ruling Congress in the first phase.
The main candidates from the BJP in this phase are former chief minister Raman Singh (Rajnandgaon) and former state ministers Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur), Lata Usendi (Kondagaon), Vikram Usendi (Antagarh) and Mahesh Gagda (Bijapur). Former IAS officer Neelkanth Tekam is contesting from Keshkal.
Congress has fielded its senior OBC leader and chairman of Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation Girish Dewangan against Raman Singh from Rajnandgaon.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s state unit chief Komal Hupendi will contest from Bhanupratappur seat, while MLA Anup Nag, after being denied a ticket by the Congress, is fighting as an Independent from Antagarh seat.
On the last day of the campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Dongargarh, a pilgrimage spot, and met Jain seer Acharya Vidyasagar Maharaj. The PM also prayed at Maa Bamleshwari Devi temple.
Apart from PM Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma campaigned in the first phase, while the Congress’ bid to retain power was led by Rahul Gandhi, party president Mallikarjun Kharge, Priyanka Gandhi and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.
The first phase of campaigning also witnessed the murders of BJP functionaries in Manpur on October 20 and in Narayanpur on Saturday, which the saffron party claimed were “targeted killings”.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, the Congress had won 17 out of the 20 seats that will go to polls in the first phase.
The Congress has 71 seats in the 90-member House. The second phase of polls to 70 seats will take place on November 17, while results will be counted on December 3.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)