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Maoists kill commandos on poll duty

Maoists today ambushed a CRPF team walking back to camp after escorting poll officials to a sensitive booth in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, killing three CoBRA commandos on the eve of voting.

A police statement said the securitymen were returning on foot to their base camp in Chintagufa area in Sukma district when they were ringed from three sides and fired upon. The exchange of fire continued for around 30 minutes before the rebels retreated into the forests.

Three commandos were also wounded in the attack near Burkapal outpost and were airlifted to Raipur, the police said. The region falls under the south Bastar division of the all-powerful Dandakaranya special zonal committee of the Maoists.

In another attack in Bijapur district, two CRPF jawans on road-opening duty near the sensitive Gangaloor area were injured when a pressure bomb planted by suspected Maoists exploded. The jawans are out of danger.

Following the attacks, security arrangements have been tightened further on election-eve. Polling will be held at 1,797 booths in Bastar, of which 1,407 have been identified as critical.

Over 25,000 central paramilitary forces have been deployed for election duty, the police said. They suspect Maoists may have planted landmines and pressure bombs in remote areas to disturb the polling process. The rebels have called a poll boycott.

Eight candidates are in the fray for the Scheduled Tribe-dominated Bastar seat. The BJP has been winning this seat for over a decade. Sitting MP Dinesh Kashyap is locked in a fight with the Congress’s Deepak Karma and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Soni Sori, who was arrested for alleged Maoist links in 2012 and given bail early this year.

Congress leaders said Deepak, the son of slain Congress leader Mahendra Karma, had a chance to win, going by the people’s verdict in the November Assembly elections. Mahendra Karma was part of the Congress convoy wiped out by Maoists last year.

Mithilesh Swarnakka, the Bastar district committee chief, said Congress workers hoped to win. “We won five of eight Assembly seats under the Bastar constituency. We expect similar results in the parliamentary elections too,” he said.

G.S. Upadhaya, a retired bank employee, said Deepak might get sympathy votes. “It is a tough fight. The BJP has a strong base. Deepak has public sympathy in his favour.”

Upadhaya said BJP’s Dinesh was an equally strong candidate as his father, Balliram Kashyap, had worked to improve the health and education infrastructure in Bastar. A medical college was started in Jagdalpur four years ago and an education hub set up near Dantewada in the last decade.

Bastar has about 13 lakh voters scattered over six districts and an area as big geographically as Kerala. Nearly 67 per cent are tribals. Their votes will be critical, said Praveen Nath, who works in a private school. “It would be difficult to make any guess.”

The BJP’s Bastar district spokesperson Laxminarayan Pandey claimed the Raman Singh government had undertaken a lot of development work. Every BPL family was getting 35 kg of rice at Re 1 per kg every month, he said.

“The Congress got sympathy votes during the Assembly elections. Sympathy vote does not come every time.”

The 2009 election had witnessed heavy violence with 24 persons killed on polling day. However, the state elections were largely peaceful.