Sporadic violence left a trooper dead.   All through the day, men and women from the predominantly tribal belt of the sprawling Bastar region and Rajnandgaon district queued up to vote in an election in which the Congress is determined to end 10 years of reign by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

After Maoists called for a boycott of the exercise, ballotting began on a dull note -- at 7 am in all 12 constituencies of Bastar and one in Rajnandgaon and an hour later in the remaining five seats in Rajnandgaon.

Polling rapidly picked up as the day progressed. About 30-35 percent had voted by afternoon. By the time curtains came down, 67 percent of the 2.9 million voters involved in Monday's voting had exercised their franchise.

A total of 143 candidates were in the fray in the 18 constituencies. "The poll process was marked by visible enthusiasm. It was largely peaceful. There were sporadic incidents of firing," Deputy Election Commissioner R Balakrishnan said in New Delhi.

Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper VC Joseph, from the 186th battalion, was killed in a gun battle with Maoists at Dantewada.

A Border Security Force (BSF) trooper was injured in a bomb blast in Kanker district while a bomb weighing some 10 kg was recovered in Bijapur, police said.

To scare away voters, Maoists triggered multiple blasts in polling booths located in forested areas in Konta, Dantewada, Bijapur, Kanker, Antagarh, Bhanupratapur and Narayanpur areas.Balloting for the 90-member assembly in Chhattisgarh are being held in two phases on November 11 and 19.

The sprawling region where voting took place Monday includes Bastar, which with around 40,000 sq km is bigger than the size of Kerala. Bastar accounts for 12 assembly constituencies and Rajnandgaon six. Together, this mineral rich area -- with dense forests and Maoist hideouts -- is infamously known as the red zone.

There was tight security at all 4,142 polling booths. Among these, 1,311 were declared "hyper-sensitive" and 1,517 "sensitive" -- official euphemism to mean they were prone to violence.

Director General of Police Ramnivas said 15 Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs were recovered from different parts of Bastar.

Chief Minister Raman Singh said the high percentage of voting revealed "enthusiasm" among voters which he added was a "good sign for the BJP".

The BJP, which has ruled the state since December 2003, has vowed to win a third five-year term.

The Congress too said it was "elated by the high voting percentage" which it claimed "is going surely against the incumbent".   

Congress and BJP workers clashed in Jagdalpur and Konta constituencies. Congress candidate from Jagdalpur Samu Kashyap was injured in the fighting and taken to hospital.

The `None of The Above' (NOTA) option, widely called the Right to Reject, made its debut in India in the Monday polls.

(Agencies)

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