Polling continued on Tuesday for the second and concluding phase in 72 seats spread across 19 districts to elect a new Chhattisgarh Assembly, with nearly 24 per cent of the over 1.5 crore electorate casting their votes in the first four hours.

Amid allegations of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) tampering and malfunctioning in several areas, an overall 23.71 per cent turnout was recorded till 12 p.m., according to the Election Commission (EC).

EVM malfunctioning was reported from several booths across Dhamtari, Jashpur, Raipur, Ambikapur and Korba.

The EC asserted that the faulty machines were promptly replaced and voting was not affected.

The Congress, however accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of vitiating the poll process by EVM tampering.

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

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

“Reports of EVMs malfunctioning are pouring in from across the state. In many places voting could not take place for over two hours because of faulty EVMs. Is malfunctioning of EVMs mere coincidence or a conspiracy to vitiate the polling process,” said state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel in Raipur.

The EC however, has rejected the Congress’ allegations.

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

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

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

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded candidates in 66 constituencies.

An electorate of over 1.5 crore, including over 77 lakh male and over 76 lakh female voters, are eligible to exercise their franchise.

There are nearly 1,000 voters from the third gender.

The highest number of 46 contestants are in the Raipur City South constituency, while the lowest number of six contestants are in the Bindranavagarh seat.

Among the prominent faces in the fray in this phase for the Congress are 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 includes state ministers Brijmohan Agrawal (Raipur City South), Rajesh Munat (Raipur City West), Amar Agrawal (Bilaspur), Prem Prakash Pandey (Bhilai Nagar).

For the alliance, Jogi is in the fray from Marwahi, his wife Renu Jogi is contesting from Kota, while his daughter-in-law Richa Jogi is a BSP nominee from the Akaltara seat.

Elaborate security arrangements, including deployment of helicopters and drones, have been put in place for the balloting which is taking place at over 19,000 polling booths. Over a lakh security personnel have also been positioned.

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

The BJP is in power in the state since 2003.

Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, a host of political leaders took to social media to urge voters to exercise their rights in large numbers.