Securing the polls

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Chhattisgarh1
Photo: PTI

With one lakh paramilitary personnel present in Chhattisgarh, it is hoped that the upcoming assembly elections will be carried out smoothly. However, the police headquarters has two major challenges at hand – safeguarding the forces against landmines planted by Maoists and also making arrangements for their stay, including provisions for food and fuel.

The roads leading to Konta, Jagdalpur and Sukma from Raipur are so damaged that traversing them is a task in itself. Carrying ration along makes things even more difficult. Several IPS officers posted with the police headquarters told TEHELKA that the biggest challenge before the force are landmines planted by the Maoists. A senior officer who did not wish to be named claimed that the Maoists are capable of planting landmines within half an hour wherever they want and carry out strong blasts.

Meanwhile, the food requirements of companies and platoons will also have to be met as very few local tribals cultivate vegetables. Although the force reaching Raipur and Durg for the first phase of elections may have brought along a supply of ration, they would also need the assistance of locals in the preparation of meals. In Bijapur, the cadres will have to move on foot for at least 20 km till Pidiya, Sandra and Pilur. In this guerilla war zone, it is next to impossible for them to carry gas cylinders. Arranging dry wood for cooking in cold weather will not be an easy task either. Moreover, support from the locals is unlikely, for fear of the Maoists who have publicly announced a boycott of the elections with banners and pamphlets.

After being admonished by the EC, no officer in Chhattisgarh is making the mistake of claiming that there will be any impediments in conducting polls. Chief election commissioner VS Sampath reached Chhattisgarh last week and held a six-hour long meeting with the state police officials, during which the district superintendents were handed over the responsibility of the election process, including the deployment of forces and conducting ‘free and fair’ polls.

The SPs of naxal-hit areas shared their grievances with Sampath. According to them, a heavy presence of the force may have made it easier to control naxalites, but its deployment is a major challenge in itself. IG Raipur and nodal officer of the police headquarters GP Singh says, “There are practical problems which the police are capable of handling.”

Bijapur SP Prashant Agrawal denies that there is any deterrent for a smooth polling process, adding that the meeting with the chief election commissioner was a routine one. He says the deployment of forces is not a major issue and believes that Bijapur is not the only part affected by Maoists, the entire state is.

Arundev Gautam, IG of Bastar Division says that SPs are shouldering the responsibility of conducting polls peacefully and are very capable of doing so. As a senior officer, he would merely be supervising, he added. The bigger challenge would be to protect from landmines and naxal ambush, the troopers who have come from outside, says ADG Naxal operations R K Vij. While the local police are aware of the network of landmines laid by Maoists in different areas of Bastar, the personnel who are new to the region need to be warned about them. Vij says that a three-day training in SOP (Standard Operation Policy) has been organised, though most of the personnel are already trained.

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