Bihar Assembly Election 2020: Ensuring violence-free polls in Maoist-affected districts a challenge


Security has been beefed up in 16 districts covering 71 constituencies ahead of the first phase of polling in Bihar on Wednesday amid the boycott call of ultra-Left organisations and recent incidents of encounters between the left-wing extremists and security personnel in the state’s Gaya and Jamui districts.

Lakhisarai, Jamui, Gaya, Aurangabad and Nawada districts are identified as the worst affected by left wing extremism (LWE).

Election Commission of India (ECI) officials said around 1,200 companies of security forces have been deployed in the state for the first phase of polling on Wednesday (October 28) in the Maoist-affected constituencies of Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada, Jamui and Lakhisarai districts.

Also Read: Bihar Assembly election 2020: Campaigning for 1st phase ends

Around 100,800 Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel along with Bihar Police and Bihar Military Police have been deployed in a bid to keep the subversive elements at bay.

Three helicopters, including an MI-17 and two Chetaks, have been requisitioned to provide air cover and area dominance support to the security forces on the polling day.

In Aurangabad district, two helipads have been constructed -- one in the district headquarters and another in a remote area -- to ensure that the helicopters find it easy to operate in and around the region.

The assembly and parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2019, respectively, were free from LWE violence.

However, in the run-up to this year’s assembly polls, violence was reported from Sheohar, Jamui and Gaya districts.

The outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) has expressed its displeasure since assembly poll dates were announced and also gave a call to boycott the three-phase elections.

Maoist posters have surfaced in several districts threatening to disrupt the electoral process.

A candidate of the Janata Dal (Rastrawadi) was gunned down in Sheohar district last Saturday. Encounters were reported between security forces and Maoist rebels in Gaya and Jamui districts last week.

Over 20 Maoists rebels have been arrested since the poll dates were announced.

However, the police are hopeful of a free, fair and peaceful election.

“Our main focus is to ensure smooth conduct of polls and safety of voters and polling personnel. Security personnel are patrolling roads to ensure a smooth passage of polling officials and election equipment for their respective destinations,” said a police official.

A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) official said routine de-mining exercises by joint teams of district police and CAPF are being carried out for the last few days in all the Maoist-affected districts.

“Several security teams and sniffer dogs have been pressed into de-mining activities. Security forces have been deployed in large numbers, as Maoists might try new ways of disrupting polls in their areas of influence. However, their influence has diminished significantly in the last few years,” said an official.

The station house officers (SHOs) of police stations in Aurangabad, Nawada and Gaya districts have been directed to get phone numbers of some people living around polling booths in a bid to flag suspicious activities on a real-time basis.

Earlier, policemen were supposed to visit booths to confirm the arrival of polling personnel. “The new arrangement will be safe and also save time, as mobile phones have an almost 100% penetration in LWE-hit areas,” said the official.

The CRPF considers improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the biggest threat, especially during the election season, when the movement of security forces goes up. In the past, landmine blasts proved to be the main threat to security forces. Poor condition of roads in Maoist-affected areas has made it difficult for security forces to detect IEDs.

“The Maoists have made their stand clear regarding their plans to disrupt elections. We are trying to pre-empt it by a massive de-mining exercise in areas south of the Grand Trunk Road (National Highway-2). Maoists are known to plant landmines on metalled roads. However, it is the non-metalled roads, which provide ample scope of hiding explosives beneath the surface that makes it difficult for the CAPF to detect them,” said the official.

“Detection of IEDs has become difficult due to the poor condition of roads in Maoist-affected areas. We are not able to trace them easily. Concrete roads are difficult to drill and place the explosives,” said an official of Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a specialised unit of CRPF.

Bihar will go to polls on October 28, November 3 and 7.

The results for the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly will be declared on November 10.



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