Election authorities gear up to thwart Maoist challenge in West Bengal

April 27th, 2009 - 11:19 am ICT by IANS  

By Aparajita Gupta
Kolkata, April 27 (IANS) Amidst Indian Air Force (IAF) surveillance, huge deployment of central forces and shortened polling hours, three Maoist-infested western districts of West Bengal vote April 30 in the shadow of increased terror strikes by the radical left group in eastern India.

The Election Commission has already declared six pockets in the three districts - Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore West - as Maoist affected and named the booths hyper sensitive. The pockets are Jhargram, Binpur and Bandwan in the Jhargram constituency and Balarampur, Bagmundi and Jaipur in Purulia.

State Chief Electoral Officer Debashis Sen told IANS: “We have taken enough steps to conduct free and fair polls. We will deploy paramilitary forces and there will be helicopter monitoring by the Air Force to ensure safe polling.”

Exuding confidence, Sen said locals would come out to vote and there is no “such sense of fear” among them.

“We have taken sensible precautions so that any Maoist designs can be thwarted,” he added.

Three Air Force helicopters will keep a hawk eye from the skies while poll time has been reduced by two hours (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) in the six pockets.

Elsewhere, in Bankura also, security is being tightened by several notches in areas which have Maoist pockets.

The three districts being adjacent to Jharkhand, the Maoists - who have a huge presence in the neighbouring state - are using the proximity to adopt a hit and run tactic.

“We will seal the inter-state borders two days ahead of the elections,” said Sen.

The police feel they have taken adequate measures to ensure common people can exercise their voting rights properly.

Raj Kanojia, inspector general (law & order) told IANS: “We will do whatever is required to conduct the polls properly.”

The authorities have been pushed to the edge following the escalation in Maoist violence in Chattishgarh and Bihar, where 19 people died in the first phase of polling April 16. In West Bengal also, four activists of the ruling Communist Party of India -Marxist (CPI-M) were abducted and killed by suspected Maoists.

“We have prepared ourselves fully for the upcoming polls. We will deploy central forces and state armed police in order to have free and fair polls in the region,” Rajesh Yadav, Purulia’s superintendent of police (SP), told IANS.

“We will deploy adequate security personnel. Since risk is higher in this region, we will require higher security,” Superintendent of Police in Bankura Vishal Garg told IANS.

Asked whether the local people were confident enough to go to the booths and exercise their franchise, Garg said: “We will try our best to build confidence among people. We are doing route march and flag march through the region.”

However, asked about the expected turnout in the region for polls, he said it depended on the situation.

“We are making necessary poll arrangements. We are trying to make it foolproof. We have increased our vigil to prevent any untoward incidents,” Superintendent of Police in West Midnapur Manoj Verma said.

(Aparajita Gupta can be contacted at aparajita.g@ians.in)

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