Friday, December 18, 2009

Poll snub for Maoists

- Month-long elections a success, thanks to security forces

Ranchi, Dec. 18: Jharkhand’s month-long Assembly elections came to an end today with the unprecedented security blanket ensuring people came out in large numbers in the final round of voting in the 16 remaining constituencies, most of them located in Maoist strongholds.

The focus now shifts on counting that will be taken up amid high security on December 23.

Initial figures released by the Election Commission suggested today’s voting turnout was around 58.12 per cent, likely to go up after collating final tallies.

Given that the earlier four phases recorded turnouts of 53.10, 58.82, 57.21 and 64.30 per cent, the state was looking at an overall voting percentage of around 60 per cent, something the Centre would consider encouraging.

Barring two landmine blasts that left two policemen killed and two others injured, today’s voting was largely peaceful throughout the seven districts of Palamau, Garhwa, Chatra, Latehar, Hazaribagh, West Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan, most of them known to host Maoist pockets.

In all, five security forces personnel lost their lives in these Assembly elections. In the 2005 elections, the number stood at eight, while in the Lok Sabha elections of April, seven policemen died in rebel violence.

If people voted aggressively in Simaria (62 per cent) and Chatra (61), they also turned up in large numbers in Garhwa, Bhavanathpur, Hussainabad, Chaibasa and Barkatha.

Significantly, Latehar recorded 57 per cent turnout, 11 per cent more than what it polled in 2005. Manika, where candidates were scared to campaign because of the rebel presence, logged 54 per cent voting.

If the Jharkhand elections were a trial run for the Centre before the possible launch of a co-ordinated offensive against Maoists, then the experiment seems to have succeeded as the number of casualties among security forces were minimal.

Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s appeals to the people to come out and vote to defeat the rebels’ terror tactics, coupled with the systematic and extensive deployment of a massive posse of Central and state forces, helped create an atmosphere of safety that was conducive to elections.

“The security forces could screen the resources of the Maoists during the one-and-a-half-month-long deployment in difficult terrain,” explained DIG R.K. Mallick, deputed today in Latehar to oversee security arrangements.

According to senior police officials, area domination by Central forces that were deployed soon after the elections were declared in the last week of October, led to the Naxalites being forced to abandon their hideouts. Prior to this, a series of meetings were held between senior police officers of bordering districts of Bihar, Orissa and Bengal to chalk out a deployment pattern to plug the vulnerable inter-state borders.

Around 75,000 security forces personnel, drawn from CRPF, BSF, ITBP, RPF, SSB and CISF, besides state armed forces, were deployed, aided by a fleet of 10 helicopters used for air surveillance and transportation of poll officials.

Joint chief electoral officer Ashok Kumar Sinha said today’s voting was peaceful, except for some stray incidents. The Election Commission and the chief electoral officer monitored voting at eight booths via web cameras — one each in Chaibasa, Adityapur in Seraikela-Kharsawan, Garhwa, Chatra, Latehar, Barkatha and two in Daltonganj.

State police spokesperson V.H. Deshmukh said two security personnel were killed and two were injured in separate landmine blasts.

According to CRPF DIG Alok Raj, who is nodal officer for the central paramilitary forces deployed in the state, Maoists also blew up two schools — one in Gomia and another in Kawal in Palamau — and a small bridge.

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