Central paramilitary force personnel head towards Hussainabad on Wednesday. Picture by Saikat Chatterjee
Ranchi, Dec. 16: The fifth and final phase of Assembly elections on Friday will be held amid unprecedented security in 16 constituencies with as many as 10 choppers keeping an eye on proceedings in the seven voting districts, at least four of which are Maoist strongholds.
With the Maoist poll boycott call proving to be ineffective so far a turnout of 58.51 per cent has been recorded in the first four phases the rebels made a last ditch effort today to make their presence felt by triggering a landmine blast in Garhwa that couldnt harm RJD candidate Girinath Singh, but left three of his security guards injured.
The state administration is leaving nothing to chance, fearing that the Maoists may try to make the most of the last phase of elections they have blown up around 15 school buildings in the last two months in these districts.
As many as 75,000 security personnel at least 30,000 more than the number used earlier have been deployed, drawn from central paramilitary forces, district armed constabulary and home guards, in the 16 constituencies spread over Latehar, Palamau, Garhwa, Chatra, Kharsawan, West Singhbhum and Hazaribagh.
State police spokesperson V.H. Deshmukh seemed satisfied with the security arrangements. Our fleet of helicopters has almost been doubled as 65 per cent of the booths in this phase are super sensitive.
If four more choppers have been added to the fleet of six that were used so far, the administration has also deputed IG and DIG-rank officials in every district to monitor the security set-up.
DIG R.K. Mallick, who will be in Latehar, said SPs had sent out men deep into the forests. We are equipped to respond within 15 minutes in case of any rebel strike. And we will respond in a devastating manner, he told The Telegraph.
Joint chief electoral officer Ashok Kumar Sinha said 149 polling stations had been relocated for security reasons. These included 48 in Manika, 27 in Latehar, 17 in Jagannathpur and 13 in Simaria.
The state administration is aware that several Maoist leaders, claiming to have given up violence, were in the fray, courtesy JMM chief Shibu Soren and RJD chief Lalu Prasad. The Ajsu has also fielded a former rebel in Simaria.
We believe that candidates, fielded by various parties including the JMM and RJD, have struck some sort of an electoral understanding with the CPI(Maoists). So while they may allow voters to vote, they will certainly target the security forces, said a senior police official.
Withdrawal of the forces after polling would be another tricky affair. We cannot rule out encounters with Naxalites when there is such a huge number of forces, Deshmukh pointed out. It is like a war. They can trigger a landmine hiding in a bush and that attracts big publicity, he said.
In the 16 seats that go to polls campaigning ended today the BJP has four sitting MLAs, RJD five, the JD(U) and Forward Bloc, CPI, NCP one each, and Independents two.
The BJP is fighting 11 seats, while the JD(U) is contesting five. On the other hand, the Congress is contesting 12 and JVM has fielded candidates in four constituencies. The RJD is fighting 11 while the JMM is fighting all the seats.
The real fight this time is primarily between the NDA and RJD as 11 seats are located in Palamau, Latehar and Chatra where leaders from neighbouring Bihar, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, have campaigned extensively.
The JMM is desperate to gain a foothold in Palamau and Chatra and has been banking on Maoist leaders it has fielded in Vishrampur, Daltonganj and Simaria. The party played son-of-the-soil sentiments during campaigning, accusing the RJD, Congress and BJP of neglecting Jharkhand.
The BJP, RJD and Congress have all been serving their own selfish interests. They never thought of putting Jharkhand on the development map of the country, Soren said at poll meetings.
The BJP is locked in a straight fight in Kharsawan and Seraikela with the Congress and JMM, respectively, where the prestige of Arjun Munda is at stake. The Congress is also locked in straight fight with the BJP in Chaibasa, while the BJP is struggling to create a hurdle for Madhu Kodas wife, Geeta, in Jagannathpur, vacated by him after being elected MP from Singhbhum earlier this year.
Geeta has been working on a sympathy wave, trying to convince her voters that her husband in jail after being accused of amassing illegal wealth to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore was victim of political conspiracy.