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Polls purged of Ulfa dread

- Cops, once wary of April 7, outfit’s raising day, confident of holding free elections

Guwahati, March 20: Certain dates over the past three-and-a-half decades have made security forces in Assam sit up and reach out for the drawing board to strategise and ensure that the days passed off as peacefully as possible.

One of those dates has been April 7, the Ulfa’s raising day and, hence, a day to be wary of, for the outfit would celebrate the occasion literally with a bang, the bang of grenades and IEDs. “Take care” would be the sagacious advice for the day.

But times have changed, so much so that now even elections can be conducted on April 7 without a trace of concern.

“The date is inconsequential today, Ulfa is defanged,” is how additional director-general of police (law and order), A.P. Rout, emphatically sum-med up the changed times.

The first of the three phases of the Lok Sabha elections in Assam is slated for the day and that too in places like Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar districts, which are tantalisingly close to the outfit’s free ranging areas like parts of Nagaland and Aruna-chal Pradesh, and thus, at another time, would have been seen to be highly vulnerable.

The second and third phases are scheduled for April 12 and 24.

“We never had any issue with the date and never felt there would be any problem to hold elections on April 7,” Rout told The Telegraph.

The Election Commission, he said, has a lot on its plate anyway to be able to go by everyone’s convenience.

Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, for instance, would be very high on the volatility scale and demand on security forces would, therefore, be much higher.

Rout, of course, did not entirely rule out stray incidents, choosing rather to compare these with accidents on roads that occur despite utmost care.

The official said adequate security forces were at hand (see chart) to neutralise any threat and ensure a safe election. “At worst, there could be some repolling here and there, but that’s about it,” he said.

“The main thrust would be on protection of people involved with the election process like election officials, polling parties and the candidates themselves,” he said.

Rout also said the situation in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) was under control though there were certain areas which would require a closer watch. “But overall, we have the upper hand there,” he said.

Reports have suggested that about a score of militants of the NDFB’s Songbijit faction, which is active in these areas, has been tasked with causing disturbances. Security forces had, however, recently dealt blows to the outfit, even netting a few cadres with rewards on their heads.

Assam will have 58 additional companies (approximately 5,800 personnel) of central security forces drawn from the CRPF, ITBP, SSB and CISF besides police personnel from Nagaland and Sikkim.

“They have been arriving over the last few days and the last lot is expected to be in by today or tomorrow. These personnel will move with the elections, from one phase to another,” he said.

That Assam is probably comfortably placed in the matter of security can also be gauged from the fact that the state has had the luxury of even lending 10 companies to Manipur for election duty there.