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Aerial lessons for poll twin in blast toll

New Delhi/ Ranchi, April 13: Hours after Maoist landmines in Chhattisgarh yesterday killed 14 persons, including CRPF personnel and poll officials, EC in rebel-scarred Jharkhand has decided not to trust roads, choosing to airdrop officials to Naxalite areas set for April 17 elections.

Cautioning paramilitary forces not to get complacent after Jharkhand’s first day of “peaceful and reasonably successful polls” on April 10 across four seats in Maoist strongholds, state chief electoral officer P.K. Jajoria warned Day Two on April 17 presented “challenges” across six constituencies.

The bulk of Jharkhand — Giridih, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Singhbhum (ST), Khunti (ST) and Hazaribagh — will vote on April 17. Campaigning for these seats ends on April 15 (Tuesday) afternoon.

Referring to Saranda (West Singhbhum), Parasnath Hills (Giridih), Arki, Bundu and Tamar (Khunti), and Ghurabandha, Dumaria, Musabani (Jamshedpur), Jajoria said: “We are stressing on standard and stringent precautionary measures across Naxalite-hit areas, with facilities to airdrop and airlift poll officials. We have asked security forces not to get relaxed after the peaceful polls on April 10 that recorded around 58 per cent turnout. We appeal to people to come out in big numbers to vote on April 17 as well.”

Jharkhand’s inspector-general of police (operations) M.L. Meena, who now has perhaps the state’s toughest job of shouldering the overall security management during Lok Sabha polls, told The Telegraph that they were prepared.

“We can’t disclose details about our plans or number of security personnel, including paramilitary forces, for April 17. But, more security forces will be deployed compared to April 10. Day One went well, we hope Day Two, with six poll-bound seats, passes off peacefully,” Meena said.

Landmine explosions claiming the most number of casualties on foot and in armoured vehicles across India’s rebel bastions, aerial transport of poll personnel in state pockets will be based on need and priority. “Jharkhand has at its disposal the services of six choppers in poll season. They will be judiciously used,” Meena said.

For April 10, helicopters were used in Jharkhand’s 132 booths to ferry 264 polling personnel in seven districts falling under the four constituencies.

Yesterday’s Maoist blasts in Bastar occurred two days after the guerrilla hotbed in Chhattisgarh had voted on April 10, Thursday. Born in November 2000 and separated by a fortnight, Chhattisgarh, like its almost-twin Jharkhand, goes to polls again on April 17.

While political watchers and security top brass ponder over the resurgent Maoist violence as a run-up to the “celebration” of 10 years of formation of CPI(Maoist) on September 21 that has coincided with the 16th Lok Sabha elections by default, interrogation of arrested Naxalite leaders from across India revealed its poll boycott campaign was launched around January this year. Apparently, the banned outfit had decided its 10th anniversary would be “celebrated on a huge scale all over the country”.

Asked to comment on the twin Chhattisgarh landmine blasts involving deaths of five CRPF jawans, seven election officials and two staff who reportedly ignored directions not to board vehicles while coming back from booths, Meena expressed “condolences”.

In what is a Hobson’s choice, Chhattisgarh, police top brass, along with Election Commission and CRPF headquarters, are deliberating on how to marshal or reposition forces without compromising on that region’s security as well as other poll-bound ones nearby.

Now, thousands of central forces need to move out of Bastar for elections elsewhere. Three more Chhattisgarh seats — Rajnandgaon, Kanker and Mahasamund — vote this Thursday.

Over 140 companies or over 15,000 central forces are deployed in Chhattisgarh, most in Bastar. Movement of troops is a logistical nightmare, concede top police brass. “If we move forces out, there is risk of more IED blasts; if we don’t, elections elsewhere suffer. But, there is no choice and we have to move, it is a democracy,” a senior official in Chhattisgarh said without specifying how many forces would be retained in Bastar.

Paramilitary forces on election duty fall under the EC, which right now vets all central decisions. Right now, there is hardly any scope for Union ministry of home affairs to intervene.