The Pawan Hans helicopter carrying JMM patriarch Shibu Soren reaches Palojori in Sarath on Monday amid a crowd of tribals who seems more keen on getting a closer look at the chopper than their sitting MP. Even after Soren Senior got off to address a rally nearby, local residents stayed put at the ground with the chopper standing by. “Helicopters are more than a mode of conveyance. Politicians use them to draw masses,” Md Meraz, a local villager, said. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Ranchi, April 21: Cocking a snook at Maoist-sponsored election boycott, the first two rounds of Lok Sabha polling in Jharkhand passed off almost uneventfully with moderate to good turnouts. Now, the upbeat state security machinery is eyeing a hat-trick on April 24.
The last Vote Thursday will see the remaining four parliamentary constituencies of Dumka, Godda, Rajmahal and Dhanbad turn into electoral battlefields. A flawless show is as important for security forces as it is for candidates who have already sounded the war bugle.
“They will make a hat-trick in smooth polling,” DGP Rajeev Kumar sounded confident. The top cop is extensively touring Santhal Pargana, primarily the three poll-bound constituencies, to review security preparedness. He added that sustained pressure on rebels in the form of operations over the past year had helped them maintain an edge.
But, the challenge is big.
Barring Dhanbad, the other three seats come under the Union government’s LWE (Left-wing extremism)-affected category.
Though JMM stronghold Dumka had seen a drop in Maoist strikes from five in 2011 to three in 2013, it also saw one of the worst attacks last year. On July 2, Pakur SP Amarjit Balihar and five other policemen were fatally ambushed near Kathikund.
According to police records, two armed Maoist squads are still active in Dumka. One is in the north of Rampurhat-Pakki Road and the other in the southern pocket, primarily Kathikund, Ramgarh and Gopikander stretches. Of the total 1,647 booths in Dumka, 400 are highly sensitive and 556 sensitive.
SP Nirmal Kumar Mishra, however, claimed that the extremist forces were completely on the back foot this time. “In a nutshell, the region is safe. Voters need not worry about anything and must come out freely to exercise their franchise,” he told The Telegraph.
Mishra refused to divulge details of their security network. “Areas named in intelligence reports are under our control. The CRPF and the CoBRA are aiding us. About 19 booths were identified for air-dropping, but five are facing problems with chopper landing. Tomorrow, we will once again do a trial touchdown,” he said as he rushed for a meeting with the DGP.
Sahebganj SP Awadh Bihar Ram maintained that they had already finalised heads for deputation at each polling station. The Rajmahal constituency has a total of 613 booths of which 190 are highly sensitive and 280 sensitive. Besides the district police, 15 companies of CRPF and a few more companies JAP and IRB have already arrived.
“At highly sensitive booths, the force equation will be two (a havildar and a police officer) plus eight (armed jawans who can tackle assaults). Similarly, sensitive booths will two plus four, while polling stations where no imminent threats are perceived will be guarded by three armed jawans,” Ram said, adding that the DGP was satisfied with the arrangements.
Aerial surveillance will also be conducted in Rajmahal, but the SP didn’t reveal the number of flying machines on call. “Around 12 sealing points have been constituted across the constituency to keep an eye on both pedestrians and vehicles,” Ram maintained.
In Godda, of the total 1,029 polling booths, over 40 per cent are highly sensitive and almost half of the rest sensitive.
SP Ajay Linda said the DGP visit helped fine-tune their preparations and they were ready for the challenge. “We haven’t witnessed any Maoist incident in our district in two years. But, we cannot afford to be complacent. We are fully prepared,” he said, adding that he would further brief media at a news meet on Tuesday.
A senior official in Dhanbad said they weren’t expecting any rebel challenge since more than 70 per cent of the constituency was either urban or semi-urban.