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Toughest test: ‘We can handle trouble in no time but police will have to tell us’

Calcutta, May 11: The Election Commission has reeled out statistics aimed at boosting confidence a day before Calcutta votes and the general election ends.

Over 500 companies of central forces will be deployed in the 17 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bengal that vote on Monday. Put in context, the number means 280 more companies than those deployed in the entire state in 2009.

As many as 85 observers are expected to monitor the polling in Bengal — the heaviest such deployment in the country.

The Election Commission has prioritised Bengal in tomorrow’s last phase, though six seats in Bihar and 18 in Uttar Pradesh are also going to the polls. “Bengal, especially in this last phase, has emerged as our toughest challenge. We have left no stone unturned to ensure free, fair and peaceful polls,” said a Nirvachan Sadan source this evening.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee also lent her voice to the confidence-building measures. “Now people can freely exercise their vote…. Be cool. Be tough and be smart, this is my message to people,” she said.

Yet, one voice rang louder than the high-powered assurances.

Yeh log humein bolein to hum kuchh hi samay mein in logon ko thanda kar dein (If they tell us, we can take care of these people in no time),” said a CISF jawan this afternoon, dumbfounded by the police inaction in the face of aggression by a crowd outside a Trinamul office in Cossipore in the city. (See chart)

The CISF jawan had hit the nail on the head, pointing out in his own way that the best-laid plans are of little use if the last-mile order is not issued.

On a day complaints of assault and intimidation poured in, an official explained how the last-mile gap was affecting action on the ground.

“The problem is we need to depend on the police to execute several things. The special observer is forwarding us the messages of complaints and we are forwarding them to the police. But the ground-level police officers listen only to the political masters and we can do very little about it,” said the official.

If the security forces’ helplessness was evident in such a stark manner in Cossipore — which is ward No. 1 in Calcutta, and not a remote place — the situation in the districts can only be imagined.

“More than 10,000 supporters in 50 villages of Nandigram have been threatened with dire consequences if they go to the polling booths to vote tomorrow,” CPM district secretariat member Niranjan Sihi said in East Midnapore.

But Mamata said: “The CPM and the Congress have unleashed terror in areas where they are weak. Now they are claiming to be victims…. We all know about the techniques used by the Left for rigging…. Trinamul does not need to rig polls.”

She added: “Media houses too must report about the polls in an unbiased manner.”

The ruling party’s candidate in Behrampore, Indranil Sen, has also alleged an attack by the Opposition.

“Never before had such fear gripped urban belts in Bengal a day ahead of Lok Sabha elections, despite such a heavy presence of central forces,” said a senior district official on deputation to the commission.

The commission has drawn up a fresh list of highly sensitive pockets in the seven districts going to the polls.

Some of the highly sensitive belts in Calcutta are Entally, Beliaghata, Manicktala, Kankurgachhi, Cossipore, Belgachhia, Kasba, Behala, Hazra and Bhowanipore.

“Every detail has been factored in. Every need and concern has been addressed. Every necessary measure is in place,” the commission’s special state observer, Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, said.

Election Commission veterans said the best option for voters was to vote as early as possible.