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EC offers polls under central force
- Lukewarm Lalgarh to discuss plan

Calcutta, April 12: The Election Commission today proposed to Lalgarh resistance leaders that it would hold polls there under the vigil of central forces, not state police, and assured them of withdrawing the force after voting.

The People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities has been stubborn on not allowing the police into the area.

Today, its leaders were non-commital about the proposal on central forces after the meeting with chief electoral officer Debashis Sen.

“We have held the Nandigram Assembly by-polls in this manner. Central forces were deployed under the district civil authority,’’ Sen said.

The state government and the CPM are apparently not opposed to the arrangement as they don’t want a repeat of the Nandigram bloodbath.

The tribal committee leaders — Chhatradhar Mahato and Lalmohon Tudu — met Sen along with human rights activist Sujato Bhadra and three women activists today.

Sen invited Mahato to the meeting in a bid to end the impasse in Lalgarh that has been out of bounds for the state police since last December.

Sen’s proposal came after the committee leaders stuck to their position of not allowing the police to enter the West Midnapore trouble zone.

“The Election Commission has special strategies to ensure polls in disturbed areas, including Maoist zones in several states. Accordingly, I have told the committee leaders that central forces would be deployed in Lalgarh only for the polling day,’’ Sen said.

He said forces from the Northeast, Jharkhand and Orissa would be deployed across Bengal and would be present in the Jhargram constituency, under which Lalgarh falls. Jhargram votes on April 30.

The tribal committee fears the central forces would be used as a Trojan horse after it enters Lalgarh. “What is the guarantee that the EC would not ask the central forces to stay back after the polls if the state government wants it?” Mahato asked.

Sen tried to allay his fears, saying: “They (the central forces) can’t stay back. They will have to move to other places for the next phase of polls.”

Mahato said he would get back to Sen after discussions within the committee and among its supporters. “We are not opposed to elections but we have no faith in the police.... If the commission can ensure confidence-building measures to guarantee that the central forces and administration would work impartially, we will think about it,” he said.

But the Maoists are unlikely to budge.

In an interview with The Telegraph last week, Shekhar, the CPI (Maoist) chief of the Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa regional committee who is supervising Lalgarh movement, said there was no question of allowing policemen in, whether central or state forces.

“From experience, we have learnt that CPM cadres take advantage of such steps. They melt into the force to gain access. We don’t want a repeat of Nandigram. We will resist the police at any cost,” he said.

Mahato today accused the government and the CPM of doublespeak. “What is the signal we get when the poll panel invites us for talks but the CPM and the police raid areas close to our homes?” he said, referring to the police hunt for Maoists near Lalgarh.

Sen ruled out deferring the polls as suggested by the committee. He also said the booths could not be shifted outside Lalgarh as suggested by a section of the CPM leadership.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told a rally in Jadavpur: “We are still handling the situation patiently. They are gheraoing the police and accusing us of police excesses.”

Home secretary Ardhendu Sen said: “I will speak to the chief electoral officer tomorrow before giving the government’s response.”

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