The Telegraph
Saturday , May 3 , 2014
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Trust & confidence elbow out violence

- Deployment of security forces, use of technology push up voter turnout
CRPF personnel patrol a Maoist-hit area in Gaya on April 10. Picture by Suman

Bihar has scored a double victory in the ongoing general election.

First, the turnout of the electorate has been quite heavy in spite of the unkind summer. Second, polling in four of the six phases has been absolutely non-violent.

The state has a history of violence during both the Lok Sabha poll and the Assembly elections. If the four phases of the parliamentary elections are any indication, the state has witnessed a sharp dip in poll-related violence, a breather for the Election Commission.

Statistics available with the state police headquarters revealed that seven persons lost their lives during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls in the state. Earlier, in 2004, the number of fatalities stood at 19. During the 1999 parliamentary elections, 76 casualties were reported.

Bloodbath was quite common even during the Assembly elections. Fifty-three people were killed in the 1995 Assembly polls. The fatalities rose to 61 in the 2000 Assembly elections. During the 2005 state polls, 27 persons died in violent clashes.

The 2001 elections to local and urban bodies, however, crossed all limits. A total of 191 persons were killed during the elections. Complaints of large-scale violence and poll rigging during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections brought the role of the Election Commission (EC) under the scanner.

The four phases of the current Lok Sabha polls in the state have mostly been peaceful. Except the Maoist attack on a group of security personnel in Munger, no major incident of violence has been reported from any of the 27 parliamentary constituencies, which went to polls on April 10, April 17, April 24 and April 30.

The reason for an almost violence-free poll in the state is attributed to the well-oiled strategy of the Election Commission on the one hand and proper deployment of the security agencies at the polling booths on the other. The strategy chalked out by then EC special observer K.J. Rao during the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and subsequently 2005 Assembly elections has started paying dividends.

Taking a cue from the past, the EC has brought out certain changes in the strategy for the elections. Instead of general observers, separate police observers are appointed to oversee the security arrangements in each constituency. Earlier, frequent complaints were made to the EC about irregularities in the deployment of the security forces, particularly those of the central paramilitary forces, at the polling booths.

The EC has strengthened the infrastructure at the grassroots level too. A full-fledged control room set at the office of the chief electoral officer works round-the-clock before polling. The control room equipped with latest gadgets such as webcam has a set of officers in the rank of senior deputy collectors, who have been assigned specific tasks.

CRPF personnel cover the Naxalite-affected Banke Bazaar area in Gaya on a motorcycle during the April 10 polls in Bihar. Picture by Suman

Unlike previous elections, a team of two-three officers on special duty (senior deputy collectors) has been appointed for each Assembly segment of the Lok Sabha constituency. Each team has been provided a group of seven to eight assistants, who co-ordinate with the polling personnel as well as the security forces at the polling booths.

Bihar chief electoral officer Ajay V. Naik said the EC has developed network at the booth-level. The officials at the control room, which is made operational before 48 hours of polling in each phase, remain in touch with the polling personnel, security personnel and a few people’s representatives of the area to look into complaints of rigging and the inconvenience caused to the voters on the polling day.

The allegations are verified at different levels. The booths have been divided into sectors and zones and the officers are deployed accordingly. The officers deployed at the control room contact the members of the static force at the booths or patrol parties on cellphones and satellite phones in remote areas. “Such facilities were not available earlier,” said the chief electoral officer.

The installation of webcams in some of the polling booths has helped a lot to ensure free and fair elections. “The experiment has been successful. It would be expanded in phases,” he said, adding that special drivers launched by the EC to create awareness among the voters to use their right to vote helped in substantial increase the polling percentage in the state.

During the four phases, there has been an increase of 10 to 13 per cent in voter turnout at the polling booths. In the just conducted fourth phase, voter turnout was recorded over 58 per cent, a rise of about 13 per cent from the Lok Sabha poll in 2009, he said.

Additional director-general (ADG) (headquarters) Ravinder Kumar, who is the zonal officer of the Bihar police to co-ordinate with the EC, said the fear of law has also contributed to contain poll-related violence. “Preventive action, coupled with execution of warrants and pre-poll area domination in Maoist-hit areas, is responsible for dip in poll-related violence in the state earlier notorious for large-scale violence during elections,” he told The Telegraph.

The Adg attributed the reason to better co-ordination among different wings of the EC and the state machinery. “If every wing of the law-enforcing agencies functions properly, it is bound to deliver desired results. And this has been happening for the past few elections (especially after 2009 Lok Sabha polls),” he added.

Shiv Shankar Tiwary, a resident of Mahua in Vaishali district, is all praise for the EC, which initiated a slew of measures to check the use of muscle and money power in the elections. “Apart from EC’s initiatives, people have also realised that they were used by the politicians for their political gains. Ab neta ko bhi log samajh gaye hain. Unke liye ab koi jaan kyon dega jab unko janata ki parwah nahi (People are aware of character of the politicians. They have also realised that they were being used for political gains),” he added.

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