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On the eve of Bihar polls, Maoist belt turns into war zone

Gaya: Khaki, olive green and black – these are the dominant colours in the landscape of south and central Bihar ahead of the polls. On the eve of the first phase of polling the entire Maoist belt – ‘The Red Corridor’ from Banka to Kaimur – has virtually turned into a war zone with the presence of contingents of the state police, and Central Armed Para-military Forces (CAPFs).

Fifteen Maoist-affected districts of the state go to polls in the first two phases of polling – 12 October and 16 October. The role of CAPFs has increased after the Election Commission of India’s (EC) new diktat – a first of its kind—that each and every polling booth in the state should be in command of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“Considering the gravity of the ground situation in Bihar during elections, especially in the Maoist infested districts, the EC has ordered for the first time that all the 62779 polling stations in the state should be under the command of the CRPF. For this, 250 companies of CAPFs have been deployed. The first two phases of polling are crucial as both will be in Bihar’s most sensitive region. If this experiment becomes successful, the EC will replicate it in future elections,” Inspector General, CRPF, Bihar, Arun Kumar told Firstpost.

The CAPFs comprise CRPF, Border Security Force (BSF), Rapid Action Force (RAF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB).

In view of the repeated Naxal threats and the call to boycott the polls, the security cover across the Red Corridor has been scaled-up. Out of 38 districts, 33 are affected by Maoists.

“Due to Maoist threat, 47 polling booths have been shifted in consultation with political parties and EC. Because in these areas the Naxals will try to cause maximum damage to poll parties and security forces through landmine blasts. We’ve already recovered a large number of landmines and IEDs. The islands in the riverine belt are also safe haven for the Maoists and to track them, we’re using UAVs. We’re constantly changing our operational tactics. This election will witness one of the largest mobilizations of central para-military forces (more than 60,000) in Bihar. We’re engaged in multiple roles, from protecting the booths and voters to the polling staff as well,” added Arun Kumar, who’s also Force Coordinator (Bihar) for CAPFs.

The CAPFs in collaboration with Bihar Police, Bihar Military Police, Special Action Force and Special Task Force have chalked out an elaborate strategy to counter and nullify the possible Maoist attack during the polls.

Counter-offensive of central forces to nullify Maoists:

· First-time use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) ‘Netra’ to monitor polling in deep sensitive interiors and riverine belt.

· Special bomb disposal squad.

· Use of dog squad, with new breed of Belgian Shepherd sniffer dogs to track landmines and IEDs.

· 27 Anti-mining vehicles deployed.

· Special training by experts from IED Institute, Pune on handling and diffusing explosives.

· The booths in Naxal-infested areas shall have Naxal police stations, with a strike team of 20 personnel armed with sophisticated weapons and anti-riot equipment.

· Air ambulances in vulnerable and high sensitive zones.

Amongst the Naxal infested districts, Jamui and Gaya are the most sensitive. Out of 250 CAPF companies, the highest number, 25, have been deployed in Gaya alone, followed by 20 in Jamui.

Dhirendra Verma, Commandant, 159 Battalion of CRPF said, “Gaya is the most sensitive and volatile district in Bihar in terms of Maoist activities. It’ll go to polls in the second phase on 16 October, but we’re already on our toes and conducting regular combing operation to sanitize the polling station areas. As Gaya, Jamui, Banka, Nawada and Aurangabad are bordering with Jharkhand and the Palamau district, a stronghold of the Maoists, it makes these districts highly sensitive. We’ve already recovered IEDs (cylinder bombs) and landmines in Gaya district.”

In Gaya, the glass ceiling breaks: Women to supervise seven booths in phase 2 of Bihar polls

Gaya: Come 16 October — the date of the second phase of polling — Bihar will witness women power in seven of its polling stations in Gaya. Until now, it was a rare sight to have women election officers in the state. The glass ceiling is set to break.

For the first time in the state, the district administration will have seven polling stations in Gaya fully managed and administered by women staff — right from polling officials to security personnel.

District Magistrate, Gaya, Sanjay Kumar Agarwal told Firstpost, “During elections, Bihar witnesses a curfew-like situation and there’s a fear psychosis among the voters, especially women. As a result, women were excluded from the poll process, unlike in other states where women act as polling officers. But, now to break this practice, we’ve decided to have seven polling stations where everything will be managed exclusively by women staff.”

Women poll officers gear up ahead of the Bihar election. Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

Women poll officers gear up ahead of the Bihar election. Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

“The Election Commission has not only given permission for this initiative, but has also appreciated it as a step towards empowering women. We’ve spoken with the Bihar police and central security forces to provide women constables and sub-inspectors to guard the booths,” added Agarwal.

The district administration has identified seven polling stations at Mahavir Inter College and Madhya Vidyalaya in Gaya town which will act as model polling stations with special facilities like a supply of drinking water, overhead sheds and seating arrangements for the voters. To encourage people to vote, the first-time voters will be felicitated with certificates.

Parul Priya, senior deputy collector and nodal officer of this initiative, said, “We’ve roped in 50 women from the education, banking, government and administration sectors for this project, and are providing them with proper training. This is a unique experiment conceived by the district magistrate. No doubt, it’s a tough job, but women have volunteered their services. They are even ready to go to highly-sensitive booths. Initially, we have assigned them to safe areas.”

Gaya is one of the highly sensitive districts of Bihar due to the active presence of the Naxals who have already given a poll boycott call.

“I’m a government employee at the e-Samadhan project and when I found out about this experiment, I volunteered my services,” said Monika (22).

Anand Rupanjali (44), acting principal of Murarpur Government School, said, “I was brought up and educated in Goa. I never saw such discrimination against women in the electoral process both in Goa and Madhya Pradesh (where I’m from), as I have seen in Bihar. This initiative will break this glass ceiling one day.”

A group of 50 enthusiastic women could be seen undergoing intensive training under the nodal officer at the District Collectorate and on the field, to understand the nuances of the polling process. They will function as presiding officers to poll assistants.

Nilofer Nahid (46), an Urdu teacher in a middle school in Gaya town said, “We’ve been motivated so well by the DM and nodal officer that we no longer have the fear and inhibition that we had earlier. Our husbands have also encouraged us for this new role.”

Another member, Priyanka Kumari (25), a Union Bank of India employee, enthusiastically remarked, “It’s a matter of great pride for us to be a part of the electoral process. All of a sudden we’ve become icons of women empowerment in the state.”

“This initiative has become an example of women empowerment in Bihar and in due course, more women will join the electoral process,” added Saira Bano (49), a government school teacher.

Shashi Prabha was quick to add, “Yeh shakti rupa nari kaho kahan kab haari hai? (when and where has the woman, an embodiment of power, ever lost?)”

Ahead of Bihar elections, Maoists issue poll boycott threats in their strongholds

Jamui: The Maoists have asked voters in Jamui, Gaya, Aurangabad and Jehanabad to stay away from Bihar assembly polls. The CPI (Maoist) has pasted posters, circulated long notes and asked the villagers directly to desist from voting.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“Soon after the Election Commission announced the polling dates for Bihar, the Maoists started giving poll boycott calls in their strongholds in Jamui, Gaya and Aurangabad. It was done to give a message about their presence, which is gradually diminishing. We’ve seized handbills, posters and circulars from Maoist-infested pockets,” Arun Kumar, Inspector General, CRPF, told Firstpost.

The Left ultras have been issuing such threats over past several years with diminishing response from people. They had issued such diktats in Bastar, another stronghold, before Chhattisgarh assembly elections in 2013 and the general election of 2014 too. However, ignoring their threat, people came out in large number to exercise their voting right.

The Maoists have strongly criticised Bihar CM Nitish Kumar for following neo-liberal policies and ditching voters. They have reasoned that the right form of government couldn’t be formed through democratically held elections. In the last 65 years, the Indian public has only been exploited, they maintain.

The Maoist cadre has appealed to wage an “armed war against the establishment”. During its combing operation, besides, the posters and pamphlets, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has recovered arms and ammunition, and huge cash. According to latest data, the security forces have recovered Rs 8.95 crore from Naxal-infested districts in Bihar. “Our battalions have recovered arms, detonators and IEDs in large quantities. The Maoists wanted to create disturbance and inflict damage on a large-scale during polls,” added Kumar.