Chhattisgarh Assembly elections: Bastar blanketed with forces ahead of polls

At least 60,000 additional Central paramilitary and State armed personnel deployed in Chhattisgarh’s Maoist-affected areas

Authorities have thrown a massive security blanket over Bastar division in south Chhattisgarh ahead of the first phase of polling in the State on November 12, though the government has been claiming a decline in left-wing insurgency. Additional Central paramilitary forces have been deployed in the sensitive region.

As many as 600 additional companies of Central paramilitary and State armed forces are being stationed across the 18 constituencies where voting will take place in the first phase, said a senior Union government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Similar to 2013

With each company comprising 100 to 120 soldiers, it effectively means 60,000 to 72,000 additional security personnel will be in Chhattisgarh, especially the Maoist-affected Bastar division, during the election. While in 2013, an equal number of companies was deployed in the first phase in Bastar, in 2008, only 320 were sent to the region.

“There are 50 battalions posted in Chhattisgarh already throughout the year,” the official said. Given that each battalion has nearly 1,000 troops, it effectively means that there were at least 50,000 pairs of boots of Central paramilitary forces on the ground in Chhattisgarh, not including the additional poll-time deployment. All of this is in addition to the significant presence of the State police.

The high ratio of security personnel to civilians has to be seen in the context of the extensive area that needs to be secured, says Vishwa Ranjan, a former Director-General of Police of the State.

“If you think in terms of the area, and Bastar is huge, then it may not be as high as it seems,” Mr. Ranjan said. “If election is taking place throughout the country, forces could be less. But if it is in only a few States, like now, it is usually high,” he said. The former DGP said the deployment was done on the basis of number of booths “in consultation with the Election Commission”.

Sanjay Arora, an Inspector-General who heads the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops in Chhattisgarh, said their main task would be “threefold” during the first phase of election.

“We need to ensure safe induction of the forces, as in basing them safely in the insurgency-hit areas and familiarisation,” he said. The CRPF’s second responsibility would be to ensure maximum safety and security to the voters so that they could exercise their franchise without fear.

The third task would be to ensure that the temporary additional forces were brought “out of the area safely”, Mr. Arora said.

‘Win hearts and minds’

The CRPF had been engaged in efforts to “win the hearts and minds of the people” in the Maoist-affected districts of south Chhattisgarh, Mr. Arora said.

“We have distributed solar lights, conducted classes in rural schools, initiated health camps, sporting activities and launched motorcycle ambulances.”

Asked about last year’s CRPF fatalities in the State — 39 personnel were killed in 2017, the highest number since 2011 — Mr. Arora said the high death toll was not indicative of an increase in left-wing extremism.

“In two incidents, 37 soldiers died, which can be described as sporadic in nature,” he said.

Mr. Arora contended that the best evidence of a decline in popular support for the insurgency was the fact that more local youth were now looking to join the security forces.

“When we conducted the recruitment for Bastariya Battalion [with men from Bastar Division] in 2016, the response was just about adequate to fill the vacancies. But in 2018, a few months back, there was a quantum jump as many boys came forward to join the forces; we got 3,000 applications for about 150 positions,” the police officer added.

Senior government officials say there had been a continuous decline in Maoist recruitment that had created a political vacuum in the Maoist-affected areas.

“Unfortunately, the mainstream political parties could not take advantage of the vacuum,” said an official, who did not wish to be identified.

Source: Read Full Article