Stay vigilant

Stay vigilant

In an attempt at intimidating voters and disrupting the ongoing general elections, Maoists have killed 15 people, including seven election officials and six CRPF personnel in twin attacks in Chhattisgarh.

The attacks were not unexpected as the Maoists had called for a boycott of the election, threatened to disrupt voting and warned voters that they would be targeted if they defied the boycott. Election authorities had tightened security across the violence-prone Bastar region in Chhattisgarh in anticipation of a Maoist strike. However, the rebels were able to breach the security cordon.

This is because they struck after voting was over i.e. at a time when an attack was least expected and security forces had lowered their guard. It was errors on the part of the security forces rather than any great capacity on the part of the Maoists that enabled the attacks on Saturday.  As in recent attacks the security forces seem to have violated Standard Operating Procedures.

They boarded an ambulance in violation of instructions. Apparently, they had been instructed too to avoid travelling through Jagdalpur. Yet they went ahead ignoring norms, orders and intelligence inputs. This violation of rules is proving costly in terms of human lives.

In Bastar, the Maoists managed to keep voter turnout low as well. Compared to the 67 per cent turnout during state assembly elections in November last year, the turnout on April 10 was a moderate 52 per cent. In one village just four voters showed up while the rest of its inhabitants fled fearing Maoist reprisals.

Rebels opened fire at security forces guarding polling booths. Clearly, the Maoists were able to scare people into staying away from voting. In contrast to the sluggish voting in Bastar, turnout in other Maoist strongholds in other states was fairly heartening. Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra, for instance, registered a 60 per cent turnout despite a Maoist boycott call.

Other Maoist strongholds in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, etc will vote in the coming weeks. As in Bastar, the electoral battle here will be in the shadow of the gun. Two CRPF personnel were killed in a blast in Munger in Bihar last week, signalling the disrupting intentions of the Maoists. Authorities must heed the lessons from the attacks in Bastar. Deploying more troops ahead of elections and during the vote is not enough; security forces must remain on vigil after the vote as well. What is more, SOPs must be respected at all times.