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Posted at: May 18, 2019, 6:41 AM; last updated: May 18, 2019, 6:41 AM (IST)

CAPF role in smooth conduct of polls

MP Nathanael

MP Nathanael
In most states, the very presence of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) deters goons from resorting to violence, while in some states like the Left-wing extremism-affected Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, the security forces are more prone to attacks by Maoists.
CAPF role in smooth conduct of polls
Poll duty: Over 2.7 lakh CAPF personnel are deployed across the country.

MP Nathanael
Former Inspector General of Police, CRPF

Even before the poll dates are announced, activity begins in the election cell of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Headquarters in New Delhi. The availability of the security forces — not just the CRPF, but also other Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) such as  the Border Security Force, Central Industrial Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Assam Rifles and the Sashastra Seema Bal — in every state is worked out to plan their strategy for conducting the elections in 543 constituencies spread over 33 lakh square km within about 40 days under the aegis of the Election Commission of India in coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Railways and the Air Force are also roped in for the smooth movement of the CAPF personnel to various destinations. No mean task by any standards.

Thanks to the massive efforts made by the ECI and the MHA, the degree of violence and incidents of booth-capturing have been kept in check. West Bengal recorded the maximum of 337 incidents of major violence during the first six phases in which three men were killed and several injured. The attack on BJP  president Amit Shah was thwarted by the timely and prompt intervention of CRPF personnel during a roadshow in Kolkata on May 14.

To the CAPFs and the state police goes the credit for ensuring smooth conduct of elections, though often, the state police are alleged to play a partisan role in elections. The CAPFs have had a clean image, but allegations of some of the personnel asking the voters to vote for a certain party in recent days is denting that image.

A candidate from the Bhirbhum constituency alleged that CAPF personnel posted at a booth were asking people to vote for a certain party in April, 2019. A similar complaint was registered by National Conference party’s Jammu president DS Rana in Jammu where BSF personnel reportedly manhandled a person who did not vote for a particular party. Strict disciplinary action needs to be taken against such personnel who tarnish the image of the CAPFs.

Moving from one corner of the country to another to ensure the smooth conduct of polls, the CAPF personnel, numbering over 2.7 lakh, head for their destinations by trains, buses, trucks and even flights, facing challenges of unfamiliar regions, sweating out in the sweltering heat, uncertainty of getting their next meal in time and even having to forego the luxury of bath for various reasons.

A report by a media organisation recently brought out the travails of the CRPF and the Railway Protection Force personnel who had to undertake a four-day journey by a special train from Kannur in Kerala to Muzaffarpur in Bihar. Meals that were provided by IRCTC were stale and had to be thrown away and due to late running of the train, the food was served at a pre-destined station even around midnight. For hours, they had to go hungry due to various reasons.

On reaching their destinations, the personnel are briefed by the local police and security forces commanders about the situation and the precautions to be taken. Officials of the Election Commission usually brief them about the role and duties of security forces in the election process.

In most states, the very presence of CAPFs deters goons from resorting to violence, while in some states like the Left-wing extremism-affected Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, the security forces are more prone to attacks by the Maoists. The Maoists usually ambush the security forces or use explosives to blow up vehicles in which they are travelling and thereafter resort to heavy firing, killing the occupants in the vehicles.

Last year, four personnel of the CRPF were martyred when the vehicle they were travelling in was blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Awapalli area of Bijapur in Chhattisgarh on October 27. This was a few days before the Assembly elections of November 2018. By such acts, Maoists intend to create terror among the locals that they are not to exercise their franchise and thus prevent them from being a part of the democratic process.

Three days later, two policemen of the Chhattisgarh Police sacrificed their lives in the Aranpur area of Dantewada when the Maoists ambushed a patrol that was out on area domination duty prior to the election. Achyutananda Sahu, a cameraman of Doordarshan who was in the state to cover the elections was killed in the crossfire. Two other policemen were injured in the ambush.

Just four days ahead of the elections in Chhattisgarh, a bus was blown up in the Bacheli area of Dantewada, killing a CISF constable and four other locals on November 8, 2018.

That these CAPF personnel reach out to the remotest regions of the country escorting the polling personnel and taking care of their security, at times walking miles and miles over days is generally unknown to the citizens of our country. At grave risk to their own lives, they ensure that the polling staff and the EVMs are well protected. Between 2013 and 2017, as many as 13 CRPF personnel sacrificed their lives in the course of performing election-related duties. Last year, nine CRPF personnel were martyred while on election-related duties. This year, the CRPF lost three of its gallant men in Maoists attacks while six others died due to various other reasons while on election duties.

In the midst of all this, there have been instances that have earned encomiums for the CRPF personnel. Constable Surinder Kumar of the CRPF was instrumental in saving the life of presiding officer Ahsan-ul-Haq who fell unconscious at a polling booth at Buchpura in Srinagar. Having been trained by the Indian Red Cross Society, the constable called up the CRPF doctor, Suneem Khan, and on his directions gave cardiopulmonary and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, thus saving his life.

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