The spate of Maoist violence on the first day of the Lok Sabha poll raises a key question — who is in charge of security during elections? The Election Commission (EC), through its recent actions and pronouncements, has usurped the powers of policing in states, even that of tackling Maoists.
Earlier this week, in a bizarre order, the EC barred all Director Generals of Police (DGP) from meeting chief ministers during the election period. It said only the home secretary of the state should brief the chief minister on the law and order situation.
The logic? “To send a message to voters that police was free from any political interference during elections,” said S.K. Mendiratta, legal advisor to the commission.
But in its zeal to send such messages, the commission has interfered substantially in both normal and anti-insurgency policing. Its insistence on removing Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwaranjan before the election process is another case in point.
Vishwaranjan objected to EC officials ordering around district superintendents of police on deployment of security forces. The EC wanted a fixed number of personnel at every booth, whereas insurgency afflicted regions need policemen to dominate the entire area, without restricting themselves to just the booths. The commission refused to concede ground. It even issued orders on where precisely choppers meant for emergency operations should be kept!
Next, the EC objected to the DGP touring Naxal-affected districts. It even banned the chief secretary and DGP from touring the state and holding meetings with district officials without prior permission! Frustrated, Chhattisgarh chief secretary P. Joy Ommen wrote to the CEC on November 8, 2008: “Free and fair elections in the naxal-affected districts, you would agree, is not merely a matter of minimising political or ‘executive’ interference but also of ensuring that the polling parties and voters reach the polling booths and return thereafter… at least on issues like containing the Naxalite threat we thought there would be some effort in consultation with my office or that of the DGP.”
“The DGP had gone to the field areas essentially to plan anti-Naxal operations on the basis of intelligence reports about their heightened activities in certain areas. It is not clear in which way he has interfered in any election related work.”
Instead of considering the points being raised by field officers objectively the election commission had Vishwaranjan removed.
One can’t quantify the effect of EC actions on the morale of the police force, but given today's large scale violence, the extent to which the EC should be allowed to interfere in policing should be closely scrutinised.