The resolve of ballot against the threat of bullet will be put to test when the second phase of Jharkhand polls coincides with the start of the CPI-Maoists’ PLGA week on Tuesday.
Maoists observe their People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) week each year between December 2 and 9 to commemorate the foundation of their military wing.
The banned left-wing extremist outfit’s PLGA is its frontal military wing that executes bloody attacks. With an estimated 15,000-20,000 highly trained guerillas, the PLGA is known to target security forces.
During the PLGA week, it is a Maoist tradition to carry out strikes against security personnel to exhibit their strength and control in areas under their dominance.
The Maoist presence has spread to 22 out of the 24 Jharkhand districts and claimed 1,300 lives, including 507 security personnel, since the state’s creation in 2000. Most of the major strikes against the forces have occurred during or around the PLGA week.
In all, polling will be held across 20 constituencies across seven Maoist-affected districts on Tuesday. Senior police officials in these districts are aware of the threat and have beefed up security.
“I have informed the government about the high possibility of strikes by the rebels during this week,” West Singhbhum superintendent of police Narendra Kumar Singh said.
The Saranda forest, spread across 820 sq km, in the district is the Maoists safest hideout in the country. It has always been an uphill task for the election commission to successfully hold fair and peaceful polls in the booths in this forest area.
What’s more, the Maoists have issued a poll boycott call in accordance with their usual practice.
Singh said, “In addition to the 80 companies of central forces, besides the home guards and district police deployed to successfully conduct the polls, we have also sent around 12 teams of the elite CoBRA and Jharkhand Jaguar forces, each team comprising 30 fighters, at various locations in the Saranda forest to carry out operation against the rebels.”
Sharing borders with Odisha on the west and West Bengal in the east, the vulnerability of East Singhbhum district to Maoists’ strike is high during the PLGA week.
Shailendra Burnwal, additional SP-cum-nodal officer for deployment of forces, said, “At least 319 polling booths in our district are sensitive to LWE strikes.”
On Sunday night, Maoists fired at an unknown target in the Jhatijharna area along the West Bengal border. In Tamar, Ranchi district, Maoists had forced several villages to abstain from polling in 2009.
The time around the PLGA week is particularly sensitive in the state. Maoists killed 46 people, mostly security personnel, in two major strikes Bitkil Soi and Baliba in Saranda a few years ago.
Singh said despite the threat of Maoists, polling had increased in Saranda from 39% in 2009 to 72% in the 2014 parliamentary polls. “The PLGA week will not deter the enlightened voters from coming out and voting in large numbers.”
Additional DGP Rezi Dungdung said, “We have deployed adequate security personnel to tackle any eventuality.”