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Finger on the trigger

india Updated: May 10, 2011 15:20 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times
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It's nothing short of war. Ultra-modern X95 assault rifles equipped with night vision, mortars, rocket launchers and anti-landmine vehicles - in short, an assortment where AK-47s are reduced to run-of-the-mill weapons has turned the polls in 14 assembly constituencies in the Maoist violence-dominated areas of West Bengal into a veritable theatre of war.

If the firepower that the paramilitary forces will carry onto the roads and into booths is unprecedented for election purposes (perhaps with the exception of Jammu and Kashmir), the sheer numbers are also impressive.

A total of 65,500 paramilitary personnel are being deployed to secure 3,534 polling stations, where 26.57 lakh voters will vote to elect 14 out of 97 candidates. As many as 1,049 polling stations (almost one-third) have been identified as critical.

"The last phase is the most crucial and we aren't taking any chances. Even constables are empowered to shoot if they're attacked, whether by Maoists or anyone else, who want to disrupt the polls," TB Rao, I-G, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), told HT.

"Our personnel won't need orders from their superiors to exercise their right to self-defence or prevent damage to government property," Rao added.

The last, and smallest, phase actually poses the biggest challenge to the police, administration and security forces.

This is because about 700 lives have been lost in violence in the past two and a half years in the districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura, which form the Maoist heartland.

Jhargram is about to make history of sorts because Chhatradhar Mahato, the most prominent face fighting for tribal rights in the state, is the first contestant against whom Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act provisions have been slapped.