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Keeping private eye on rivals

Politicians hiring private agencies for their security, ballot surveillance and pre-poll surveys. Rohit K Singh reports.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2012 12:31 IST
Rohit K Singh
Congress-general-secretary-Rahul-Gandhi-talks-with-UPCC-chief-Rita-Bahuguna-Joshi-during-an-election-rally-near-Allahabad-PTI-Photo
Congress-general-secretary-Rahul-Gandhi-talks-with-UPCC-chief-Rita-Bahuguna-Joshi-during-an-election-rally-near-Allahabad-PTI-Photo

It's war. And all is fair in it. Perhaps the adage prompted a senior politician of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to hire services of a city-based private agency for ballot surveillance in the 2009 General Election.

He was apprehensive that his rival could tamper and replace the electronic voting machines (EVM).

His private agents remained deployed outside a Rajajipuram warehouse where EVMs were sealed for counting process.

The private agents kept round-the-clock vigil on the warehouse for at least three days and kept updating the politician about each and every person visiting the place.

This is not a one-off case. The trend is picking up among politicians in Uttar Pradesh. Hiring private agencies for services like ballot surveillance, pre-poll surveys, and personal security officers (PSOs) during poll campaign has become common nowadays.

“The demand for such services has increased rapidly in the last few years and is becoming part of the meticulous planning of poll campaigns. We have provided ballot surveillance services in the past and this time it's going to be more in demand,” said Arman Khan, owner of Federal Security, a reputed security agency.

Khan said his agency had already given pre-poll survey service to four senior politicians in the state around two months ago. This included a locality-wise constituency scenario. He said the politicians sought details about the problems, demands and political tilt of residents.

A senior politician, requesting anonymity, said all these details help in planning political campaigns and election agenda very meticulously.

Most importantly, it helps to counter the opponents by focusing on their weak points and taking a lead by approaching people with their own issues, he added.

Sources said the politicians have already taken pre-poll survey services before the enforcement of model code of conduct. Now, they are using the details to plan their poll strategy. There are at least five such agencies in the state that are providing such type of services.

WHY THE NEED FOR SECURITY OFFICERS?
At least 50 senior politicians of different political parties are hiring these officers from our agency, says Arman Khan.

The reason: Police escorts were easily available to politicians in the past, which is not the case now, he says.

Politicians have become more concerned about their security and private guards are considered a status symbol.

He said the demand usually increases 8 to 10 months before the election period when the frequency of politicians' movement at public places increases.

Private PSOs could be civilian, ex-servicemen and even former commandos of the National Security Guards (NSG). Politicians, however, keep it secret due to security reasons, he adds.

The maximum demand is for ex-servicemen because of their their experience and combat training by army and paramilitary forces.

Civil PSOs are those who are trained by private security agencies. Another category is of specialised NSG personnel who have experience of guarding VVIPS and have handled terror attack-like situations. Their demand is limited to only top politicians of the state.

HOW IT HELPS
There are at least five agencies in Uttar Pradesh providing such services.

Arman Khan of Federal Security said his agency had already given pre-poll survey service to four senior politicians in the state around two months ago.

These included a locality-wise constituency scenario survey. He said the politicians sought details about the problems, demands and political tilt of residents.

A senior politician said all these details help in planning political campaigns meticulously.

THE GUARD-O-NOMICS
Category (Statewide)
Cost (per month)
Approx clients
Ex-NSG
Rs 40,000
200
Ex-servicemen
Rs 25,000
200
Civilian
Rs 18,000-20,000
50

That's not enough. Candidates' demand for bulletproof gear has also shot up suddenly.

Bahujan Samaj Party MLA Raju Pal was gunned down in broad daylight in Allahabad on January 25, 2005.

Later, his political rivalry with mafia don Atiq Ahmad came up as the reason behind his murder—-Pal had defeated Ahmadd’s brother Ashraf in November 2004 by-elections.

The political rivalry again was behind the murder of BJP MLA Krishna Nand Rai—-he along with seven supporters was sprayed with bullets in Ghazipur on November 29, 2005.

Police probe traded the cause of the murder to his winning assembly elections in 2002 against mafia don Mukhtar Ansarii’s brother Afzal Ansari.

These are glaring examples of life risk involved in Uttar Pradesh politics and it is ever increasing with the growing entries of persons with criminal antecedent. Consequently, politicians concerns about their security and safety have also increased.

“The concern for life safety has given a rapid rise of security gadgets like bulletproof jackets, helmets and vehicles,” said an expert and added the maximum demand of security gadgets are from eastern Uttar Pradesh.

He said at least 45% demand is from east UP while the remaining share is from other parts of Uttar Pradesh. Balwinder Singh Sekhu, a security gadgets expert, said last year over 500 bulletproof jackets were sold and at least 150 vehicles were equipped with bulletproof material.

He said 50 bulletproof helmets were also sold all across the state and even a few of them demanded bulletproof podiums, he added.

Sekhu is associated with Bullet Proof Systems Limited, which is one the top dealers in bulletproof materials based at Meerut.

He said those coming for bulletproof gadgets are mostly with political background, as they are more concerned about their safety due to criminalisation of politics. Besides, businessmen and big contractors are also preferred it nowadays.

Sekhu said the demand of bulletproof materials has grown up gradually in the state during the past 6-7 years.

He said the annual rise is of around 30%. He said the annual sale of bulletproof jackets, which was only 55-60, has now reached over 500.

A similar rise has been witnessed in bulletproof vehicles during this duration.

WHO TO SELL BULLETPROOF GEAR
There are no specific guidelines for sale and purchase of bulletproof materials. The sellers themselves follow certain parameters so that such gadgets could not reach in wrong hands. The dealers usually prefer those clients who have the arms licence. If the dealers have suspicion then they inform the police intelligence units about the clients to check their credibility.

WHAT’S THE COST OF PROTECTION
The bulletproof materials usually are of three different categories.
The first category gives safety against only .9 mm pistol bullet.
The second category protects the wearer from carbine and 30 pistol
The last category provides protection against AK-47 and 315 rifle.
Their cost varies between Rs85,000 and Rs1.75 lakh accordingly.

BULLETPROOF VEHICLES
Making vehicles bulletproof and bombproof (grenades) varies from Rs5.5 lakh to Rs15 lakh.
The cost depends on the quality of bulletproof material and vehicle that is being made bulletproof.
Usually Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) like Scorpio, Endeavour, Safari, Pajero, Honda CRV and even Ambassador cars are preferred for bulletproof gear. The helmets range between Rs 25,000 and Rs4 5,000.

FIGURES SPEAK FACTS
526 candidates with tainted background contested assembly elections in 2007.
264 candidates among them have serious criminal charges pending against them.
148 candidates with tainted background won assembly elections in 2007.
81 candidates with serious criminal charges were among the winners.