One of South Asia’s largest police deployments begins

Assistant Sub-Inspector Ravi G.M., a telecom officer from the Sikkim Sector Headquarters of the Sashastra Seema Bal-Sikkim Sector, sits with a radio set and a map full of colourful stick notes co-ordinating the arrivals of 60 companies of his force.

Mr. Ravi, who hails from Chikkaballapur in Karnataka, has served for a month in the Maoist-hit Sukma in Chhattisgarh and is now in Bhopal on election duty.

“Our companies, which have 137 men, are self-sufficient. We procure food items from the area we are deployed in, but cook on our own. Our men can perform with just four hours of sleep a day. My duty is to locate all our units arriving by train and bus and coordinate with the local police, and see to it they reach the places they are supposed to,” he says.

Multi-State

Mr. Ravi is part of the largest police mobilisation carried out in the history of Madhya Pradesh. In all, 552 companies of Central forces and armed police from 10 States are supporting 120 companies of the Madhya Pradesh police in conducting the Assembly elections scheduled for November 25. Besides 12,000 Madhya Pradesh Home Guards, 33,000 home guards from six other States have been deployed, Director-General of Police Nandan Dube told The Hindu.

“In all, 1.58 lakh police personnel are facilitating this election, the largest deployment I have seen in my career,” Mr. Dube said.

As the Election Commission has revised norms for deployment, forces from outside the State will be deployed in booths, not merely as patrol and strike teams.

In the previous elections, only 150 companies from outside were deployed. The challenge in logistics this time is Himalayan.

Additional DGP (Internal Security) S.L. Thaosen is the Quartermaster-General for this campaign.

Formerly with the Special Protection Group in New Delhi that protects the Prime Minister and other VIPs, Thaosen hasn’t had much sleep this week .

He explains that liaison officers were sent to key rail heads in the neighbouring state. They had to see that to it troops reach the railway stations in sequence and that food and trains were made available. A thousand buses and 33 trains have been hired for this exercise. A chopper each has also been deployed in Singrauli and Balaghat.

“The main problem is the lack of infrastructure, namely coaches, yards, platforms, engines and staff. When troops reach they station, they are hungry and the catering services cannot provide for such huge numbers. Our officers had to arrange for food. Besides, preference is given to passenger trains so our trains may not even halt near a platform,” explained Thaosen.

When the trains were exhausted, buses were leased, he says. “Many operators may not want to ply. We then exercise pressure through the respective district administrations to convince them. Once they reach, vehicles, fuel and supplies must be available. They also need to be in touch with the local police to reach the spot,” he added.

As far as possible, the companies -- which have their own cooks and utensils -- aren’t broken up. But some of them will be, as troops are deployed in half sections of five to six jawans at a spot. Their survival is then in the hands of dhabas or, if lucky, a police camp in the vicinity.

The MP Police has provided SIM cards with only incoming calls activated. “Each force uses its own radio system and frequency. If they all use them together, the communication system will get jammed. So we use the mobile network for communicating with them,” Mr. Thaosen said.

This is also the first time such a large number of home guards from other states have been pressed into service. For Karnataka’s 2000 home guards, posted in Hoshangabad division, this is their first operation outside the state. “Home guards are volunteers so their allowance needs to reach them before they start. The daily allowance is Rs. 300 besides which we also provide food. The men are stationed in dharamshalas and, if needed, schools and government buildings,” added the ADGP.

All personnel are insured by the EC. The families of those who die during deployment get Rs. 1.5 lakhs, seriously injured get Rs. 50,000 and those who sustain simple injuries get Rs. 25,000. Two home guards from Uttar Pradesh, one due to cardiac arrest and the other in a traffic mishap, have died so far.

Campaigning ended at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and police held flag marches across the state. The marches in Bhopal had queues of jawans stretched for almost a kilometre. Inspector General of Police Sanjay Jha led the march through parts of the city on a 10km march. Bhopal alone has 4000 policemen on poll duty.

Before marching, Jha told the jawans assembled in the light mist at Lal Parade Ground, “Swell your chests and march. Let the public know they can vote without fear. The miscreants must understand that if they do anything wrong they cannot get away.”

MP votes on November 25 with 2583 candidates contesting for 230 seats. Counting will take place on Deceember 8, before which Ravi and other troops will be guarding polling booths in Rajasthan and Delhi.

Campaigning ended at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and the police took out flag marches across the State.