While governments recommend it, CPI and police have objections

While the Central and State administration are recommending relocation of a few hundred polling stations to “safer places” in Chhattisgarh, there is, on the other hand, opposition to shifting of stations, including from one of the main political parties, the Communist Party of India (CPI).

“Voters will have to walk 15-20 km (to cast their votes) and this is a violation of the Commission’s guideline,” said senior CPI leader Chittaranjan Bakshi.

Senior police officers told The Hindu that they were “unhappy” with the ECI’s decision to conduct polls “deep inside” Maoist-controlled areas, without relocating the stations. “I hope they (ECI) will not stick to their decision,” an officer said. Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Kujur refused to accept that there is any triangular “tussle” between the ECI, the State administration and the political parties, regarding this issue stating that “the ECI is analysing opinions of all the sides”.

Difficulty in providing security

In Maoist-dominated south Chhattisgarh, 299 polling stations are marked as “hyper sensitive”. Over the last few months, officers of the ECI and the State and Central administration had been discussing ways to conduct a fair poll. Several ideas have been floated and rejected but finally, the Home Department recommended relocation of the stations to “safer areas”, close to paramilitary or police camps.

“We identified 322 stations and they (ECI) have chosen 299, but our lists may not match,” a senior State official said.

The police administration feels it is “nearly impossible” to provide security to every polling party — each team comprising four civilians — in all 299 polling stations. This, they said, was explained to the ECI in clear terms.

“Maoists are far more powerful in 2013 than they were in 2008; they have raised two battalions in five years. With the dates of the elections announced and the location of the polling stations known, the guerrillas can plan one or more massive ambushes on soft targets, if the stations are not shifted,” said a senior security official.

“Regular meetings of senior Maoist leaders and massive cadre movements are taking place” in the forests of Bastar and the situation is “not conducive” for elections deep inside rebel-controlled territories, police officers said.

Senior officials of both the State and Central police have conveyed their “official” objections to their respective departments.

State-level election officials are also not keen on holding elections in these areas. They have prepared a document of nearly 3,000 pages explaining their reservations and have sent it to the ECI for “consideration”. The number of relocated stations has gone up from zero to nearly 300 over the last five years in Maoist areas. While no stations were moved during the 2008 Assembly elections, 89 were relocated in 2009 during Lok Sabha elections. In the Bastar by-election of 2011, the number went up to 200.

Now, when media reports suggest that the Maoists are “under pressure,” relocation of an unprecedented 299 booths has surprised many.

Opposition from CPI

Tribal voters of Bastar will be “thoroughly inconvenienced” if the polling stations are removed from their villages, say senior CPI leaders.

“The ECI says a voter will have to walk 15-20 km to vote. If governance exists in Bastar, a voter should not be walking so much,” said Mr. Bakshi and suggested that “helicopters (which are provided to polling parties) should be provided to poor tribal voters”.

Officials argue that increasing the number of forces will ensure security but CPI leader Manish Kunjam disagrees.

“If paramilitary personnel do not escort civilian polling parties, Maoists may refrain (from violence). But if a massive force is dispatched (with the polling team) to protect their bastion, the rebels may counter-attack,” Mr Kunjam said.

Police officials refused to buy Mr. Kunjam’s argument.

“But who will give the guarantee of ceasefire?” asked an official, in reply to this argument.