State, central force contrast on groundThe Telegraph
Monday , June 3 , 2013
Calcutta, June 2: State armed police looked the other way as outsiders entered booths, while gun-totting BSF jawans managed crowds with ease elsewhere — the Howrah parliamentary bypoll saw policing of both types that strengthened election officials’ belief that central forces were the best bet for the rural polls.
In several parts of Howrah, including vulnerable pockets of Bally, Liluah, Votebagan, Ghusuri, Panchla, Shalimar and Sankrail, BSF jawans took charge at the entry and exit points to almost all key polling centres and ensured that no one without valid documents made it to the queue.
No harsh words were said, no jostling either, just a firm word of caution made a difference.
Of the 1,851 booths in Howrah, about 60 per cent were under the joint surveillance of state police personnel and 35 companies of central forces. The remaining 40 per cent of the booths were under the state forces.
Each company has around 100 personnel.
“The way a senior Trinamul leader turned up in the morning and threatened us, we were really scared. We managed to sit through the polls because of the central forces,” said a polling official during his lunch break outside a booth in Belur.
“In the next five to six days, we would have to go for training for the rural polls. It will be really difficult to work if central forces are not deployed,” he said.
A section of presiding and returning officers, who would have to pack their bags again to move out for the rural polls in Howrah, praised the crowd management skills of the BSF personnel.
Even a Trinamul leader accepted in private that complaints of poll-related violence were relatively lesser in areas dominated by the BSF.
“There have been places where some of our men failed to do what they wanted to because of the central forces but if that has ensured peaceful polls, there should be no reason to complain,” said Sripati Chatterjee, a senior Trinamul leader.
“There was no Trinamul agent in a booth in Dhulagarh for over two hours but yet there was no disturbance because of the central forces,” Chatterjee said.
In other parts such as Liluah, where a CPM party office was allegedly ransacked and a former MLA, Kanika Ganguly, was beaten up allegedly by a section of Trinamul supporters, political observers cited the absence of central forces as a reason for the violence.
“If there were 60 companies of central forces, that would have made a world of difference,” a CPM leader said.
But why would it have been different?
“There is a combination of factors, including unfamiliarity and the difference in language, that creates a sort of fear about the central forces,” said a state police jawan, explaining the effectiveness of the central forces.
“The way they go about their route march and area domination is different from the way our colleagues do it,” he said, standing outside Bally Jora Ashwatthatola Vidyalaya.
Across the road on the campus of Bally Banga Sishu Vidyalaya, BSF personnel stood at the gates instructing their counterparts from Bengal to ensure there was no unauthorised entry. The directions were followed to the hilt.
The scene was starkly different at Bally Utkal Vidyapith, where three polling booths across a long verandah were left entirely to the state police personnel, some from the local Bally police station and the rest brought in from other districts and the Howrah GRP.
“There is no point comparing us with the central forces,” he said, as voters queued up and outsiders walked in and out of the booth in violation of election rules.
Residents who had turned up to vote at a booth in Madarsa Meerazulum in Zalighata in Ghusuri, one of the highly-sensitive pockets of Howrah, complained how the state police personnel failed miserably when local CPM councillor Mohammed Alawuddin was roughed up by alleged Trinamul supporters.