As Chhattisgarh gets ready for the first phase of polls, the Centre is keeping its fingers crossed due to mounting concerns about the safety of over 55,000 security personnel deployed on poll duty without adequate training.
The Election Commission had ordered two-phase election to the 90-seat Chhattisgarh assembly last month, prompting the unprecedented mobilisation of security forces to keep peace in Chhattisgarh that has borne the brunt of Maoist violence.
Nearly a third of all Maoist-related violence takes place in Chhattisgarh.
"The big worry, and challenge for us is to ensure safety of the jawans travelling to the polling booths and back," a senior government official told HT, conceding that the strategy to rely on numbers rather than quality may have been an error in judgment.
Besides the 27,000 central forces on anti-naxal duties and 47,000 personnel of Chhattisgarh police already present in the state, the EC and home ministry decided to induct additional 564 companies of security forces — each company has an average of 100 personnel — at the state's request. That comes to a total of about 1.3 lakh security personnel.
But since there just weren't enough security personnel trained to fight the Maoists for the elections on 11 and 19 November, the home ministry had to pull out security personnel from virtually every police force.
The Central Reserve Police Force — that leads the central anti-naxal offensive — makes up for only 130 of the 564 additional companies.
The rest came from a mix of half-a-dozen central forces such as the Railway Protection Force, the Sashastra Seema Bal and the Border Security Force. There are also 95 companies drawn from armed battalions of a dozen states including West Bengal, Kerala, Gujarat and Karnataka.
Most of them neither have the training to hold their ground in the Maoist heartland nor any counter-insurgency experience, making them easy targets for the guerrillas.
The CRPF — that has the onerous task of keeping them safe — tried to minimise their risk by giving the policemen a crash course in survival in the Maoist territory, shared their area weapons such as mortars and grenade launchers as well as intensified operations to keep the Maoists on the back foot.
In the last fortnight alone, the CRPF has carried out 90 operations in Chhattisgarh that led to arrest of 46 Maoists and seizure of 250 kg explosives and 40 improvised explosive devices and detonators.
But the Maoists too aren't any less prepared.
Intelligence inputs talk about how the Maoists too have drawn armed guerrillas from neighbouring states of Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, to mount their offensive. Reports also point to several instances of Maoists planting landmines at hundreds of locations to ambush the policemen.
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