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September 17, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ J&K DGP Gurbachan Jagat

'Last time we were given 374 companies of additional forces, this time we got only eight'

A series of militant attacks have shattered the fragile peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Result: the threat perception, especially in the valley, has increased by a long chalk, significantly affecting the ongoing election. Kashmiris say the fear psychosis this time is more pronounced than during the last election or even the one held in 1996. ''Never has there been such blatant attacks on candidates,'' they point out.

It is under such conditions that Baramulla and Anantnag constituencies, both militancy-infested, go to polls on September 18 and October 4 respectively. Will the process be smooth? Will the people turn out to vote?

Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Gurbachan Jagat spoke to Chindu Sreedharan about the security arrangements needed for polls in a state like J&K and the constraints he faces.

How do you rate the overall situation in Jammu and Kashmir in light of the election?

It should not be seen in isolation. It should be considered in the background we have had in the last four, five months. If you understand that, you will know the difficulties that are in-built into the situation. Leaving aside the general militancy that was going on, because of the Kargil conflict a lot of security forces were moved away from the valley and even from the Jammu side.

In fact, almost the entire component of the regular army consisting of about 58 battalions was shifted out. All we got by way of replacement was about 20, 22 paramilitary battalions. It was not only a quantitative depletion but qualitative as well. The army's training equipment etc are of a much higher order than that of the paramilitary.

You can imagine the condition of the security grid then. Because of this, there was a spate of infiltration. Our estimate is that about 15,000 to 20,000 men, 70 per cent of them foreign militants, came in. Normally militants go to the higher reaches during the summer months and come down only once in a while. But this time they came down to major towns and villages. They started moving in much bigger groups. And we had some incidents in which they managed to sneak into high-security areas and kill some personnel. So overall, the security situation deteriorated in the last four months although we tried to do our best.

And now?

Now with the restoration of the grid, things are gradually getting back into shape. When the elections were announced we had to look at the availability of forces. In the 1998 election we were given 354 companies in addition to whatever we had. Then the whole army was here too. This time we have been given eight companies.

Only eight?

Yes. Just eight. We were told to mobilise the rest because no paramilitary forces were available. From our existing strength, skimming down on everything else, we managed to raise about 110 companies. Luckily, the elections here are in phases. So we moved the forces to Ladakh and Srinagar and from there to Jammu and Udhampur. Jammu and Udhampur got 55 companies each. Whereas Doda alone had over 200 last year. And now we are moving the whole lot to Baramulla. From there, we will move them to Anantnag.

Could you tell us about the kind of security arrangements needed to make election possible in a state like J&K?

The moment nominations are filed we have to start providing security to the candidates. That means giving them personal security officers, guard at their residents, escorts for their travel and making arrangements for their public meetings. That is one. Then, during the campaign period we have to coordinate with all the political parties, see where their leaders are going, provide them with ROPs (road opening parties), sanitise the areas of their public meetings etc.

Then you have the arrangements for the election day itself. You have to arrange for general security. Plus you have to man the polling booths. This terminology of hyper-sensitive, sensitive and normal booths doesn't really hold true in J&K because here we consider everything hyper-sensitive. So that means at least one platoon force -- 30 personnel -- at each booth. Then we have to escort the polling parties and agents and bring back the ballot boxes.

What kind of arrangements do you make for polling officials?

What we do is club the parties that are going to a particular area. If four parties are going that means they have a company-strength with them. For instance for the polling in Baramulla on 18th, we will take the election officials on the 16th evening or 17th morning and keep them at one place. On 18th morning they will be dispatched to their polling stations. The same arrangement will be followed to bring them back. But that is more difficult because the parties start back after 5 pm and keep on coming even after midnight.

These duties are shared with the army and paramilitary forces?

The paramilitary forces are deployed for these duties along with the district police. The army is not. Their job is to provide a safe environment for the polls.

Keeping aside all the constraints, if you were to compare this poll with that of 1998, how would you rate it?

As far as the electoral process is considered we have no complaints. Areas like Jammu had 45 per cent polling -- even Delhi had only 47. So I would say that it was satisfactory.

But there were a lot of complaints about rigging and booth capturing, especially in Srinagar.

If that was true then the percentage would not have been just 12 per cent. It would have been 40 to 50 per cent. There are two way of rigging -- either you force people to vote or you get other people to vote for them. In either case, the percentage would have been higher.

Has the number of hyper-sensitive and sensitive booths gone up this time?

The number has gone up marginally in Kupwara and Barmulla. But the categorisation is not very objective. It is done by district officers. A district officer's effort is to get more forces. So you tend to exaggerate and categorise more booths as hyper-sensitive or sensitive. Then you can ask on the higher side so that you will at least get your requirement!

Could you tell us about the kind of security you provide for each of these categories?

A hyper-sensitive booth would get a platoon, a sensitive one would get two sections (20 personnel) and a normal, one section.

Baramulla saw quite a bit of militant activities recently. How is the threat perception there? What kind of polling do you think it will see?

I think we will have peaceful polling there and there will be a good turnout.

What is the basis of that belief?

This time we have much more forces in Baramulla. The Anantnag polls have been postponed. So the forces earmarked for it are also in Baramulla. Even the security forces have increased their presence. We are getting a couple of extra brigades of the army also. Within a couple of days, the army presence in the area will be the same as what it was earlier. So people will come out.

Sometimes what happens is that if security personnel go to the villages just for the election, the people are still not reassured. They fear for the time when the forces go back. But when they know that the forces will be around for a long period, they respond.

Protecting officials involved in the election process from biases is very crucial in any poll. It is even more important in J&K where the state police and the government-in-power are believed to work very closely. How would you achieve this?

Unlike what people think, the paramilitary forces don't bother about turning the results or anything. It is the district police that can influence people. So we brief them about the need for free and fair polls. Then there is close supervision. But more than these, it is the attitude of senior officers that matters. We want a fair poll. In fact, the 1998 election proved it: the Congress won, the National Conference won, the BJP won. Otherwise, all the six seats could have gone to the NC.

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