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January 8, 1998


Mayhem expected in six states during poll

George Iype in New Delhi

Violence is expected in as many as six states --- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir -- when India goes to the hustings from February 16, according to initial intelligence reports filed with the Union home ministry.

Top ministry officials, who held a series of meetings with the Election Commission on security-related issues in the last two days, have identified nearly 150 "trouble spots" in these "sensitive states."

Ministry sources said while a large number of paramilitary forces will be deployed in these areas, the army -- if need be -- will be posted in communally sensitive constituencies. The Commission has also decided to raise the poll expenditure in these six states to beef up security.

After reviewing the law and order situation across the country, the ministry has asked the Commission to send state chief electoral officers to various sensitive constituencies to conduct physical verification of polling stations.

The ministry fears the worst-affected state during the election will be Bihar. Preliminary reports suggest that nearly 40 out of Bihar's 54 constituencies will be violence-prone. Clashes between the Naxalites and the Ranvir Sena are expected in many rural constituencies. Last month, Sena killers massacred 61 dalits in Bihar's Lakshmanpur-Bethe village.

Fearing violence and booth-capturing, the EC had allocated the highest amount -- Rs 605 million -- to Bihar during the 1996 general election. Commission sources said the amount will now be hiked to nearly Rs 750 million considering the fresh threat perceptions in the state.

In Uttar Pradesh -- the state with the largest number of constituencies, 85 -- electoral violence will be mainly due to "the criminalisation of politics." An Intelligence Bureau report says the law and order situation in many UP constituencies is "volatile" as many criminals have jumped into mainstream politics.

The Commission and home ministry are in the process of identifying constituencies where the politician-criminal nexus is at its worst. The EC allocated Rs 593 million for UP in 1996; this is now likely to be increased to Rs 700 million.

While reports with the home ministry says Naxalite violence will erupt in at least seven constituencies in Andhra Pradesh, communal and group clashes are expected in many constituencies in Tamil Nadu.

A surprising addition to the ministry's six "sensitive states" is Kerala. Intelligence reports say there will be "a serious breakdown of the law and order situation" in Kerala. The ministry fears clashes between Marxist workers and activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in some constituencies. The ministry also has information that Muslim extremists may whip up violence in the state. On December 6, a Muslim fundamentalist group claimed responsibility for an explosion aboard a train in Kerala.

Intelligence reports also reveal that Jammu and Kashmir will be prone to terrorist violence. Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence directorate is expected to send fresh batches of militants across the border during election time.

Ministry officials said elaborate security arrangements will be made for VIPs hitting the campaign trail. A meeting convened by Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramaniam on Thursday decided to ask state governments to ensure security for VIPs like Sonia Gandhi.

The Congress has formally requested the government for additional -- 20 -- Special Protection Group personnel for Sonia's security. Ministry sources said the SPG will airlift bullet-proof cars to places where Sonia proposes to address election rallies. She will kick-start the Congress campaign at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, where her husband was slain, on Sunday.

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