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November 24, 1998


'We expect a lot of violence this time'

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We apprehend violence," says T John Longkumer, sitting in Dantewara, heart of Naxalite territory in Bastar region, "The polls will not be peaceful."

Longkumer is superintendent of police in the sensitive district, forming part of Dandakaranya, which have been declared as a guerrilla zone. For Naxalite-haters, Longkumer is a hero. A good officer, brave and incorruptible, that's what they say of him.

Since taking charge in April, Longkumer has arrested nearly 140 Naxalites and got 90 to surrender.

Owing to the Naxalite ban on polls, the district registers vary little polling -- about 10 to 15 per cent. This time round the figures might dip further as the Naxalites, according to the SP, are planning a concentrated attack. Some 50 of them have crossed over to the Bijapur area from Andhra Pradesh. "The area has become supersensitive," he told Chindu Sreedharan.

How serious, severe, is the Naxalite threat this time round?

It's very, very prominent. Because the neighbouring states (Maharashtra, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh) do not have elections now, the Naxalites from there are all coming to this area. To disrupt the election process here. During the Lok Sabha polls in February also the threat was quite prominent. But since the neighbours also had polls at the same time the situation here was not very bad. Still, there were about 25 incidents of poll disturbances including firing, attacks on polling officers and destruction of poll material.

How much have Naxalite activities affected the polling process, and how effective is their ban on elections?

Because of the ban, only 10 to 15 per cent polling takes place here.

What iis your strategy to counter the concentrated attack of Naxalites this time?

We have identified a few pockets where their threat is very high. One of these pockets is a place called Kutru. It adjoins the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. Another place is Madded. It adjoins AP. Pamed is another hot spot, which adjoins Khammam in AP. Besides these, the entire area from Konda till Chintagupha is sensitive. We have deployed the maximum number of personnel in these areas. For instance, in Kutru, we have two companies of armed forces. Another three companies were deployed around Madded.

We have received information that about 50 Naxalites in two groups have crossed over from AP. They are now stationed somewhere in the Bijapur area, along the border. The Naxalites have tremendous stamina and can cover a lot of distance. I would say between the two groups, their area of operation would be around 50 square kilometres. The Bijapur area has become very, very sensitive. We have deployed 16 companies in the area to counter the threat.

In view of all these, how do you expect the poll to go? Will the election be peaceful?

We expect a lot of violence this time, we also fear that the Naxalites will attack some of the thanas (police stations) because we have had to shift forces to sensitive spots, leaving the police stations without adequate security.

In other words, there's a shortage of personnel.


Why is that so, especially as you apprehend more Naxalite violence and know that they will concentrate here? How it that you don't have enough personnel?

The thing is, we had asked for 65 companies. But we got only 20 companies, including the Central Reserve Police Force.

What do you think is the reason behind that?

Well, I think the state also did not get as much forces from the Centre as it wanted. They gave us the maximum they could.

You said the last time polling officers were beaten up. What kind of security cover are you providing to avoid a repeat?

We had proposed that each polling booth have a cover of 10 to 15 personnel. But since the forces we received were hardly one-third of what we asked for, we have had to abandon that. Now what we are doing is deploying a group of platoon strength (about 30 strong). They would cover 4 to 10 booths. Each group is required to cover an area of 40 to 50 square kilometres.

Do you think that's safe enough?

No, not at all. But we have to do it.

How about escorts for polling officers?

The polling teams who go to the hypersensitive booths will be given escorts, some 20 special armed forces assisted by about five local policemen. On their safe return, we have identified certain collection centres where the teams would group with the ballot boxes. From there they would proceed in a big group and with escorts.

As the target of the Naxalites are the police, don't you think you are endangering the polling officers' lives with such security? Would it not be better if they went in alone?

During the Lok Sabha election, the Naxalites target the polling officers. They did not kill them, but they bashed them up and destroyed ballots. That has to be prevented. So in hypersensitive areas, we advise the polling officers to request for escort. The choice is theirs. They are free to carry on alone.

People feel the Naxalites continue to be a target in MP, because there is no political will behind the police. How far is this true?

In this context, the chief ministers of the four affected states held a conference recently. After that, things are looking up here. For instance, when I joined the force we had outdated communication system. There was no control room linked to all police stations. Now we have a super control room. We have been provided good wireless sets. We have started a training school in guerrilla warfare. So things have improved.

Are you satisfied with the political support you get?

I don't have any complaints. I have been given a free hand. And my superior officers in Bhopal support me well.

What has been the reaction of your men to the bold operations you conduct? Any resentment to the fact that you are risking their lives?

Actually their morale has gone up. Here I make sure that a GO (gazetted officer), inspector are always in touch with the personnel on all operations. That gives them a boost. Today for example, the additional SP will be camping in Kutru.

What effect do you think a separate state of Chhattisgarh will have on Naxalites? The feeling is that since Raipur, the proposed capital is closer to the hot-spots than Bhopal, it would feel the heat of Naxalite activities and thus give good political backing.

That may be true. The Naxalites have given a call to prevent the creation of Chhattisgarh. I do not know their reasons, but it looks like they fear the same thing.

Assembly Election '98

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