The Maoist strike on an election party claiming eight lives in Dumka shattered a brief lull in Jharkhand which otherwise witnessed a relatively peaceful three-phase polling, besides raising serious questions over the deployment of paramilitary forces and the state police’s claim of self-sufficiency.
Primary analysis has revealed there were serious lapses in observing the Standard Operating Procedure for which Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police could be held responsible. However, concerned officials were in a bind over taking action against the two as both DC Harsh Mangalam and SP Nirmal Kumar Mishra are considered close to Chief Minister and local MLA Hemant Soren.
The polling officials and Jharkhand police personnel were part of a team that was returning in a mini bus to the district headquarters after polling in the Shikaripara assembly segment. The vehicle hit a Maoist-planted IED on the Sarsajor-Palasi road and was damaged. Poll officials were advised to take buses in a Maoist-affected area and walk back with EVMs to the district headquarters.
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Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar said, “We had ensured peaceful elections by keeping strictly to the SOP. We will have to examine what went wrong here.”
Lambodhar Mahato, the sector magistrate travelling in the Tata Magic, allegedly took it to booths 100 and 101, located at primary school in Jamkandar and upgraded middle school in Asma.
But, who gave orders to him? “At the moment, it would be wrong to point fingers at the DC as there is nothing that suggests that he gave the orders,” said Jharkhand’s Chief Electoral Officer P K Jajoria, adding that two sets of EVMs were damaged in the blasts and that there would be a re-poll.
A police source, however, said, “The DC is new, he does not understand the risks. In order to complete the polls early, he allowed the bus to go in.”
While CRPF personnel posted at booth 100 walked, the police personnel boarded the bus. As a result, no CRPF personnel was killed the attack.
Four personnel from the Dumka district police and one from the Garhwa police were killed, while five policemen were wounded. A State Bank of India staffer, a Dairy Development Board employee and the cleaner of the mini bus also died in the attack. At least three civilians, including the driver, sustained injuries.
The incident picks holes in the state’s police claim that it was ready for a central forces-free existence and that only a slack in recruitment was keeping the CRPF here.
There are also questions being raised about force deployment — whether too many CRPF personnel were posted in the urban areas, while poorly-trained district police personnel had to man some high-risk booths.
“The CRPF was in majority in Maoist areas too. But despite us telling them repeatedly to be careful, our police officers simply do not listen,” said the Dumka SP.