The last 36 days of campaigning for the January 30 Punjab polls has seen Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh brandishing a khunda (a traditional staff carried by village folk) against rivals Akalis,candidates exhorting masses to pick up daang and sotey (sticks) against other parties,as many as 30 incidents of poll-related violence and execution of over 9,000 non-bailable warrants against individuals. With a staggering 2,591 hamlets identified as vulnerable and five of the most high-profile constituencies declared hyper-sensitive and with the spectre of violence looming large,the Election Commission (EC) is clearly not taking any chances. Punjab is set to turn into a fortress on Monday.
Over 73,000 police personnel will stand guard as Punjab chooses its next set of legislators. In addition to the 55,800 personnel from the Punjab Police,around 15,000 personnel (237 companies) of the various paramilitary forces and other state police forces will be pressed into action. As many as 374 nakas will be put up across the state as well. Already,275 proclaimed offenders have been put behind bars and over 6,700 people bound under preventive sections of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Significantly,the EC,for the first time ever,is using a randomisation software to deploy Punjab Police personnel across the state. The idea is to ensure random deployment and ensure that police personnel dont end up getting posted in their home districts or constituencies. A large number of police personnel had no clue till today about where they were going to be deployed for poll duty, an EC official explained.
Declared as hyper-sensitive,the five most high-profile constituencies Lambi,Patiala,Gidderbaha,Jalalabad and Bholath will be under a constant scanner. Over 2,700 polling stations here have been identified as hyper-sensitive. With the kind of close contests being witnessed in these places,coupled with the fact that some of the best known faces from Punjab politics are contesting from there,it would be difficult to rule out any trouble, an EC official said. As many as 27 IPS officers of the rank of inspector generals have been called from outside Punjab to act as observers.
What has also got the EC concerned this time around is the identification of 2,591 hamlets home to 1.3 lakh voters across the state as vulnerable under the vulnerability mapping exercise. These are places where muscle power,threats or intimidation,and other socio-economic realities could prevent people from voting. While Gurdaspur district has been identified with the maximum vulnerable hamlets followed by Moga,Amritsar and Jalandhar,Muktsar district that has the two most high-profile seats in Lambi and Gidderbaha does not have a single vulnerable hamlet. Our staff will be keeping a special watch on these vulnerable areas, said an official.
Further,taking special care of constituencies like Malerkotla that have a sizeable Muslim population,the EC will ensure the presence of women officials in the polling parties to identify burqa-clad women voters. Also,all the polling parties at the 19,841 polling stations had taken their positions at the booths by Sunday evening mandated to spend the night the booth itself.
Huge recoveries of cash,liquor and drugs over the last 36 days has further underlined what the authorities had been fearing for long. The figures are staggering Rs 33 crores in cash,2,641 kg of poppy husk,99 kg of Opium,23 kg of Heroin,2.27 kg of lahan (a drug often used to locally brew liquor),31,947 litres of illicit liquor and almost 7 lakh bottles of country liquor.