NEW DELHI: In a well coordinated action spanning five states, over 700 armed Red ultras did exactly what they planned for the first day of polling.
The violence unleashed by them in defiance of the presence of over 50,000 security personnel claimed 19 lives, while the fate of several villagers abducted by the Maoists was not known till late on Thursday evening. Though the number of polling booths affected by their attacks remained quite low (71 out of 76,000 across all Naxal-affected states), the well-choreographed violence succeeded in keeping voters away from polling stations in almost all naxal-affected parliamentary constituencies in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Maharashtra. The Maoists — as reported by TOI on Monday — had planned such attacks in February when they asked their cadres to prepare for simultaneous attacks in the run-up to polls to scare voters. Accordingly, they had launched attacks in Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh early this month, taking 48 lives — including 42 security personnel — in the past nine days. Officials claimed the attack only proved right their decision to hold polls in all the naxal-affected states together and in the first phase itself. The decision gave security forces from outside three weeks to work out a partnership with their counterparts already deployed there and to achieve area domination, besides better coordination among agencies in different states. They said that spreading the polls in the naxal-affected areas over two phases would not have given security forces the time to familiarise themselves with the topography and establish area domination. It would have also helped naxalites, adept at swiftly moving resources, to attack more targets. Security agencies stressed that it was not a one-sided affair. Ultras too had to face reverses in the wake of counter-attack by local cops in coordination with BSF and CRPF. But, the casualties among the security forces — 11 out of 19 — exposed their vulnerability in Red zones. Officials in the home ministry said majority of casualties occurred due to BSF's failure to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs). Ten troopers lost their lives in a landmine blast in Latehar in Jharkhand as they preferred to travel in a bus even on the landmine-prone tracks — against the usual practice of walking through such areas, they added. Officials mentioned how such a precautionary step taken by CRPF men saved their lives a day before when they got down from their vehicle while passing through the vulnerable area in Jharkhand. As a result, their bus was blown up, but it didn't result in major casualties. Incidentally, the home ministry reminded the paramilitary forces to follow the same SOPs in the naxal areas in the wake of the Jharkhand incident on Wednesday. BSF chief M L Kumawat, however, blamed such incidents on poor intelligence.