Kolkata: The Election Commission has decided to deploy 194 companies of central forces, which is nearly 15,000 para-military troopers, across three constituencies — Darjeeling, Raigunj and Jalpaiguri — in West Bengal, which will go to polls on April 18, the second phase of the general elections.
This near 150% increase in forces, from 83 companies in the first phase to 194 for the second, will be the highest ever deployment in recent years. Maximum mobilisation is likely to be in Darjeeling which has a history of violent clashes.
The central forces that will be deployed in these three constituencies are in addition to the state police. According to the EC data, Darjeeling has 1,899 polling stations and around 16 lakh voters, while Jalpaiguri has 1,868 polling stations with around 17 lakh voters. Raiganj has 1,623 polling stations with around 16 lakh voters.
The EC has deployed around 15,000 troopers for 5,390 booths in the second phase; in the first, there were around 6,000 troopers for 3,844 booths.
EC wants to instill confidence among voters with this heavy deployment of forces. Rough calculation suggests that even if two CPMF personnel are deployed in every polling station, there will be a surplus of more than 1,000 troopers in every constituency. These troopers will be deployed for patrolling in villages and also in guarding strong rooms after the elections, said a senior EC official. In the first phase, there were allegations of rigging, booth-jamming and voter intimidation by both the BJP and TMC.
After the completion of elections, BJP’s candidate from Cooch Behar Nishith Pramanik staged a dharna demanding repoll and central forces in every booth. TMC minister and district chief of Cooch Behar, Rabindranath Ghosh, too demanded a repoll in some of the booths and accused the EC of being ‘biased’ towards BJP.
Polling officials also protested against the state police forces as they felt insecure. “We appealed to the EC for central forces in all booths. The situation in Bengal is different from other states,” said a senior BJP leader. A Trinamool Congress leader in Jalpaiguri claimed that in Cooch Behar, BSF brought voters in their vehicles and urged them to vote for BJP. “They are trying to manipulate the process by deploying central forces. State forces have the capability to conduct elections in a better way,” he said.