Violence returns to haunt elections

With one more poll phase to go this longest election schedule, the prayer on everyone’s lips is that any more violence should not mar this election.

Rashi Aditi Ghosh and Shantasree Sarkar/Zee Research Group

With one more poll phase to go this longest election schedule, the prayer on everyone’s lips is that any more violence should not mar this election.

While there generally has been a decline in poll violence over the years, this election has already witnessed a severe bout of violence taking a heavy toll of life.

In addition to the earlier attacks, three fresh incidents of electoral violence have been reported in two days.

A woman was attacked in Arambag constituency (West Bengal) today. Two other incidents of violence were reported from Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar in which six people were injured on Tuesday.
There have reportedly been 67 deaths and several injuries this election so far even as the Election Commission of India (ECI) has laid out perhaps the most elaborate security set up to ensure a peaceful poll.

The number compares poorly with the total death toll during 2009 general election. In 2009 violence during five complete phases of election resulted in 25 deaths and 19 injuries.

The truth is that the last general election was spread over five phases while the ongoing poll is spread over a record nine phase schedule. This makes the task of the Election Commission of India (ECI) even more challenging.

The violence incidence this poll so far has been concentrated around a few select pockets. After successfully completing first three silent phases of polls, violent clashes kicked off from the very fourth phase this poll season.

During the fourth phase polling Maoist rebels killed 12 people in two poll-related blasts in Chhattisgarh. Other states where violence erupted during polls this year have been Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar and Jammu & Kashmir.

Unofficial reports suggest that poll violence alone in West Bengal has claimed seven lives and left 740 persons injured in 825 incidents across the state.

The death toll, however, rose in the subsequent violence in Assam post the seventh phase of polling. The most violence prone districts there included Baksa, Kokrajhar and neighbouring Chirang. The violence there has already claimed 34 lives.
There has been violence elsewhere as well. A polling officer is said to have got killed at a polling booth in South Kashmir when armed assailants fired at the retreating security vans of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).  

The issue of poll violence has thus dominated the political discourse this election.

Complaining of poll violence, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi during his Asansol rally alleged the Election Commission and said "I am putting serious allegations against you. You have failed to stop rigging and violence in West Bengal, Bihar and western Uttar Pradesh. False cases have been filed against our candidate Babul Supriyo. Election Commission`s work is to protect people. I request you to fulfill your responsibilities in the right way."

On the other hand West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (May 5, 2014) accused Narendra Modi of inciting violence in Assam and demanded his arrest for allegedly trying to instigate caste-based violence in West Bengal. She said "He wants to cause caste-based violence. We are telling the Election Commission that he should be arrested and should not be allowed to campaign in the state," Ms Banerjee said at an election rally in Krishnagar.

EC has on its own identified some key violence prone constituencies focusing heavily on beefing up the security apparatus there. Nearly 20,000 central paramilitary forces will be deployed across the high profile constituency of Varanasi. This is being billed as the biggest security set up in non terror denominated constituency in view of frayed tempers there involving warring supporters of BJP (Narendra Modi), AAP (Arvind Kejriwal) and Ajay Rai (Congress).

The Commission stipulates that on account of any sort of electoral violence near the polling stations, the presiding officer in the pooling booth has the right to adjourn the poll under section 57 (1) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 officer the poll.

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