By Manas Pal
Agartala, Apr 11: First thing first. Though Election Commission did launch a massive campaign calling upon the electorate to cast their vote in a ‘Tauhar’ (festival) mood, in the West Tripura Lok Sabha constituency that went to polls since 7 am today there was no ‘festive’ mood at all- nowhere.
Rather, a sense of total ‘disinterest’ or, in other words, ‘disenchantment’ seemed to have cast a dismaying pall throughout the voting day. The entire exercise turned out to be dull and lackluster.
Coupled with it was the glaring lack of security arrangements, static or mobile – right from the polling stations to city corners, roads, markets and even known sensitive localities or spots. These shortcomings both on the part of Election department and the police stood in full contrast to the measures taken during the last year’s assembly elections.
Let’s start with a specific : In some polling stations instead of Election Commission’s standard indelible ink – used since 1951-52- electoral staff applied some ink that looked like stamp-pad ink on elector’s fingers (for example ITI Indranagar Part 39). The (stamp pad) ink with a simple soap wash ( even a nail polish remover was not required) got cleaned off the fingernails and skin thus kept ample scope for unfair electoral means—voting for more than once.
There was no convincing answer as to why the deviation was required. (refer to pic below)
Since morning- in fact within one hour of the commencement of the voting- reports started pouring in from various parts of the constituency that many voters- many of whom were confirmed BJP voters- were either forced to return or faced intimidations by the ‘neo-BJP’ activists who seemed to have got an open field-day in absence of security arrangements and election department’s poor monitoring. In some cases, there was also sporadic violence when the opposition workers tried to resist.
And, as it stood out, in almost all the cases the ‘March-BJP’ who had not wasted time to leave the CPM after new government came to power -were the perpetrators. They, apparently overzealous to show their allegiance to the ruling party, acted on their own, and in a blatant manner, as the local leaders were found to be either missing from the spots or were conspicuous in deliberately turning a blind eye to what was happening in and around.
In areas like Charilam and Takarjala the experience was just the opposite. In Takarjala BJP workers were at the receiving end from the partner IPFT activists and in Charilam the Congress workers attacked the BJP men.
During Left Front regime the usual tactics of the Marxists election rigging were ‘booth jamming’ and large scale open threats one night before in many areas targeting the opposition voters. This time there was no report of ‘booth jamming’ – ostensibly because there was no large turnout in any given moment at any point of time of the day– till mid noon the voting percentage could not even cross 40. Reportedly it stood 68 percent at 3 pm but then shot up to more than 81 percent at 5 pm- but threats were carried out with impunity.
In fact, in many polling station areas including in city limits opposition parties could not or did not open their ‘office’, partly due to a sense of insecurity and partly because they had found it hard to organize workers for the purpose. In some polling station areas there were Congress office with one or two men, but the CPM was nowhere to see. The erosion of its ‘fearsome’ base evidently was complete and showing.
Though DGP A K Shukla and CEO Sriram Taranikanti had claimed adequate security arrangements with CPMF and TSR personnel would be put in place and mobile policing would be on the move – practically today’s experience was -there was none.
Last night (April 10), this correspondent made two rounds in the city first at 10. 30 pm and then at 1.30 am with ‘Press sticker’ taken out of the vehicle screen. In both the times no security man –forget CPMF or TSR not even a Home guard- was found on any road. There were two or three policemen in Buddha mandir locality but then they seemed not at all bothered. In two places only two Gypsies on mobile duty were seen but they were moving slowly – not interested to intercept the car that trailed them for some time from behind and then passed by. The car could have belonged to any one with incriminating materials or of doubtful nature-and not essentially to a journalist.
As the roads looked deserted sans any security personnel, time and again high-power bikes with helmeted riders with pillions- often two – zoomed past at even 2 am in the morning. From where they came and where they were heading at that ungodly and highly unlikely time could be anybody’s guess.
Fact remains, had there been security arrangements in the city at least the IGM Doctor Dipankar Debnath would have, perhaps, not faced the murderous mob assault in the midst of the road right in the city heart, that too in the morning of election day—he was dragged on by the frenzied mob for a long stretch of the road and the area had senior politicians’ residences too.
On the polling day, most of the polling stations had only two TSR jawans, in cases along with one or two Tripura police constable, who stood on guard inside the building, mostly managing the voters’ queue. None to preempt or prevent any untoward incident was there in the outside—on grounds in front of the polling stations or the road leading to the polling stations- where electors and party workers usually would gather in large number and from where actually violence always would tend to spark off.
The question as to where had all those CPMF personnel gone kept on haunting the general public as well as the political personalities all the day.
As for Election department- their monitoring was evidently pathetic. Not that the department failed to inspire and encourage wholesome participation of the opposition parties but also to ensure a sense of security among them. The usual mood and the enthusiasm and excitement amongst the voters were terribly missing this time that came in contrast with the ones that were experienced only 13 months before, notwithstanding the fact that assembly elections are to some extent different than the Lok Sabha elections.
In many polling stations private cars were found entering straight into the prohibited perimeter of the polling stations as there was no one to stop them. Reports also said, in many booths web cameras did not function.
It was now to be seen how the second phase of elections would take place in East Lok Sabha seat. As the situation stood, this year East Tripura seat happened to be a bit more volatile in every sense- keeping in mind also the ethnic issues played out by ethno-centric regional parties and thus would require more careful and better monitoring on the part of the both election department and police. (First published in Tripura Times, Dt. April 12, 2019)