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CG: ‘Most sensitive polls’ are driving poll panel and babus up the wall. My piece.

Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on November 6, 2013
Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on November 6, 2013

“Till last elections, we would worry more about security of the EVMs, ballots and our voters. But this time, we are the target,” said an election officer in a hushed tone.

Located in the old secretariat building near Raipur’s busy Shastri chowk, the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) for Chattisgarh is the buzzing headquarter from where one of the most sensitive elections in recent times will be conducted. For the occupants of this building, the recent incidents have not exactly boosted sentiments. The biggest blow was when the rebels ruthlessly gunned down the state leadership of the Congress party on May 25 in Darbha. “It showed that they were not averse to kiling civilians, things changed after that,” said another officer.

If his staff is nervous about the days to come, it does not reflect upon the conduct of this career bureaucrat with origins in Ranchi. At 53 years of age, as the CEO Chattisgarh, Sunil Kumar Kunjur, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the Chattisgarh cadre, has been the effort behind conducting elections in Chattisgarh starting from the general elections of 2009 till date. “My emphasis has always been on doing the basics well. If you do that, everything else takes care of itself,” he mentioned. The officer who otherwise exuded calmness admitted that things were ‘turning very unpredictable’ this time around.

Despite asking for the kind of security cover established, he replied, “Given the resources available, we have done our best. As such, numbers are not important. Effectivity is.” However, it was revealed that the CEO was not entirely happy with the kind of resources he was provided. This ranged from the number of troops on the ground to the number of helicopters for ferrying of the election staff.

Asked to react on the threats issued by the Maoists to villagers, he replied that people were the best judge of their safety. On prodding further, he stated, “We are well aware that these elements have contributed to lowering of morale among the villagers. But you need not read much into it as these areas have seen traditionally very low polling percentages. As such, there is little we can do to provide man-to-man safety and protect people who defy the Maoists. Forces have been called in for getting the elections conducted and they will go once the elections are over.” He was quick to add, “In the past also Maoists have made these claims but never acted on them.”

He wasn’t very confortable about the fact that his organisation was asked to shift 167 polling booths out of their initial locations. It was a long battle the police had fought as they held that those 167 booths were far too dangerous from the security point of view. “There will be no more shifting of booths, we have done what was required,” he said. These elections, in Kunjur’s own words, are the ‘most challenging’, aided by the fact that it would be for the first time that such a large number of booths have been shifted. “Not a single booth was shifted in 2008 state assembly elections,” admitted Kunjur. However, subsequently in general elections of 2009 and by-polls of 2011, booths were moved.

A sociology student of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), this 1986 batch officer shied away from making any comment when asked about his personal experience of handling elections. “These are official and professional matters, there is no scope for any personal take aways here,” he stated.

As he prepared for the visit of an Election Commission of India delegation from New Delhi, not too far from him, an officer remarked, “It is strange isn’t it? We blame the Maoists for disallowing development today. But Maoists weren’t there for all these years when we simply ignored the region. They may be gunning for us but the fact remains they got these areas back into the heart and mind of the administrators.”

AS APPEARED ON: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/maoists-attack-elections-chattisgarh-chief-electoral-officer/1/321760.html