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Old April 25th, 2005, 01:34 PM
Napolean Napolean is offline
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Bihar:From Election Observer's diary-Facing the bombs and guns:An election day exp

Got the following in an email.

4th March 05

Dear all,
This write up is rather lengthy.
I apologise for that. But I promise that it gives insight into the
election process, the ECI's role and how Bihar behaves on the polling
day.
I am sure you would not regret the exta pages.

Regards.

Umashankar

From an election Observer's diary –4, - Poll day events - Facing the
bombs and guns

Hearing about Bihar, that too negative reports, is normal. But facing
the goons, the bombs and the guns in actual life is a different matter
altogether.
I had an interesting experience on the polling day. My vehicle was way
laid by booth capturers with large wooden logs, the attack was about to
be mounted when the police intervened, and then the 16 rounds of
.303 gun fire which rented the air. A different experience indeed!
On 23rd February 2005, East Champaran district went for the elections.
It is a D-day for all the Election Observers. All of us expected gun
fire, bomb explosions, attack on polling staff and EVMs etc., on the
poll day. Unearthing of an illegal bomb making unit just two days prior
the poll date in my area enhanced this threat perception. To say the
least, an air of apprehension *** expectation was there. One of the
Observers was telling "Aaj Kuch Hooga". We decided to leave early so
that we could be there in the Constituency for longer hours during the
poll process.

My Assembly Constituency (Dhaka) is located at 27 km distance from
Motihari, the district headquarters. It takes exactly one hour to reach
the place. But the problematic area is located at 14 km distance from
Dhaka. This takes exactly another one hour drive from Dhaka!
In Bihar, every time you think that you had reached the worst road, you
are proved wrong the moment you entered the next road. When I thought
that I had reached the worst road which took one hour for 27 kms, I was
proved wrong. I got the 14 km drive from Dhaka to Patahi, a block
headquarters place (I don't call it a town because it is just yet
another village) which took one hour for 14 km. Here also I concluded
that this could be the real worst road. But I was proved wrong again
when I travelled from Dhaka to the interior villages to inspect the
polling stations. There, it took one hour for every 7-8 kms!
The easier way we all found out to make life comfortable was not to
calculate the kilometre at all but look at the travel time factor. If
the driver crosses the 14 km in one hour then he is supposed to be on
time and also efficient. Mentally we were all prepared to look at time
factor right from the second day and so it was not frustrating going on
the bouncing roads. One of the Election Observers considered such a
drive a body massage!
On security considerations, all the Election Observers were
accommodated in the district headquarters town itself. We made daily
trips to the Constituency from Motihari.
Due to the bad roads, I decided to make night halt the day before the
election either in Dhaka or Patahi. But the BSF Commandant needed the
guest house at Dhaka (This tiled building could collapse like a pack
of cards if a bomb is thrown within 500 metre vicinity!). So I looked
for a place to stay in Patahi village. This was like asking for the
sky. The only place where I could be put up was the BDO's official
quarters. Of course, here also one does not have electricity, etc.
This is a small dilapidated building which is not fit to accommodate an
Election Observer. Assuming that I was ready to stay without any normal
facilities, including electricity, the question before us was where
would the security personnel accompanying me stay?
There was no place for them to say in Patahi.
So we decided that the Observer's team would start at Motihari at 6.30
a.m so that no time was lost at the Constituency.
In the forenoon, the less hyper sensitive polling stations and hyper
sensitive polling stations which were not provided with central
security forces were chosen for inspection. Patahi, the trouble spot
was to be inspected in the afternoon. Usually, on a polling day, major
troubles start only after 2 p.m. My assessment was wrong as I heard gun
shots at 9.45 a.m in non hyper sensitive areas in Dhaka Block itself!

The first thing that struck me on the polling day was the near Bundh
like situation on the roads in Dhaka town. Dhaka is a typical small
town with just one main road having a length of around 700 metres.
Two roads branch out from this town. But the place caters to the nearby
villages located in 10-12 km radius. And so there would always be a
crowd everywhere in the town until 6 p.m. When my jeep driver drove in
Dhaka or Motihari, it was literally like ploughing through a crowd. Yet
no one got hurt in the entire 4 week period. To avoid tension I used to
either close the eyes or just look the other way.
On the polling day, this crowd was totally missing. Apparently the
visiting crowd preferred to be in their own villages to cast their
votes. And the locals were not ready to come out for their own reasons.
The shop keepers kept their shutters down throughout the day.
Election day is an unpredictable day in Bihar. Anything can happen,
from gun shot killing in broad day light to bombing the houses/polling
stations etc. So, people were very cautious. I stationed the jeep in
the main T junction and asked the security men to find out an eating
place for their breakfast. I stayed in the jeep itself. This gave me
the opportunity to observe the people. The town gave a totally
deserted look. It was quite abnormal. Things changed the very next day.
It was back to the normal business after the polling day. They were
proved right. In booth No.140, the miscreants fired at the voters and
seriously injured four of them. In a region where one does not have
good roads, there is no question of finding any good hospital as well.
One can visualise the plight of the injured voters!

After the security men ate their breakfast, I reach the polling booth
close to the Nepal border road after an hour and half. This border road
is yet another bouncing track.
This polling booth was manned by BSF. The BSF men took position on the
rooftop. The concrete building enabled them to put the tripod mounted
rifle on the roof top. The central security forces, be it the BSF or
the CRPF took position like this only everywhere. From the rooftop they
could get 360 degree view. Coupled with the elevated position, it was
advantage central security forces versus the booth capturers. So, the
miscreants did not attempt in any of the polling booths manned by the
central security forces.
By 9.45 I was still in these remote places when we heard four gun
shots. The policemen on duty with me alerted me. Sir, this is a gun
shot! was their exclamation. We decided to proceed towards the
direction from where the gun shots were heard. Within the next 10
minutes we reached the area. But polling was peaceful there. As I was
getting late to Patahi I directed the Station House Officer (Police
officer) who was on patrolling duty there to inspect the next booth.
He inspected and reported that there was nothing there too. So the
conclusion was that the gun shots were directed at the voters to desist
them from going to the booth. I made a circle in the map, targeting all
the polling booths in the area. The next day when the polling
percentage report came, I found out the exact polling station.
In this polling station the polling percentage was just 11%. Based on
what I saw and heard I recommended to the Election Commission for
repoll in this polling station under central security cover. And so the
repoll was held on the 26th. The percentage recorded on the 26th was
36.5%, a much better figure as compared to the poll day voting
percentage.
The Election Commission of India had made it a point to order repoll
based on the opinion of the Election Observer. The Election Observers
have to send a special report to the ECI after the completion of the
poll detailing the repoll requirement, if any. In this way, the
Election Observers act as the eyes and ears of the ECI.
The Returning Officer (the officer who actually conducts the elections
and returns the candidate by handing over the Elected member
certificate) also has to submit a report directly to the ECI. The ECI,
decides only after going through the Election Observer's report. The
Election Observer's report is usually accepted in the case of repolls.
After the gun shot incident and after some unscheduled inspections I
realized that I was losing out heavily on Patahi. I asked the driver
how long it would take to Patahi. Prompt came the reply – two hours
(for less than 25 km).
I wanted to be in Patahi before 2 p.m.
Now it looked a distinct possibility that I would not be able to meet
the 2 p.m deadline.
It was still 11 a.m only. But in this republic, it takes two hours for
25 kms. Coupled with polling booth inspections in between, it was going
to take at least four hours. That means I was going to be late by an
hour from the desired time schedule.
For a brief moment there was frustration in my voice. I started cursing
at the road condition. But then I realized that it is the way of life
for an Observer. And polling day was too crucial. There was no scope
for personal whims and fancies. So, the bouncy journey went on.
We reached Dhaka and then we were on our way to Patahi. Half the way
through I was blocked by people and politicians. They said there was
booth capturing and bombing around. It was 12.45 p.m. This was an
unexpected turn.
A decent looking guy exclaimed that the Presiding Officer of the nearby
Mohamadpur had been attacked by goons. I referred my map. Yes, this
polling station was not manned by central security forces. I decided to
take a look at this polling station. When we went there, we found that
polling was peaceful and brisk too. I asked the voters in queue and
also the Presiding Officer of the polling station whether they were
under attack. They were surprised. So, the guy who gave the information
was trying to send me to a different destination. What was the reason?
Now we came back to the same road junction where we got the false
information. This time another decent looking guy came. He said "Sir
there is so much of violence in another booth". I asked him the
direction. He showed the road I had already crossed. That means this
guy wanted to send me in reverse direction. He also indicated another,
booth which was in another direction. I could not prejudge but I had to
be on target too. So, I asked him to come and sit in my jeep so that he
could show the direction. The idea was to keep him detained in the jeep
so that I could arrest him for false information if the information
given by him was false.
Now another group came. This was not like the decent looking chap.
They were all the local people. They said that the booth No.155 and
156 were stormed by armed gangs using bombs and guns. From their very
appearance and body language I knew it was true. So, it was decided to
go to this place instead of the other place. The second booth mentioned
by the decent looking guy was situated on this way. So, I took one of
his guys in the jeep.
We reached booth No.155/156.
The locals went into the field and brought me a handful of empty gun
shells. The goons had attacked the voters with bombs and guns. All the
voters fled. One of the voters who was in the queue had a shrapnel
wound which was almost like a metal scratch on the skin. Otherwise
there was no damage to the voters. The polling personnel and the Bihar
police who were posted there for security were literally shivering.
There was no way these people could continue there after the bombing
event. So, I ordered the closing of the poll. The guys were extremely
happy. They just packed the whole thing within two minutes and put them
on the tractor (tractor was the official transport vehicle for
transporting polling personnel). The Presiding officer who came on his
own motor bike followed us upto Patahi whereas his house was in the
opposite direction. He was too scared to take the normal route. This is
quite natural indeed. Anyone who had been with Bihar police providing
security cover vis a vis these goons would get the same shivers.
The informer in the meanwhile had run away.
At booth No.157 which I visited prior to 156/157 I found the five
policemen and the polling personnel edgy. The goons had threatened them
with a warning that they would capture the booth in the evening.
The police men had no courage or morale. With four fully loaded guns in
hand these police guys wanted protection!
I re-positioned them around the building in such a manner that they
would get clear view of the intruders, if any. I also asked them to
shoot first and then ask questions, if they ever saw a strange crowd
approaching them.
But still the police men on duty were pleading for extra force! I had
to send the entire police teams withdrawn from security duty in PS
155/156 to this PS to keep the morale of the polling personnel high.
And there was no booth capturing here at the end.

After these events, we came back to the Dhaka – Patahi road again.
It was 1.45 p.m.
I asked the security personnel to eat their lunch. It was a camp lunch
on the road. As I was giving directions, I saw a BSF Commandant vehicle
& convoy coming from Patahi direction. The central security forces,
apart from static posts at the polling stations had at least one mobile
patrolling unit on the polling day. In the case of the BSF, the mobile
patrol task was apparently being handled by the Assistant Commandant.
The mobile patrol consists of four vehicles. One of them had a roof top
mounted automatic rifle (an MMG(Medium Machine Gun) or an SLR (Self
Loading Rifle). The sight of the roof top mounted tripod assisted gun
with the BSF Jawan clutching the trigger behind would take the breath
out of any criminal. The booth capturers had no chance if such a patrol
was on duty.
I signalled the AC to stop. The chauffeur of the AC approached me
asking me to come to the AC's vehicle to meet him. The AC did not even
bother to get down. A bad courtesy indeed. Because an election observer
who has 15 years service in the IAS had already played the role of a
District Collector. A District Collector is equated to Brigadier rank
in the army. An Assistant Commandant of BSF does not come anywhere near
that rank. But still he wanted the Election Observer to come to him and
talk. In a field situation like the one we were witnessing at that
moment, the officers on patrolling duty should at least get down from
their vehicles and discuss strategies / details. Rank should be the
least concern. But the AC never got down from his jeep.
I did not care for the rank. All I wanted was to persuade the Assistant
Commandant not to leave from Patahi area. I went to him and asked him
where he was proceeding. Through the open door of the jeep he informed
me that he was proceeding to booth No.44 at the Nepal border where his
boys were guarding the polling station. According to his information,
there was some problem in that polling booth. I told him that I visited
that polling booth three hours ago and his men were doing an excellent
job. There was no way anyone could trouble that polling station. My
intention was to request him to remain in Patahi area. Because more
troubles were expected after 2 p.m. Already Patahi Block had become
like a war zone, with gun shots and rumours about violence in polling
booths and multiple booth capturing. In the forenoon itself four voters
have been shot and critically wounded near Patahi. But my friend
Assistant Commandant was very adamant. For him the polling station
being close to the Nepal Border was a justification. But then Nepal
border runs through the district in many areas. It was thoroughly
insignificant. But for the Assistant Commandant it was important. And
with these justifications he proceeded to booth No.44 which was already
fully guarded!
And when I needed the BSF the most it was leaving the Patahi area, also
leaving me to face the war zone.
And believe me it was a real war zone.

Some one had cleverly tipped the BSF to persuade them to move out of
Patahi area. The BSF's patrol was neutralised by its visit to booth
No.44 which is located at 2 hour distance from Patahi.
Knowing that the BSF cover was not going to be there in Patahi I
continued my inspections. Within the next kilometre Patahi town came.
The only polling station in Patahi was fully guarded by the central
security forces.
The next destination was the Patahi police station. The PS is located
at just 200 metres from Patahi polling station.
I found the Sub Divisional Magistrate *** Returning Officer of Dhaka
sitting there. He was about to proceed to a Baraka Balua, a village
where the sitting RJD MLA's residence is located. The SDM wanted to
execute the arrest warrant on the MLA for running an illegal bomb
factory in his brother's residence where an explosion took place on the
21st Feb (The detailed write up on this explosion would be covered in
another posting). On polling day, the SDM was after some one to arrest
him! I was stunned. He asked me whether I would be interested in
accompanying him. I said NO. Just at that moment we heard gun shots. By
now we got accustomed to gun shots. We looked at that direction. The
day before I had visited the polling stations in that area and so I
knew the terrain. I asked the Station House Officer
(SHO) to take one direction and I took another direction in the same
area from where the gun shots came. In the forenoon four voters were
seriously injured in gun shots from miscreants in that area only. This
was in booth No.140. The SHO was proceeding in that direction. The SDM
proceeded with his arrest tamasha. I proceeded to booth No.187 which
was at the gun shot area.
Just two kilometres into the drive, at Parsauni Kapoor village, I could
see a crowd of around 40-50 men blocking the road. When we came closer,
I found a section among the crowd picking up large wooden logs and
bamboo poles from the road side to create a road blockade. Within the
next moments the wooden logs and bamboo poles were placed across the
road, effectively blocking our way.
At fifty feet distance I ordered the driver to stop.
We were proceeding in a two vehicle convoy. I was sitting in the first
jeep, occupying the front seat. So I had a clear view of what was
unfolding in front of me. It was like surreal. My jeep was being way
laid.
I could see the perpetrators more clearly now. They were like any other
normal guys, in the age of 25-30. One of them had gleaming eyes.
I could sense that he was very angry. Angry for what reason? It was not
known.
This guy was leading the pack. Before taking any hostile steps I wanted
to ascertain whether the blocking crowd was a peaceful crowd or they
were miscreants. On 21st February I saw a road blockade in front of
Patahi police station. Before ordering the dispersal of that crowd I
went up to the crowd and found that they had blocked the road demanding
action against the sitting RJD-MLA for the bomb explosion that occurred
in the forenoon. Within the next minute the matter was settled after I
gave an assurance that action was indeed being taken.
So, a potential law and order problem was solved within a minute
because of the direct approach.
In this case too I wanted to be sure about the nature of the crowd
before proceeding further.

I got down from the jeep and looked back to know whether my police
guards were getting down or not. No, they were not getting down. The
tailing jeep also came to a halt but the men were not getting down.
Probably they did not see the activities of the hostile group. I
signalled them to get down. In the meanwhile I tried to engage the
hostile group to know whether they had any genuine grievance. Their
very body language spoke a lot. The miscreants did not initially know
that I was a high ranking official because my jeep was not fitted with
the revolving lamp. It was the tailing jeep which had the VIP fitting.
So, the miscreants thought that it was a normal convoy of vehicles and
blocked. Till date no one knows about their real intentions.
I ordered the police to catch them or shoot them if needed. But alas,
my policemen from Bihar police, holding a carbine, a pistol and quite a
few .303 rifles did not even get the gun to position. The man with the
carbine automatic did not move the carbine from this shoulder sling! To
my amazement I found the carbine holding cop just asking the miscreants
to leave. The miscreants sensed it well as soon as they saw the
sophisticated weapon in the policemen's shoulders. In a split of a
moment, they vanished behind the rows of huts/houses, into the
adjoining wheat fields. Only after they ran away my policemen started
moving, apparently in an effort to chase and 'tackle' them. I am in one
piece today more because of some divine assistance than the policemen
who accompanied me.

Looking at the anger of the miscreants I judged that they must have
faced some resistance in the nearby polling booth(s). The nearest one
was polling booth No.187 which I visited the day before evening. We
originally heard the gun shots from that direction only. We removed the
obstacle and rushed to booth No.187. Just before we reached the polling
station we heard gun shots. But the driver continued to drive and took
the vehicle to the thick of the firing spot. The tailing jeep with a
complement of armed policemen stopped behind. It was a miracle that
none of the bullets hit our vehicle when we actually crossed the firing
line of the policemen. I got down and saw two rows of policemen firing
in two different directions. There was a whole lot of activity.
I had seen such firing during the army attachment. But it was a peace
time firing. All the IAS probationers, including the lady probationers
tried a variety of weapons during the army attachment, starting from
carbine, SLR, AK47, LMG, MMG and tracer rifles. But seeing a typical
hostile firing at close quarters was a new experience. I tried my level
best to see the enemy on both the directions in which they were
shooting. But I could not find anyone. May be, just when I arrived the
guys ran away after the first shot. The policemen who were firing were
thoroughly agitated. The miscreants had thrown bombs and also cut off
the wire connecting the ballot unit and the master control unit of the
Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). I tried to get in touch with the
Patahi police station through the wireless system fitted in my jeep.
But there was no success. At that moment I realised that I was standing
like a baby in hostile spot without taking any precaution.
For a sharp shooter, I was like a sitting duck. Hurriedly I picked up
my video camera and ran for cover. From behind a tree I photographed
the event. A video cameraman who accompanied me in my jeep was
absconding. By the time I took out the video camera, the firing had
already ceased. A total of 16 rounds had been fired. One of the .303
rifles got jammed. Now the policemen wanted to go in hot pursuit. I
said no. In any case I had serious doubts about their capability. My
job was to ensure a free and fair poll. The bombing had already
resulted in a situation where repoll was mandatory. So, there was no
purpose in resorting to a hot pursuit after the miscreants. It was
already 4.30 p.m. Another 30 minutes to go before the polling got over.
I wanted to visit more polling stations before 5 p.m.
Now the policemen who took part in the firing got panicky. They
surrounded the Presiding Officer who was from the Customs department.
The policemen wanted the Presiding Officer to issue them the written
firing order. The Customs man was apparently new to this business. He
refused. The policemen got wild and there was a commotion. I knew that
without resorting to firing there was no way the booth & polling
personnel could have been protected. This was a solitary case of
success story involving Bihar police. The mob which waylaid my convoy
was the same one which attached this polling station. So I directed the
Presiding officer to issue the firing order. The policemen were still
not happy with its contents. So, I took over the paper and wrote the
justification for the firing with a recommendation that the policemen
should be rewarded suitably.
It shows the other side of the coin.
Even if the police use the firepower under necessity, the executive
magistrates are not ready too back them up. So, they don't feel like
taking out the gun from the slings!
After inspecting two more polling stations, we got back to Motihari.
On the way back I got a frantic telephone calls from the Mukhya
(Village Panchayat president) of Parsauni Kapoor village. He informed
me that the miscreant gang which tried to waylaid my vehicle had come
back and they were using the guns freely. Using the wireless system I
called the police and informed them. But there was apparently no
action. The firing went on upto 10 p.m. No one would know the number of
dead or injured people in such events. This is a land where a whole
bomb explosion in an illegal bomb factory could be camouflaged as a
normal fire in the hut with the dead and injured vanishing into thin
air!

My observations:
Bihar has a new type of democracy.
In other Indian states, the politicians utilise the corrupt money
during elections by directly bribing the voters. Just a day before the
actual poll day, the politicians resort to door to door campaign and
hand over the money to the voters. I wanted to check up whether such a
practice was being adopted in Bihar. No, it was not there. After 8 p.m
Bihar went into its usual eerie silence during election period too.
Not a soul was found on the state highways (the bouncy pitch). But
Bihar has the superior technology. They outsource booth capturing!
The 'professional' booth capturers are not only funded but also
provided bombs and guns. The bomb factory that exploded in RJD
candidate's home near Patahi was a pointer here.
These outsourced contractors do their job irrespective of the person
who pays the money. In Dhaka Assembly Constituency of East Champaran
district, it was the ruling RJD which had the money and muscle power.
An illegal bomb factory was found in the house of the brother of the
RJD candidate. One has to draw one's own conclusions.
The booth capturers meticulously kept off from the booths manned by
Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) and BSF (Border Security Force).
Because these guys don't believe in talking. They believe that their
guns talk better. So the booth capturers were mortally afraid of the
central security forces.
On the poll day, the BJP's chief candidate's election agent got so
scared that he started following my convoy for the sake of security.
This was spotted by the security men accompanying me and they ordered
the BJP's chief agent not to follow us. When I intervened and advised
him not to follow the Election Observer who was an apolitical person,
the BJP's chief agent narrated his fears about his safety in Patahi
block. It was as though he was going to break down!
But I knew I could not permit him to tail me. So, I had to direct him
to proceed ahead or come behind the Observer, leaving enough distance
in between.
An election observer has to be neutral in everyone's eyes. That should
reflect in every move which the election observer makes!
The biggest shock came to me when the BJP MLA-elect, after winning the
elections appealed to me to talk to the SP to get him security. He
kept looking at his watch. It became 5.30 p.m when the final
certificate was handed over to him. He was afraid to travel to his
village after the dark!
It was a different matter that there was a large crowd waiting for him
outside and the moment he went out of the counting hall, the crowd
surged ahead, pulled down the barrier and scooped him in the air. I
watched the whole thing though a window from the counting hall.
The point is that the place was not safe for the opposition party nor
was it safe for a winning candidate. Fear was written all over the face
of the newly elected MLA and his followers as we neared the evening.
(It is a different matter that this MLA elect had four pending criminal
cases against him)

It is a great realisation that the criminals survive in Bihar because
of the patronage of the ruling party. If a ruling party decides to do
away with the criminals, they can do so.
Will the new government do it?

Looking back:
I look back the events that happened on the polling day.
It was more like a war.
I played a strategy to reach the trouble spots at the right time.
There was a strategy played by an unknown force to keep me away from
the trouble spot by trying to divert me away from the trouble spots.
The very same forces managed to drive away the BSF patrol without any
resistance from the BSF!
And there were gun shots right from the morning till 4.30 p.m when we
saw the police shooting happening in front of us.

Fear was certainly not there.
Well, Looking back it gives a pang!

Am I ready for another Bihar assignment?
No, not at all. Let Bihar reach the modern India stage from the
medieval India level so that I can go back to Bihar again.

Warm Regards.
Umashankar


--
C.Umashankar IAS.,
e-governance expert and Member (Special Invitee) - Working group for
implementation of National e-governance action plan, Government of
India, New Delhi.
Chennai:
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Old April 25th, 2005, 01:46 PM
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Re: Bihar:From Election Observer's diary-Facing the bombs and guns:An election day e

I hope UMAben reads this whole article to know more about Lalu Yadav's Bihar. Hope this will enlighten her knowledge about Indian Politics....ooops....Bihari (lalu's) politics.
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