The total of 640 companies includes 493 companies from the BSF, the CISF, the CRPF, the Sashastra Seema Bal, the ITBP and Rapid Action Force (RAF). Besides the paramilitary forces, the Centre has also sent 147 companies of state armed police from MP, Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala and the Northeast. Of the 640 companies, two batches of 50 and 140 have arrived and two of 400 and 50 are in the process of reaching Gujarat.
The 2007 elections had only 370 companies of the RAF and CRPF. These were not deployed in all districts but restricted to protecting communally sensitive trouble spots.
“The Central forces have come for securing the elections,” chief electoral officer Anita Karwal said. “Each SP is chalking out a plan to deploy these along with local police at all booths.”
“The Gujarat police had sought paramilitary forces and armed forces of other states in such strengths, probably due to the insufficient strength of the state police,” said a senior official with a Central force in Gandhinagar. “The home ministry approved the request for such a huge strength mainly to keep up the confidence of voters.”
The Gujarat police have over 40,000 personnel, all of whom will be on poll duty. The state’s own armed police force of 99 companies (leaving aside 30 per cent for routine duties) and Chetak commando forces too will be deployed during the polls.
DGP Chitranjan Singh said, “Our force has been working for the elections for several months and we have ensured the security of every candidate, including the high-profile ones. The reason for having such a huge force of Central forces can be explained only by the Centre and the Election Commission.”
The list of high-profile candidates is led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has started addressing meetings across the state. Modi enjoys Z+ security with National Security Guards commandos. The CID (Intelligence) of the Gujarat police has worked out a special security plan in consultation with Central intelligence officers. Modi will also be protected by a special force of commandos from the state and the Centre, an official with the State Intelligence Bureau confirmed.
There was an IB alert last year that Modi’s Sadbhavana Mission programmes were on the target of terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. State officers assessed the threat perception around the chief minister over the last one year, before Modi began his election campaigns. Because of these alerts, the cover around Modi’s Vivekanand Yatra was doubled.
Also, this border state recently saw an espionage bid foiled. The Ahmedabad Crime Branch arrested four spies in Ahmedabad and Rajasthan who had been trained by ISI agents in Pakistan to collect information on cantonments and Air Force bases in Gujarat.
Ministers contesting the elections and who enjoy Z security will have not only their usual cover but added security during elections. And Amit Shah, chargesheeted in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter cases by the CBI, is contesting from the Naranpura constituency and the police are carefully watching his campaign.
The Central forces will be concentrated largely in districts that have been declared sensitive after a vulnerability analysis — 17,029 of 44,759 polling booths are “critical”.
The Centre has asked its forces to hold flag marches in each district and city, patrol in troops, conduct area domination execises and identity antisocial elements of various areas.
The BSF held its first flag march in Mansa constituency of Gandhinagar followed by Dahegam, Gandhinagar North and South constituencies. Mansa had faced clashes during the by-election in which the Congress wrested the seat from the BJP.
The companies will be deployed at ballot boxes till counting is over. They will also guard police vans, each of which covers at least 15 to 16 booths. A large number has been reserved for emergencies.