Even as Odisha Panchayat elections had a history of booth capturing, the Raktacharitra (blood-stained) of the 2022 polls in Odisha was on cinemascope display.
As per data available with State Elections Commission, a high of 453 booths went for re-polling in 2002, the count was 229 in 2007, 309 in 2012 and 130 in 2017. In the current edition, polling was disrupted in 26 booths in the first phase elections, and the violence on the day had left nearly 50 injured.
2022 Sensitive Booths Count Down
The SEC seems to have made an under-assessment of the security scenario for the ongoing Panchayat elections.
Because, as per the data with SEC, a total of 13,785 booths from a total of 91,916 have been designated as sensitive in the State.
In contrast, the number of sensitive booths identified in 2017 Panchayat polls in the State stood at 27,422.
Going by the re-poll data since 2002, the rural elections of 2002 and 2012 had seen maximum poll disruptions in the State vis-a-vis 2007 and 2017. With a rise in poll malpractices, the year 2022 seems on the way to join the dubious league.
How Sensitive Booths Ticked?
According to SEC, Secretary RN Sahu, "The classification of booths as sensitive and hypersenstive has been made as per the information received from the police department, Collectors and the poll history."
Going by the classification, Maoist hit districts were classified as hypersensitive, and Blocks in other non-Naxal districts were grouped as sensitive, added sources.
Significantly, when SEC looks at the poll history Blockwise, besides taking inputs from Collectors and SP's, a reality check reveals that poll violence/rigging takes place in the same blocks year after year in the State (2002-2017). And the intriguing fact is poll violence reports surfaced in the same Blocks of these districts in 2022 too.
Black Spots 2002-2022
Even as SEC has drastically pruned the number of sensitive booths in the State, going by the poll history, the same Blocks witnessed widespread poll violence and booth capturing in the first and second phases of the elections.
The historical black spots in the 5-phases of elections are given below.
- Puri - Brahmagiri, Kanas, Krushnaprasad (violence reported in 2002-2022 polls)
- Puri - The other black spots are Puri Sadar (voting will be tomorrow) and Delang (polling on Feb 22)
- The temple district of the State shared the dubious number 2 in poll rigging instances in the State. In 2002, re-polling was held in 65 booths, 25 in 2007 and 14 in 2017. The tally in 2022 has been 5 and counting. Three phases are still there.
- Jajpur: Dharamsala (Deoda) booth capturing happened in 2007 also, Dasarathpur (history of poll rigging from 2002-22)
- Jajpur: The other historically sensitive blocks are Binjharpur (polling on Feb 20) and Danagadi (Feb 22), Bari and Rasulpur (Feb 24).
- In fact, Jajpur district is notorious for poll-rigging in the State. In 2002, the district saw re-polling in 87 booths. The count was around 46 in 2007 and around 12 in 2017. In 2022, with three phases still left, the tally has grown to 25 at the end of phase 2.
Similarly, historical data since 2002 shows Bhadrak, Ganjam and Jagatsinghpur have a record of booth capturing in the State.
Poll Rigging Vs Maoist Attack
A glance at the historical data since 2002 reveals that re-polling in politically sensitive coastal districts were higher than red terror hit districts.
An analysis of the nationwide records of booth capturing and poll-rigging reveals that such disruptions in polling have happened for the reasons of lack of full force deployment at the historically sensitive booths identified, and also connivance of police with the political parties.
The ECI guidelines show that in order to prevent poll rigging/booth capturing, police need to take preventive actions either by rounding up or stopping the movement of anti-social elements in the sensitive area identified.