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Varanasi turns into fortress ahead of Monday’s elections

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-05-2014 PTI

Varanasi: The temple town has turned into a fortress with over 45,000 security personnel being deployed to ensure free and fair polls on Monday in the city where two of most talked about politicians – Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—are locked in a high-stake contest.

Top police officers of Uttar Pradesh have personally come down to the city to assess the security situation and make foolproof arrangements for what is being dubbed as the blockbuster battle of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, with the Election Commission too already appointing a special observer.

Gun-toting security personnel could be seen in almost every part of the city as well as in rural areas and police said there should not be any apprehension about any irregularities including rigging and booth capturing during the polls.

Prakash D., inspector general of police (Varanasi division), said “adequate” number of security personnel from state police, BSF, Rapid Action Force and CRPF have been deployed besides all possible measures to ensure free and fair polls in the high-profile constituency. Central paramilitary forces have been deployed at all the 1,562 polling stations which are also under CCTV coverage. The police have conducted raids and precautionary checks in various areas in the last two days besides keeping a strong vigil in localities identified as “sensitive”.

The administration has already asked all those who were involved in campaigning but do not belong to the city to leave Varanasi. There have been searches by police at hotels, guest houses and dharmasalas to flush out “outsiders” who are not from Varanasi and were involved in campaigning. Areas around ghats along Ganges are also being sanitised while vigil has been increased in certain minority dominated areas.

“We have made elaborate security arrangements. Adequate number of forces have been deployed and we are confident that polling in Varanasi will be peaceful and without any irregularities.” “I am satisfied with the security preparedness,” Prakash told PTI. Vehicles are also being checked to ensure that money and liquor are not being used to influence voters.

Top officials in the police and civil administration have held a number of meetings in the last couple of days to plug any loopholes in the election process. Police have also been told to keep an eye on local criminals. Varanasi’s district magistrate and returning officer Pranjal Yadav has personally been visiting various areas to have first-hand assessment of the ground situation.

BJP had launched a major offensive against Yadav and even demanded his removal after he refused permission to Modi to hold a rally at Muslim-dominated Beniabagh locality on Thursday. However, a number of senior officials said it did not affect his morale and he was working hard to have a “successful” election. The party had expressed concern whether free and fair polls will be possible in the sacred city but Prakash said there was no basis for such apprehensions. “We are determined to ensure free and fair polls and there is no ground for such apprehensions,” he said.

The AAP on Saturday had announced that it deployed 250 spy cameras across the city to keep a tab on BJP workers, alleging that the saffron party may try to influence voters by offering money and liquor considering huge support for AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. Sale of liquor has been banned since Saturday and it will remain so till the end of polling.

The city witnessed a high-voltage campaign in the last three days with Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav holding impressive roadshows to woo the voters.

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