Maoist guerrilla attacks kill at least 17 on first day of Indian elections

Friday, April 17, 2009

Violence in India has left at least 18 people dead as Maoist guerrillas attacked voting stations during the first day of elections in the country. At least four other people, reported to be election officials, were kidnapped.

The guerrillas made fourteen attacks on polling stations and vehicles transporting election officials in central and eastern regions of India. The insurgents were armed with rocket launchers and landmines. They were calling for the polls to be boycotted, and had pledged to disrupt the elections. The violence was aimed at election authorities, not the voters. Soldiers who had been shot were evacuated by helicopters in some areas.

A re-vote was called in seventeen voting booths as a result of the attacks.

"Their [the insurgents'] political philosophy is such that they don't want to believe in democracy," said the director general of the Border Security Force, M L Kumawat.

"The extent of violence is unprecedented and shows it will be a significant political and security challenge for the next government. In many parts of India, they run parallel governments," said a political analyst from the Delhi University, Mahesh Rangarajan.

The elections, which are spread out over five phases, end on May 13. They are estimated to cost about US$2 billion, and it is forecast that about 714 million voters will attend the polls. Thirteen million voting machines will be used, and over six million security officials will help oversee the election. More than a quarter of a million police officers have been deployed to keep the peace at the polls.