Bihar Election Phase 3 today: Voting for 78 seats begin; a look at key candidates, parties and important protocols
The final phas is likely to be a real test for the ruling alliance of the NDA, the Grand Alliance as well as the six-party Grand Democratic Secular Front
Voting in 78 of Bihar's 243 seats has begun today (Saturday, 7 November) in the third phase of the state Assembly polls. Also undergoing polls is the Valmiki Nagar Parliamentary seat, where a by-election has been necessitated by the death of sitting JD(U) MP Baidyanath Mahato.
About 2.34 crore voters will decide the fate of 1,204 candidates, including 110 women, in the third and final phase of the Bihar Assembly election on Saturday.
Of the total 78 seats, 12 are reserved under the Scheduled Caste category, whereas one is reserved under the Scheduled Tribe category.
The first phase of the state polls, when a turnout of 55.68 percent was recorded, was conducted on 28 October, whereas, in the second phase, which saw polling on 94 seats, the voter turnout was around 55.70.
Time of polling
Polling will be from 7 am to 6 pm, chief electoral officer HR Srinivasa said, however, it will conclude early at 4 pm in four Naxal-affected constituencies of Valmiki Nagar, Ramnagar, Simri Bakhtiarpur and Mahishi.
Out of 33,782 polling stations 4,999 are considered as vulnerable.
Political parties in the fray
The final phase of polling on Saturday will cover 78 constituencies spread across 19 north Bihar districts. In the last election, the grand alliance, which then also included the JD(U), had won 54 of the 78 seats from this region. The JD(U), which is now part of the NDA had bagged 24 seats, whereas the RJD had won 20 seats and the Congress had ten seats. The BJP, which is the main constituent of the NDA, along with Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustani Awaam Morcha (HAM), had won 19.
But in this election, JD(U) is out of Mahagathbandahn and is contesting the election with the NDA. The LJP under Chirag Paswan has gone solo, whereas, former NDA-member RLSP has formed Grand Democratic Secular Front, a six-party alliance which includes Mayawati's BSP, Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM, Om Prakash Rajbhar's Suhaldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, Samajik Janata Dal (democratic) and Jantantrik Party (Socialist). Meanwhile, the NDA, now includes Mukesh Sahani's Vikassheel Insaan Party.
As for the Grand Alliance, the Congress and RJD have joined hands with the Left Parties in the state.
The final phase, therefore, is likely to be a real test for the ruling alliance of the NDA, the Grand Alliance as well as the six-party Grand Democratic Secular Front.
Leading from the front on behalf of the NDA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed rallies in remote districts of Araria and Saharsa for this phase of elections, exhorting the masses to retain their trust in the coalition headed in the state by Chief Minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar.
Modi asserted that the NDA was looking forward to meet the "aspirations" of people in the decade to follow, having fulfilled their "needs" in the preceding one.
Altogether 12 rallies were addressed by the prime minister, on whom the NDA banks for performing well in the 243 Assembly constituencies across the state.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also addressed election meetings at Madhepura and Araria where he raised suspicions of poll rigging dubbing the EVMs as MVMs (Modi voting machines), drawing jeers from the BJP which claimed the opposition leader had lost his nerves in the face of an impending defeat.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's rallies continued to be in the news for unsavoury happenings. At an election rally in Madhubani, stones and onions were hurled towards the dais, evoking an angry retort from the incumbent "phenko, aur phenko" (carry on with your mischief). RJD chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav continued with his campaign, drawing enthusiastic crowds at his rallies, numerous in a day.
Poll pundits are, however, of the view that after gaining momentum in the first phase, the RJD-led Grand Alliance has lost some steam in the subsequent ones. The BJP roped in many of its heavyweights for the Assembly election campaign. Defence minister Rajnath Singh, party president Jagat Prakash Nadda and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath were among those who repeatedly flew down to the state urging voters to support the NDA.
People also attended, in heavy numbers, rallies and roadshows of LJP president Chirag Paswan who has created abuzz by virtue of his strident criticism of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the gumption to go solo despite repeated claims of loyalty towards the BJP. The final phase covers the Seemanchal area of the state, densely populated, and having a heavy concentration of Muslims.
Many of the 78 seats undergoing polls on Saturday fall in the Kosi-Seemanchal region where the contest between NDA and Grand Alliance will be held under the shadow of the Owaisi factor given the fact that the AIMIM has fielded candidates in many of the Muslim-dominated seats here and the Hyderabad MP also carried out a hectic campaign.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who has joined a six-party coalition headed by RLSP president Upendra Kushwaha and including Mayawati's BSP, urged the minorities to shun the Congress-RJD combine, blaming these parties for the meteoric rise of the BJP and Modi.
The Kosi-Seemanchal region also happens to be the main area of influence for maverick former MP Pappu Yadav, whose Jan Adhikar Party is determined to make its presence felt and prove a point to the RJD as both draw their support from the states most populous community the Yadavs.
As in the previous two phases, Chirag Paswan's LJP is also in the fray in a number of seats this time, threatening to play spoilsport for the NDA, especially the JD(U) with its repeated pleas that "every vote cast in favour of the ChiefMinisters party will be a loss for Bihar's future".
While the NDA looked surefooted till a few months ago, poll pundits have begun to predict "winds of change" and the ruling coalition seems to have taken note as emotional appeals to the voters have emanated from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Key seats and candidates
There are over 1,200 candidates in the fray in the final phase of Bihar election, including 110 women candidates.
Prominent candidates include Vijay Kumar Chaudhary of JD(U), Speaker of the outgoing assembly, famed for his ability to win over hostile opponents with a disarming smile, who seeks to do a hat-trick in Sarairanjan.
JD(U) ministers in the fray are Bijendra Prasad Yadav (Supaul), Narendra Narayan Yadav (Alamnagar), Maheshwar Hazari (Kalyanpur), Ramesh Rishideo (Singheshwar), Khurshid alias Firoz Ahmed (Sikta), Lakshmeshwar Roy (Laukaha), Bima Bharti (Rupauli) and Madan Sahni (Bahadurpur). Four ministers are in the fray from the BJP PramodKumar (Motihari), Suresh Sharma (Muzaffarpur), Binod NarayanJha (Benipatti) and Krishnakumar Rishi (Banmankhi).
Besides, wife and daughter-in-law respectively of recently deceased ministers Vinod Kumar Singh (BJP) and Kapil Deo Kamat (JDU), respectively, are in the fray from the late legislators' respective seats Pranpur and Babubarhi.
Another keenly watched candidate is Subhashini Yadav from Bihariganj whose father, veteran socialist leader and former Union minister Sharad Yadav.
Armed with an MBA degree in marketing, the 30-year-old has made a sudden plunge into politics. Her assembly segment falls under Madhepura Lok Sabha seat which her father has won a number of times but lost in 2014 and failed to wrest back last year.
Sharad Yadav had been the JD(U)s national president for long and served as the national convenor of the NDA until Nitish Kumar, the party's de facto leader, chose to snap ties with the BJP in 2013. He was stripped of the post a few years later when Kumar became the party president as well and revolted when the latter did a volte-face and returned to the NDA.
Suhasini is contesting on a Congress ticket.
In the Valmiki Nagar Parliamentary seat, the JD(U) has fielded former MP Baidyanath Mahato's son Sunil Kumar. He is facing the primary challenge from Congress candidate Pravesh Kumar Mishra, a journalist-turned-politician.
Saturday will be the last leg of the voting in the current Bihar polls where elections are being conducted amid raging COVID-19 pandemic.
The Centre has directed the deployment of about 30,000 Central security force personnel for the conduct of the three-phase assembly polls in Bihar
The maximum 80 companies, as per an official order reviewed by PTI, will be drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRFP) followed by 70 from the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), 55 from the Border Security Force (BSF), 50 from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), 30 from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police force (ITBP) and 15 from the RPF.
A single company of these forces has an operational strength of about 100 personnel.
The home ministry, in an order, has said that the CRPF will be the nodal agency for the deployment of these central forces in the state and it will coordinate with the state agencies for moving these contingents in Bihar.
According to a report in Hindustan Times, five of Bihar’s 15 districts, which go to polls in the third and final phase of assembly elections on Saturday, figure in the state’s top 10 COVID-19 districts in terms of the total number of cases.
The Election Commission listed out several protocols aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus while announcing the poll schedule. The commission said 7 lakh hand sanitizers, 46 lakh masks, 6 lakh PPE kits, 6.7 lakh face shields, and 23 lakh pairs of hand gloves have been arranged for the Bihar polls.
Besides, the postal ballot facility will be provided wherever required and requested, the poll panel said.
COVID-19 patients can vote in the last hour of the day, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said. He also said special protocols have been readied for voters who are COVID-19 patients.
However, enforcing COVID-19 rules has been extremely difficult in the last phase of the Bihar polls. At several political rallies, chairs were kept at a distance but it all amounted to little ultimately as the masses in hundreds and thousands milled around at these meetings.
Rallies by state leaders, including Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, saw people packed like sardines at several places. Bamboo barricades were broken by enthusiastic crowds at Yadav's rallies at a few places as they jostled to come close to the young politician.
Political events apart, very few people seem to prefer wearing masks in much of the state, fewer still in rural areas.
While the state adhered to the tough lockdown like most of the country during the pandemic's early spread, people have become laxer with the reopening of the economy and resumption of normal life.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said on Friday that to ensure social-distancing norms, the number of voters per polling station in Bihar was reduced from 1,500 to 1000.
This led to an increase in the number of polling stations by nearly 33,000. Those aged 80 years and above, and those with disabilities were given the option of using a postal ballot. But most of them preferred to go to the polling booth to vote, he said.
With inputs from PTI
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