The keenly-fought Bihar assembly elections came to an end with the completion of the fifth and final round of polling, which witnessed the highest turnout of 60% in 57 constituencies spread over nine north and eastern districts on Thursday. Bihar has a total 243 seats.
The final phase recorded an increase of 2.41% over the fourth phase, in which the voting percentage was 57.59%. In the first three phases, the voting percentage was 56.58%, 55% and 55.32%. The average voting across the five phases worked out to 56.80%.
According to chief electoral officer Ajay Nayak, 60% votes were polled in the districts of Darbhanga, Madhubani, Supual, Saharsa, Madhepura, Araria, Kishanganj, Purnia and Katihar.
While Katihar district recorded maximum turnout of 67.27% while Saharsa recorded the lowest of 50.78%. Madhubani recorded 55.87%, Supual 58.60%, Araria 62%, Kishanganj 64.39%, Purnia 62.95%, Madhepura 57.84%, and Darbhanga 58.27%.
Prominent personalities who cast their votes included BJP national spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain and JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav. Both leaders claimed their alliance will get a two-third majority in the elections.
This round of polling took place in some of Bihar’s most backward pockets notorious for high percentage of poverty, illiteracy as well as migration. The 57 constituencies that went to polls include 24 in the Seemanchal region bordering West Bengal and are spread over Araria, Darbhanga, Katihar, Kishanganj, Madhepura, Madhubani, Purnia, Saharsa and Supaul.
A total of 1,55,43,594 electors were eligible to vote to decide the fate of 827 candidates, including 58 women.
Polling was held till 5 PM in 55 constituencies, whereas in two Maoist-affected seats – Simri-Bhaktiarpur and Mahishi in Saharsa district – polling was held till 3PM.
With a turnout of 63.60%, women voters once again outnumbered their male counterparts (56.05%) while Muslims played a major role in ensuring a 4.15% increase in voting percentage over the 2010 assembly polls.
Mandate 2015 was fought among four alliances – Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance (GA) of Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress; BJP-led NDA; Third Front of Samajwadi Party and Jan Adhikar Party (two other parties left midway); and a Left Front that fought as one for the first time.
But the main contest was between NDA piloted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and GA led by chief minister Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.
Allied with the BJP are the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) of Upendra Kushwaha -- both Union ministers -- and the Hindustani Awam Morcha of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.
In fact, leaders of the four-party alliance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and those of the grand alliance were locked in a bitter war of words before campaigning ended on Tuesday evening.
Crucial role of Muslims, Yadavs
The fifth phase is crucial for chief minister Nitish Kumar and his allies RJD leader Lalu Prasad and the Congress as well as the NDA in the keen battle to control the 243-seat Bihar assembly.
The last phase is also crucial in the sense that it is taking place in a sprawling region which is home to a sizeable Muslim and Yadav population which everyone is aggressively wooing.
A clear lead by either NDA or GA in this phase would place them ahead of rivals in government formation. Both the main alliances claimed to have done well in Thursday’s polling and exuded confidence that they would emerge victorious after counting is done on November 8.
The voting was by and large peaceful barring stray incidents of clashes between rival groups in some areas. Voting was hampered for a while at polling station number 65 of Jokihat constituency in Araria district following a scuffle with the police, which resorted to firing two rounds in the air to disperse a mob trying to obstruct the poll process.
Muslims form 16.5% of Bihar’s 105 million population. In the Seemanchal, however, they account for nearly 67% in Kishanganj, 37% in Purnea, 43% in Katihar and nearly 40% in Araria. Yadavs live in large numbers in Madhepura and Saharsa in particular.
“Muslims and Yadavs will play a major role (on Thursday),” political activist Mahender Yadav said.
The BJP has been eyeing the Seemanchal assembly seats, banking on a possible division of Muslim votes.
In Kosi region, sensing the difficult challenge, BJP president Amit Shah had ordered party leaders to make Madhepura, Saharsa and Supaul their base during campaigning.
“Amit Shah has been working overtime for more than two weeks in the region,” a BJP source said.
PM Modi addressed election meetings in each district and mounted a strong attack on Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The BJP is banking heavily on Modi’s appeal and is confident of the support of the upper castes - Brahmins, Bhumihar, Rajputs - and also hopes to gain the backing of other communities.
In Seemanchal, the dominant mood among the Muslims appears to be anti-BJP. Most Yadavs are likely to throw their weight behind Lalu Prasad and the Grand Alliance.
The BJP is hopeful of gaining an upper hand in Madhubani and Darbhanga districts.
This round would also be watched keenly to see if All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) of Hyderabad MP Asauddin Owaisi manages to successfully launch itself in Bihar. AIMIM has fielded six candidates in Seemanchal areas, where Muslim voters are present in large numbers, to test poll waters in Bihar for the first time.
Controversial politician Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party is also in the fray in Kosi region. Both Owaisi and Pappu Yadav are wooing Muslim and Yadav voters.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Tariq Anwar is also confident of making a dent in his stronghold Katihar. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has also fielded candidates in many constituencies in this phase.
Names and numbers
Prominent among those whose fate will be decided in the last phase include senior minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav of JD(U) (Supual), RJD legislature party leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui (Alinagar), minister Narendra Narayan Yadav (Alamnagar) and Lalu Prasad’s ‘Man Friday” Bhola Yadav (Bahadurpur).
In the final phase, the NDA had BJP candidates in 38 seats, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in 11, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) in five and Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) in three. From the GA, the JD(U) fielded candidates in 25 constituencies followed by RJD in 20 and Congress in 12.
In 2010, the BJP had bagged 23 out of the 57 seats where election is taking place in the fifth phase. The JD(U), which was with the BJP in the last poll, had bagged 20 seats, the RJD of Lalu Prasad eight, Congress three, LJP two and Independent one.
The millions of votes polled in the staggered elections that began on October 12 will be counted on November 8.
(With PTI and IANS inputs)