Millions of people cast their votes in Bihar on Monday during the first phase of an assembly election that is being seen as a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity with a BJP-led coalition taking on an alliance headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Over 57% of the close to 13.5 million people eligible to vote in this phase showed up at poll booths, with large turnouts beating expectations in areas like Sheikhpura and Munger that are in the grips of left-wing extremism.
A candidate from BJP ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) escaped unhurt after being shot at in the Jamui constituency during voting which was largely peaceful across the state. In a separate incident, 15 people were injured in clashes between members of the two rival alliances in the same district.
“This year’s turnout is 6.15% more than the 2010 turnout,” said chief election officer of Bihar, Ajay V Nayak, adding that women outnumbered men by a significant margin.
Analysts said the turnout indicated members of the extremely backward classes (EBCs) came out to vote in large numbers but refrained from commenting on which alliance was likely to benefit with opinion polls predicting a close finish.
Forty-nine of the state’s 243 assembly constituencies went to the polls that will be held in five phases with the votes to be counted on November 8.
The polling took place at a time the BJP facing allegations from rivals of attempting to polarise voters with sporadic violence over cow-slaughter rumours in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, while the ruling JD(U) faced embarrassment when a minister was purportedly caught on camera accepting a bribe.
A large number of people lined up at booths since early morning to cast their vote amid reports of malfunctioning EVMs from several parts of the state. Altogether 583 candidates, including 54 women, were in the fray.
Of these 49 seats, the ruling JD(U) had won 29 in 2010. The BJP, which was with the JD(U) in the last election, had won 13 seats, while the RJD had clinched four.
Security was tight for the first phase as six of the nine districts going to the polls are affected by Left-wing extremism. With the fear of a Maoist attack looming large, the Election Commission deployed 87,600 paramilitary personnel for poll duty.
Polling in five extremist-affected districts ended at 3pm. Contrary to expectations, these districts reported a good turnout, with Munger registering 55% voter turnout despite a bandh call by Maoists.
The polls that end on November 5 will not only be a test of PM Modi’s appeal and the BJP’s reform agenda, but also a fight for survival for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and rehabilitation of his rival-turned-ally, RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
The results will be announced on November 8. Opinion polls by at least eight agencies and TV channels have pointed to a hung assembly with the two major alliances going neck-and-neck. While four of these have given the BJP-led NDA a slight advantage, two have made it a clear winner. One of the surveys has tilted the scale in favour of the so-called grand secular alliance of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress.
Apart from the grand alliance and the NDA, the Samajwadi Party-led Third Front and a never-before united Left Front are also in the fray in the politically crucial state.
PM Modi tweeted early morning urging people to come out and vote in large numbers.
Urging all those voting today in Bihar to vote in large numbers. I particularly urge my young friends to cast their vote.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 12, 2015