The crucial fifth phase of polling for 57 assembly seats on Thursday will cap an abuse-loaded election in Bihar where the narrative fluctuated from development to caste, job quota, beef, terror and black magic.
As in the previous four rounds, the final phase will be a bitter fight between the BJP-led NDA and the grand alliance (GA) of JD-U, RJD and Congress. A better performance in this round across nine north and north-east Bihar would place either alliance ahead in the race for government formation in the state.
BJP chief Amit Shah claimed the NDA had taken the lead by the fourth round, though the GA exuded confidence of becoming the people’s choice. Both alliances are aware that four of the nine districts in the fifth phase have a concentration of Muslims varying from 45% to 70% while five have a sizeable population of extremely backward castes (EBCs) and Dalits.
In 24 constituencies of Seemanchal region comprising Kishanganj, Katihar, Araria and Purnia districts where Muslims are the largest chunk of voters, the GA is expected to enjoy an edge if the voting is guided by polarisation on communal lines. Muslims there are said to be opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, the presence of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi in six Seemanchal constituencies bordering West Bengal is what is worrying the GA candidates. This phase will be a test of Owaisi’s ability to launch AIMIM in Bihar’s Muslim-dominated areas, particularly two constituencies each in Kishanganj and Purnia districts, and one each in Araria and Katihar districts.
If the Owaisi factor works, it will largely damage the poll prospects of the GA candidates and eventually benefit the NDA nominees. Many in Seemanchal thus see AIMIM’s presence as a design by the BJP and RSS to split the minority votes.
The GA, though, faces a bigger threat from the presence of NCP candidates in 18 constituencies in Katihar, Purnia, Kishanganj, Araria and Darbhanga districts. In Katihar, which is represented by NCP leader Tariq Anwar in Lok Sabha, the NCP has fielded strong candidates in all the seven constituencies. Since Anwar, a Shershawadi Muslim, commands influence in Katihar, the NCP nominees are posing serious challenge to both NDA and GA candidates.
Besides AIMIM, the focus of this phase would also be on the Jan Adhikar Party of Madhepura MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav in the Kosi belt. If the voting is done on caste lines, the GA could have the edge in 15 constituencies of Madhubani and Darbhanga districts of Mithilanchal and 13 constituencies of Kosi region comprising Supaul, Madhepura and Saharsa districts.
Pappu draws his strength mostly from the younger sections of Yadav voters in the Kosi belt and in the neighbouring Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region comprising the districts of Araria, Purnea, Katihar and Kishangunj.
While the three GA constituents have left no stone unturned to make the electoral battle a forward versus backward caste fight, the development agenda of the BJP and support of EBCs and Dalits through allies LJP, HAM-S and RLSP may give the NDA an advantage in this region.
In 2010, the BJP had bagged 23 out of the 57 seats while the JD(U), which was then with the BJP, had bagged 20 seats, the RJD of Lalu Prasad eight, Congress three, LJP two and Independent one.
The BJP has fielded a maximum of 38 candidates, while LJP nominees are contesting 11 seats in this phase. The RLSP has put up candidates in five constituencies and HAM-S in three. JD(U) candidates are trying their luck in 25 seats, RJD in 20 and Congress 12.
The poll will decide the fate of senior minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav (Supaul), RJD Legislature party leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui (Alinagar), Minister Narendra Narayan Yadav (Alamnagar) and Lalu Prasad’s close aide Bhola Yadav (Bahadurpur).
A total of 15,543,594 electors are eligible to vote to decide the fate of 827 candidates, including 58 women. Polling will take place on 55 constituencies from the standard 7am-5pm except for two Maoist-affected constituencies of Simri Bhakhtiyarpur and Mahisi in Saharsa district. Polling in these two seats has been curtailed by two hours, additional chief electoral officer R Lakshmanan said.
Officials said more than 1.20 lakh police and paramilitary forces personnel would be deployed to ensure fair and fear-free election in 14,709 polling stations.