Bihar is set for the high-voltage fourth phase of polls on Sunday, critical for both the BJP-led NDA and the grand alliance of JD(U), RJD and Congress.
This phase covers 55 seats across seven north-central and north-western districts, considered saffron strongholds where the BJP won 26 seats in 2010 when it had an alliance with the JD(U). This time, the party has the support of three Independent winners from the previous elections who are contesting on BJP tickets.
Moreover, the NDA hopes to maintain the momentum that let it sweep 53 of 55 assembly segments in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Mahagathbandhan or grand alliance is determined to not let the BJP a free run, although the RJD, contesting 26 seats, admits the region is not its traditional strong point. The Congress seeks to stage a comeback in the belt it lorded over till the 1990s, with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi having addressed three rallies.
With campaign for the fourth phase drawing to a close on Friday, the BJP’s own assessment gives it a clear and huge edge over the grand alliance. The NDA had, in fact, stepped up its campaign for Sunday’s crucial polls with Prime Minister Narendra Modi charging from the front after getting a hint that it has a lead over the over the grand alliance in the third round.
“Our support base has increased in the past few years. The Prime Minister’s rallies have drawn huge crowds, indicating the BJP’s popularity. We are headed for a complete sweep,” Bihar BJP spokesperson Devesh Kumar said.
Even grand alliance parties are worried about a poor show in this round. “This one belongs to the BJP. We would be happy with even slightest of gains. We have nothing to lose,” a member of Kumar’s campaign team said.
The RJD is hopeful of giving some jitters to the BJP. “We have been traditionally weak in this region. The NDA benefitted in 2014 because of a split in the votes between parties that are now part of grand alliance now. In a changed scenario, we expect to do better than the previous election,” party spokesman Manoj Jha said. The RJD was runners up in 33 of 55 seats in 2010 elections.
As the campaign ended, security forces sealed the borders with Nepal and Uttar Pradesh. This phase has 12 Maoist-affected districts, though less troublesome as those in the first two phases.