The Election Commission announced on Wednesday that the Bihar assembly elections will be conducted in five phases between October 12 and November 5, setting the stage for a tough contest between the BJP and an alliance of the JD(U) and RJD that has the backing of the Congress.
Addressing a press conference in the national capital, chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi said the poll panel has devoted a lot of preparations to Bihar elections and requested all the stakeholders to work according to the laws and guidelines.
"We are committed to ensure a conducive and peaceful atmosphere from the standpoint of law and order," said Zaidi while announcing the poll dates.
The first phase of polling will be held on October 12 for 49 seats, second on October 16 for 32, third on October 28 for 50, fourth on November 1 for 55 and the fifth and the last phase on November 5 for 57. The counting of votes will be held on November 8.
"The model code of conduct will be enforced with immediate effect. As per the law, exit polls will be prohibited from the first day of the polls to last day of the last phase," Zaidi added.
He said the commission will ensure that common man is not harassed by field level machinery and has mounted special vigilance and security strategies to ensure the safety of voters.
"Out of 243 Assembly constituencies, 47 are affected by left-wing extremism, 29 districts out of 38 are covered under left-wing extremism. The Commission has ensured assessment of all vulnerable points where anti-social elements have been recognised."
The CEC added the commission has "made more than adequate arrangements" of central paramilitary forces which will man all polling stations where 6.68 crore voters will cast their decision.
In a first, voters will get paper receipts in 36 constituencies and electronic voting machines will carry photos of the candidates.
The term of the 243-member state assembly comes to an end on November 29.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar is seeking a third term after ruling Bihar for 10 years. Kumar was earlier allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, with which he snapped ties in June 2013 after the projection of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for last year's general election.
The BJP, which performed well in the state during the Lok Sabha polls, has an alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP. After the poll debacle in Delhi, this will be a major test of the "Modi wave". With a mega Bihar package and four Parivartan rallies in the state so far, PM Modi has had a tight grip on the run-up to the polls.
The Samajwadi Party has walked out of the grand alliance of the regional parties in poll-bound Bihar, charging the JD-U and RJD with not consulting them in seat distribution and humiliating them by doling it just five seats.
The SP, which rules Uttar Pradesh, said it would contest the elections on its own.
The Election Commission held a meeting with top officials of the Union home ministry last week to discuss the deployment of security forces for the polls that could be held in October. Apart from central forces, state police personnel will also be deployed during the elections.
Why Bihar win is important for Modi's BJP
Modi needs to win most of the state elections in the next four years to gain control of both Houses of parliament.
While the BJP and its allies have a majority in the Lower House, they only have about a quarter of the 245 members in the Upper House, where seats are distributed based on the strength of parties in state assemblies.
That has allowed the opposition parties to block some of his efforts to overhaul the economy and forced Modi to use decrees to push through decisions, a method even his supporters concede is unsustainable in the long term.States that control about half of the seats in the Upper House will go to the polls in the next three years, but the BJP does not have a strong foothold in many of them.
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