The month-long elections to the Bihar assembly kick off Thursday with the first of the state's 243 constituencies going to the polls to decide if Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will succeed in bringing the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) back to power.
Security arrangements have been finalised to ensure that nothing goes wrong and candidates anxiously wait for D-day as the stage gets set in the 10,454 polling booths, mostly in rural areas.
A total of 10.6 million voters are eligible to decide the fate of 635 candidates in the fray for the 47 constituencies in the first lot.
At stake will not just be Nitish Kumar's future but also the political reputations of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, who has tied up again with Ram Vilas Paswan and his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).
The Congress, which is fighting on its own, will also be looking to break in.
The main electoral planks on which all parties have asked for votes for are development, caste and minority issues. All factors will be in play as votes are cast in the poverty stricken Kosi-Seemanchal and Mithilanchal belt.
The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) perhaps has most at stake in 37 seats of the 47.
While it will look to maintain that dominance, the RJD-LJP will want to make a dent as will the Congress.
The RJD has three legislators in the region and the Congress four.
According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), a group of more than 1,200 NGOs, as many as 154 candidates in the first round of polls are facing criminal charges.
Of these, 97 have cases of murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, extortion, causing hurt by dangerous weapons and dacoity against them, the report said.
The heavyweights in the fray in this phase include state Congress president Mahboob Ali Qaiser as well as four ministers -- Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Renu Kumari, Narendra Narain Yadav and Hari Prasad Shah.
Amongst the candidates with criminal records is gangster Shankar Singh of LJP.
There are also several wives of convicted criminals turned politicians contesting the elections -- Bima Bharti, wife of gangster Awadesh Mandal, who is contesting on a JD-U ticket, Congress nominee Lovely Anand, wife of criminal-turned-politician Anand Mohan, and Ranjeet Ranjan, wife of former MP Rajiv Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Marxist leader Ajit Sarkar.
Being the first round of the first phased election, Thursday will be a litmus test for all the parties in the battle for the ballot. While the NDA has 142 seats in the present assembly -- 87 for JD-U and 55 for BJP -- the RJD and LJP lag far behind. The RJD has a strength of 54 and the LJP 11. The Congress has nine seats.
The next five rounds will see if they can better that score.
After Oct 21, the next rounds in the elections will be held on Oct 24, Oct 28, Nov 1, 9 and 20. Votes will be counted on Nov 24.