Fears of monsoon floods and a packed festival season ahead have left a tiny window for the Election Commission (EC) to hold polls in Bihar this year, with political parties that are already kicking up dust on the campaign trail voicing concerns about the uncertainty over the schedule.
While chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi indicated on May 17 that the “mother of all elections” would be held around September-October, media reports a month later quoted EC sources saying multi-phased polls were likely in the eastern state between late October and early November.
The election is being touted as a do-or-die battle for a BJP-led alliance that is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, as well as an avowedly secular JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine which has declared chief minister Nitish Kumar as its candidate for the top post.
Though the poll panel is yet to make a final announcement on the dates, political parties have pointed out that large parts of north Bihar battle floods till mid-September every year, while October and November are teeming with festivals.
The entire election process including issuance of notification, filing of nomination papers, voting, counting of votes and declaration of results has to be completed before November 29 when the term of the present Bihar assembly ends.
“The EC can consider the period between mid-September and mid-October, just before the beginning of the Durga Puja, for holding the polls,” said Niraj Kumar of the ruling JD(U). “The EC will have another cushion period of 17 days after Muharram (October 26) and before Deepawali (November 11). After Chhath (November 18), the EC will have 10 days till November 29 when votes can be counted.”
Some political leaders say if the election is held amid the festivals, the state administration will face a daunting task to monitor law and order during the revelry as security personnel would have to be deployed for the polls.
State BJP leaders too appeared anxious about the poll schedule, saying voter turnout could take a hit with thousands of people busy in celebrations.
“If the poll schedule coincides with the festivals, it will contradict the Election Commission’s aim of ensuring 100% polling,” a BJP leader said.
Sources say chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi and election commissioner Achal Kumar Jyoti are likely to visit the state capital in the first week of August to hold discussions with officials from the state administration, police and political parties.
“The commission will consider factors like floods, festivals and law and order situation before finalising the poll dates,” a state election official said. “Since Bihar will have stand-alone election, force requirement will not be a problem.”