Bihar to start counting votes as Tejashwi Yadav-led Grand Alliance projected to win
Officials and volunteers will on Tuesday begin counting millions of votes in the high-stakes Bihar assembly elections to the 243-member house, with a coalition led by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav projected to have an edge over chief minister Nitish Kumar. These votes will be counted at 55 centres, up from 38 during the Lok Sabha polls last year, across 38 districts where the outcome will decide the fate of the Nitish Kumar government that has helmed the state for more than a decade. The vote count will begin at 8am and results are likely to be clear later in the day.
The Election Commission of India has said it is making sure the counting process is held smoothly. Bihar’s chief electoral officer HR Srinivasa has said that hundreds of personnel of central armed police forces have been deployed at the strong rooms, where the electronic voting machines (EVMs) have been stored since the completion of voting, as well as the halls where they will be unsealed Tuesday morning after counting of postal ballots gets over.
Most exit polls have predicted an end for the ruling Janata Dal(United) or JD(U)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine and a resounding victory for the Grand Alliance (Mahagathbandhan) led by the RJD’s 31-year-old chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav.
Political heavyweights, bahubalis and debutants
Leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which consists of the BJP, the JD(U), Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), are facing a tough contest from candidates from the opposition coalition of the Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance. The Mahagathbandhan comprises the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and Left parties. This year, the NDA is without Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party as well as Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, who left the alliance citing differences with Nitish Kumar and his party.
Nitish Kumar, who has been Bihar chief minister for more than 14 years, won the 2015 assembly election along with the RJD but switched sides in 2017 when he left the Grand Alliance and joined the BJP-led NDA. Nitish Kumar had then said that corruption cases against deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav were his main reason behind leaving the Grand Alliance.
There are other coalitions in the race in this Bihar Assembly Election 2020. Nominees of the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA), an alliance of Jan Adhikar Party (JAP), Azad Samaj Party, the Bahujan Mukti Party (BMP) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), are also in the fray. The Grand Democratic Secular Front (GDSF) of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Janwadi Party (Socialist) and Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is another contender in the Bihar assembly polls this year.
Among Bihar’s 243 assembly constituencies, the most keenly watched will be Raghopur seat in Vaishali district from where Tejashwi Yadav is seeking re-election. Raghopur has been in the past represented by his parents Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi both former chief ministers. Nitish Kumar is a member of the legislative council and has not contested the assembly election this year.
Another seat will be Hasanpur in Samastipur district where Tejashwi’s elder brother, Tej Pratap Yadav, is contesting from. Tuesday’s counting will also decide the political fate of nearly a score of ministers. Prominent among them are Nand Kishore Yadav in Patna Sahib, Pramod Kumar in Motihari, Rana Randhir in Madhuban, Suresh Sharma in Muzaffarpur, Shrawon Kumar in Nalanda, Jai Kumar Singh in Dinara and Krishnanandan Prasad Verma in Jehanabad.
The fate of “bahubalis” or leaders known for strong-arm tactics will also be keenly watched. Anant Singh from Mokama and Reetlal Yadav from Danapur, who are are contesting on RJD tickets, are among these criminal-turned-politicians in the state.
There are several debutants who are trying their luck in this Bihar assembly elections. In Bankipur, Congress’ poll debutant Luv Sinha, who is the son of actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, faces four-time sitting BJP legislator Nitin Nabin. Other candidates in the fray are The Plurals Party chief Pushpam Priya and Independent candidate and Oxford University academician Manish Barriarr.
It may also revive the fortunes of the three Left parties, the CPI, CPI-M and CPI-ML, which have failed to register themselves in the electoral scene in the last two decades.
Officials of the election commission and those of district administrations will have to convince supporters of political parties from crowding the counting centres amid the coronavirus pandemic. Prohibitory orders will also be put in place outside the counting centres to prevent people from gathering in large numbers, officials have said.
“Election Commission gave 19 companies of paramilitary forces to guard strongrooms. They are the innermost core of counting centres’ security. There are 59 companies of paramilitary forces to maintain general law and order in the state. The inner core is being guarded by the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), then there is the Bihar Military Police (BMP) and then the district police,” Bihar’s chief electoral officer HR Srinivasa said on Monday.
“Inside counting centres, there is 24X7 surveillance by CCTVs and strong rooms have been locked and controlled by the paramilitary force. Candidates are allowed to sit outside counting centres to keep a watch and given live feed. Everybody who visits the counting centre then we have kept a logbook. Highest care has been taken so that counting centre is safe,” he had added.
Jitendra Kumar, the additional director general of police (headquarters), said Bihar Military Police and local police will also chip in while senior officials will keep a watch through display screens connected to CCTV cameras installed at the counting centres.
The Congress party has directed its senior leaders to be in their place in all the 38 districts and keep a close watch over the EVMs kept in the strongrooms for counting on Tuesday apprehending that rivals might indulge in “foul play”. The party has sent senior leaders, including general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala and Avinash Pande, chairperson of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee’s screening panel, to Patna.
(With agency inputs)