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EC underscores security concerns with staggered Bihar poll

The adversarial positions of the rival formations in this election – the BJP-led NDA and the RJD-JD (U)-Congress ‘grand alliance’ is such it even extended to the number of phases each side advocated this poll be held in.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2015 16:27 IST

By announcing a five phase election for the 243-member Bihar assembly, Wednesday the Election Commission of India underscored the logistical challenges and security concerns that underscore the gargantuan exercise.

The acrimony suffusing the public discourse ahead of the announcement of the poll dates – October 12, 16 and 28 and November 1 and 5, has, undoubtedly alerted the commission to the reality that the ensuing contest would be bitter to the end.

The adversarial positions of the rival formations in this election – the BJP-led NDA and the RJD-JD (U)-Congress ‘grand alliance’ is such it even extended to the number of phases each side advocated this poll be held in.

“We had demanded a four phase poll while the grand alliance parties wanted just one. The EC apparently added the two figures and came up with a five phase poll”, said BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi.

The hostility between the two sides has found expression in a war of words between PM Narendra Modi and CM Nitish Kumar. When Modi questioned Kumar’s political DNA at an election meeting, the latter accused him of sullying ‘Bihar’s DNA’

Again, when Modi announced a Rs 1.25 lakh crore ‘special package’ for Bihar, Kumar described the move as a largely re-packaging of old schemes and announced his own Rs 2.47 lakh crore development agenda for the next five years.

The EC evidently had to fit in the poll dates amid a host of festivals and holidays. For instance, the first phase of polling – on October 12 falls on ‘Mahalaya’ day and the second polling day on October 16, is the fourth day of ‘Navratri’ in Bihar.

However, considering the massive logistical exercise that entails taking 6.68 crore voters to polling booths, the commission probably came up with a schedule that was least obtrusive. Parties, by and large, were fine with it.

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi tacitly acknowledged security was a major concern in this election when he declared central para-military forces (CPMF) would be deployed at every polling booth.

“But considering deployment of CPMF is in the hands of officers appointed by the Nitish Kumar government, EC will have be be pro-active in ensuring all booths are covered”, Modi told Hindustan Times.

The security concerns have been heightened because in every sense of the term this one is a ’now or never’ election for the main formations arrayed on two sides of the electoral divide.

Prime minister Modi must win Bihar for the BJP-led NDA because losing a second successive assembly poll after the BJP’s rout in Delhi last February would severely undermine his position within his own party and vis-à-vis his allies.

Just as much, chief minister Nitish Kumar (JD-U), Lalu Prasad (RJD) and the Congress need to secure Bihar to remain relevant after each suffered a rout at the hands of Modi-powered NDA in the May 2014 Lok Sabha poll.

As such, this election entails a battle of survival for all three – Nitish, who could win just two out of 40 Bihar LS seats for the JD (U), Lalu (four seats) and the Congress, which won just two seats in Bihar.

As against the NDA’s 38% vote, these three parties had between themselves polled over 44% votes in the Lok Sabha election. But they ended up a very few seats because whereas RJD (20% votes) and Congress (8%) were allies in the poll, JD (U) (15%) went alone.

The NDA had added former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular, comprising mainly of breakaways from the JD (U), to make up for the alliance’s larger, combined Lok sabha vote share.

With 47 constituencies out of 243 and 29 Bihar districts out of 38 being affected by left-wing extremism and Maoists likely to try to enforce a poll boycott, the security concerns in this election can hardly be exaggerated.

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