The country's third-most populous state of Bihar will go to polls from Wednesday in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the BJP, in alliance with the JD(U), will seek to end its poor run in Assembly elections, the Opposition Mahagathbandhan will seek to end the 15-year rule of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Campaigning for the first phase of the election, which will be held on Wednesday, ended on Monday, with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressing multiple rallies on the last day. The first phase will cover a total of 71 constituencies.
Time of polling
The Election Commission has said voting will begin as usual at 7 am in Bihar but the period will be extended by one hour until 6 pm, except in the Left Wing Extremism affected areas, so that COVID-19 patients can vote in the last hour of the day.
A total of 1066 candidates are in the fray for the first phase of elections, 114 of them women. The voting in the first phase on Wednesday will decide fate of nearly half-a-dozen ministers of the Nitish Kumar Cabinet " Krishnandan Verma, Prem Kumar, Jay Kumar Singh, Santosh Kumar Nirala, Vijay Sinha and Ram Narayan Mandal.
Verma is expected to face a tough battle in the constituency of Jehanabad, as he is up against both Suday Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Indu Devi Kashyap of the Lok Janashakti Party. While he is the state education ministers, teachers in his constituency have several grouses against the government, according to a report in Hindustan Times. While many contractual teachers at government schools want their salaries at part with permanent ones, several primary school teachers are awaiting recruitment vacancies.
Another important battle in phase 1 is Imamganj, from where former Bihar chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) president Jitan Ram Manjhi is contesting. Manjhi is up against RJD candidate Uday Narayan Choudhary, former Bihar Assembly Speaker and veteran Dalit leader. In the previous election, Manjhi had defeated Choudhary. However, the RJD leader is no lightweight, and has represented the constituency four times.
An interesting contest will be in Mokama, where don-turned-politician Anant Singh is contesting on an RJD ticket. In 2015, Singh had won as an Independent candidate against the JD(U). Anant Singh has 38 cases registered against him, including some related to murder. He is presently in jail under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, according to Hindustan Times.
In twelve seats, the victory margin was less than 5,000 in the year 2015. These seats are Arrah, Dinara, Tarari, Bhabua, Dehri, Chainpur, Sherghati, Rajauli (SC), Gobindpur, Banka, Jamalpur and Munger.
Out of these, the BJP had won three seats and the Mahagathbandhan had won eight seats in 2015, as noted by India Today. However, it is important to remember that at the time, the JD(U) was a part of the Mahagathbandhan.
Among the prominent parties, while RJD is contesting on 42 of the 71 seats in the first phase, JD(U) candidates are in 41 constituencies, BJP (29), Congress (21) and LJP nominees are in fray at 41 places.
The Centre has directed the deployment of about 30,000 Central security force personnel for the conduct of the three-phase assembly polls in Bihar
The maximum 80 companies, as per an official order reviewed by PTI, will be drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRFP) followed by 70 from the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), 55 from the Border Security Force (BSF), 50 from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), 30 from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police force (ITBP) and 15 from the RPF.
A single company of these forces has an operational strength of about 100 personnel.
The home ministry, in an order, has said that the CRPF will be the nodal agency for the deployment of these central forces in the state and it will coordinate with the state agencies for moving these contingents in Bihar.
In 16 districts identified as Left Wing Extremism-affected areas, security has been beefed up. Election Commission officials have said that around 1,200 companies of security forces have been deployed in the Maoist-affected constituencies of Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada, Jamui and Lakhisarai districts.
The Election Commission listed out several protocols aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus while announcing the poll schedule. The commission said 7 lakh hand sanitizers, 46 lakh masks, 6 lakh PPE kits, 6.7 lakh face shields and 23 lakh pairs of hand gloves have been arranged for the Bihar polls.
Besides, postal ballot facility will be provided wherever required and requested, the poll panel said.
COVID-19 patients can vote in the last hour of the day, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said. He also said special protocols have been readied for voters who are COVID-19 patients.
More than 52,000 voters, who are either senior citizens above 80 years of age or are people with disabilities, have opted for the postal ballot in the first phase of Bihar elections to be held on October 28, the Election Commission said on Monday.
Booth Level Officers (BLO) in 71 constituencies spread across 16 districts of the state had approached over four lakh voters of the two categories. More than 52,000 such electors have opted to vote through postal ballots in phase one of polls, the EC said in a statement.
The remaining electors have preferred to visit the polling booth to cast vote.
Those who have opted for the facility would be provided postal ballots on a pre-informed date by the concerned returning officers with proper security and videography arrangements to ensure secrecy, safety, and transparency in the process.
With inputs from PTI