PATNA — After high pitch bitter campaigning which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rival camps led by Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad holding a string of rallies, the stage is set for voting in 49 seats of Bihar Assembly elections in the first phase of the five-phase poll today.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer R Lakshamanan said that a total of 1,35,72,339 electorate are eligible to decide the fate of 583 candidates for the 49 seats in 10 districts in the first phase of elections.
Lakshamanan said voting would start from 7 AM.
While in majority of seats polling would end at 5 PM, in some constituencies time has been cut short to 4 PM and 3 PM on the basis of law and order situation feedback in the Naxal-hit areas, he said.
Out of a general electoroate of 1,35,72,339 there are 72,37,253 men, 63,17,602 women and 405 of third gender.
Lakshamanan said out of a total of 583 candidates in the field, there are 54 women nominees. BSP, which does not have much influence in Bihar, has fielded a maximum of 41 candidates among the 49 seats.
BJP has fielded 27 candidates in the 49 seats followed by JD(U) 24, RJD 17, LJP 13, Congress 8 and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party 6 and Hindusthani Awam Morcha 3.
Left front is trying to make significant inroads in the poll on the basis of combined strength of six parties - CPI, CPI-M, CPI-ML, Forward Block, SUCI (C) and RSP. While CPI has fielded 25 candidates, CPI-M has fielded 12 in the first phase.
Lakshamanan said tight security arrangements have been put in place to ensure peaceful polling in 13212 polling stations in the first phase.
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Bihar will go for polls in a five phase election from October 12 and end on November 5. Counting of votes will take place on November 8. The term of the current 243-member Bihar Assembly expires on November 29.
There would be 80,000 to 90,000 polling personnel.
Every polling station would be manned by the Central Para Military Force, he said adding drone and helicopter would also be put in service.
Voting in 49 seats would take place in the backdrop of high decibel campaign which ended on Saturday evening. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah headed the BJP poll blitzkreig. Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, J P Nadda joined state leaders Sushil Kumar Modi and Nand Kishore Yadav to spread BJP message among people.
Rival campaigns revolved around Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad. Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi came to the state for one day each to add muscle to the secular alliance prospects. Stakes are high for Nitish Kumar's JD(U) in the first phase of polling as out of the 49 seats it had won 29 in 2010.
BJP, which was with JD(U) in last election, had won 13 seats, while RJD had clinched four. The over a fortnight-long poll campaign was marked by mudslinging by contenders.
Though the electioneering got off to positive start with the two main contenders to power - BJP-led NDA and JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance - initially pitching on development plank, it soon turned into a slanging match.
From 'Shaitan' (devil) to 'Brahma Pisach' (super devil) to 'Chara Chor' (fodder thief) to 'Narbhakshi' (man eater), their was no dearth of 'name calling'.
As campaigning peaked, Lalu Prasad's "Hindus also eat beef" remark was hotly debated, with Modi seeking to turn the tables on the RJD boss, who had latched onto RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's call for a review of the reservation policy to claim that the BJP-led Centre was contemplating scrapping caste-based quotas.
As Lalu Prasad and the anti-BJP alliance's chief ministerial candidate Nitish Kumar harped on the alleged move to scrap quotas, in rally after rally, to consolidate the backward caste votes, the RJD supremo's "Hindus also eat beef" remark, made in the aftermath of the Dadri lynching episode, gave BJP and Modi ammunition.
Modi vigorously stirred Bihar's melting electoral pot by accusing Lalu of "insulting" the "yaduvanshis" (Lalu's own Yadav clansmen), who rear cattle, by his comment. Modi's remarks triggered accusations of trying to communalise the elections.
"The real Modi on display -- brazen attempt to add communal texture to Bihar polls, but deafening silence on deplorable incident of Dadri," said the Bihar Chief Minister.
Kumar said it was for all to see "why Vajpayeeji was forced to remind him (Modi) to follow Raj Dharma, but wonder who will do the Vajpayee today ?"
Warnings of a return of "jungle raj", a term used by Lalu Prasad's critics to describe alleged lawlessness during RJD's 15-year rule, was an oft-repeated refrain of the NDA leaders, including Modi and Shah.