PATNA -- Amid tight security cover, polling began this morning in the second phase of the Bihar Assembly elections, spanning 32 constituencies spread over six Naxal-hit districts.
Voting began at 7 AM in all the seats and in view of the security threat, the voting time has been curtailed by one to two hours in as many as 23 constituencies.
Of all the phases, the second phase posed the greatest challenge to security personnel as all six districts - Kaimur, Rohtas, Arwal, Jehanabad, Aurangabad and Gaya - have been affected by Naxal violence one time or the other.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer R Lakshamanan said voting starting at 7 AM in all 32 constituencies would end at 3 PM in 11 seats, and at 4 PM in 12 others. Only 9 seats would have scheduled voting from 7 AM to 5 PM.
A total of 86,13,870 electors are expected to decide the fate of 456 candidates, 32 out of whom are women. There are 9,119 polling stations.
A total of 993 companies of Central paramilitary forces and state police have been deployed to ensure peaceful voting.
Drones and five helicopter/UAV would keep surveillance to ward off any untoward incidents.
For faster movement of security personnel and avoid greater casualties in the event of Naxal attacks, the security forces have decided to use motorbikes in large numbers. A total of 719 bikes would be in service for today's polling.
While the contest in all the seats is intense, the battle at Imamganj (reserved SC seat) would be keenly watched, where former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) is locked in a straight contest with the Speaker of the outgoing Assembly Uday Narain Chaudhary of JD(U).
Chaudhary is a five-term MLA from the constituency.
Manjhi is trying his luck from Makhdumpur seat in Jehanabad too.
Senior BJP leader and former minister Prem Kumar (Gaya Town), former state unit chief of the saffron party Gopal Narayan Singh (Nabinagar) and state minister Jay Kumar Singh (Dinara) are among prominent names in this phase.
The stakes are high for the anti-BJP alliance in this phase as most of the 32 seats had gone to the JD(U) in the last elections.
In 2010, the JD(U) had won 19 seats followed by BJP 10, RJD 2 and Independent 1. This time the JD(U) and the RJD are contesting 13 seats each, while Congress has its candidates in six seats.
Half of the seats in this phase are being contested by BJP's allies in the NDA - LJP (Lok Janshakti Party), HAM and RLSP (Rashtriya Lok Samata Party).