High-Stakes Bihar Polls in Five Phases From October 12

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi with Election Commissioners A.K. Joti and O.P. Rawat at a press conference to announce the schedule for the Bihar Assembly elections, in New Delhi. Credit: PTI Photo

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi with Election Commissioners A.K. Joti and O.P. Rawat at a press conference to announce the schedule for the Bihar Assembly elections, in New Delhi. Credit: PTI Photo

New Delhi: Assembly elections in Bihar will be fought in five phases between October 12 and November 5 in a high-stakes battle that is seen as a major popularity test for the National Democratic Alliance spearhead Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who is in an alliance with RJD and Congress.

Announcing the poll schedule, the Election Commission said that counting of votes will be held on November 8, just three days before Diwali and the locally significant Chhath puja that follows the festival of lights.

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said polls to the 243-seat Assembly will be held on October 12, 16, 28, November 1 and 5. The term of the current Assembly expires on November 29.

The battle for power in Bihar assumes significance in the context of Modi leading the NDA charge after BJP’s debacle in the Delhi assembly polls early this year. Recently, Modi announced a Rs.1.65 lakh-crore package for Bihar in his bid to end the two-decade reign of the Lalu-Nitish combine.

The BJP and the ruling JD(U) ended the alliance after eight years in power when Nitish Kumar parted ways over Modi being anointed the campaign chief of BJP in 2013 for the Lok Sabha elections.

Noting that a number of important festivals like Dussehra, Eid, Muharram, Diwali and Chhath will fall in the election period, Zaidi said the Commission will ensure communal harmony and peace.

Flanked by Election Commissioners Achal Kumar Joti and Om Prakash Rawat, Zaidi said during the press conference that more than adequate security arrangements have been made by the election body to ensure peaceful, free and fair polls in the state, where over 47 constituencies are hit by Left-wing extremism.

This time, the EC has ensured that Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel are deployed in all the 62,779 polling stations of the state. There are over 6.68 crore voters in the state.

In the first phase on October 12, 49 assembly constituencies will go for polls spread across 10 districts. Polling will be held in 32 assembly constituencies in six districts in the second phase on October 16. Most of the Left-wing-extremism-hit areas will go for elections in the first two phases.

In the third phase, polling will be held in 50 constituencies in six districts, while in the fourth phase 55 assembly seats in seven districts will go for elections. In the last phase, elections will be held in 57 constituencies in nine districts, Zaidi said.

Last time, the Bihar assembly elections were held in six phases.

Asked about the number of central forces personnel provided to the EC for the Bihar assembly polls, Zaidi, while refusing to mention an exact number, said “More than adequate police force is at disposal.”

Sources later said over 6,000 personnel have been provided and the five phases of the election have been so spread to ensure that the men get enough time to mobilise themselves. The CEC also said besides being deployed at all the polling stations, the central forces will also carry out confidence-building measures in sensitive areas.

Area domination exercises, de-mining activities (detection and removal of mines and IEDs), cordon-and-search operations and intelligence-gathering are some of the tasks assigned to central forces, who will also be using boats and helicopters to patrol sensitive areas.

The poll machinery has also decided that police personnel will use horses and motorbikes in difficult terrains to keep a check on trouble makers. Zaidi said keeping in mind past experiences, the EC will this time ensure that people with licensed weapons will deposit them with police authorities to prevent a law and order problem.

Thirty-six constituencies in Bihar will have EVMs equipped with the voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) during the assembly polls. VVPAT is a method of providing feedback to voters using a ballot-less voting system. An EVM will have a small attachment to it, which, after pressing the button for a desired candidate, will print that name on a paper.

It will be stored inside the machine and can be used in case of any dispute over the final results. The CEC said people will be informed about restrictions in carrying cash to the poll-bound state. But in genuine cases, those carrying excess cash will have the amount returned within 24 hours.

From today, a single-window system will be set up in Bihar where political parties and candidates can get approvals for use of public places to hold meetings, use of helicopters and vehicles for campaigning. The clearance, as per norms already laid down, will be granted within 36 hours, the CEC said.