New Delhi/Patna, Sep 9 (IANS) The Election Commission on Wednesday announced five-phased polling to the 243-member Bihar assembly between October 12 and November 5 with political parties welcoming the announcement and asserting that they are geared up for the high-stake electoral battle.
Announcing the dates for the crucial election, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said the model code of conduct has come into force with immediate effect.
“The Election Commission has made arrangements for free and fair polls. We have received more than adequate forces. Each polling booth will be manned by central police forces,” Zaidi told reporters in New Delhi.
The election, which is expected to witness a keen contest between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and the combine of Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress is seen to have national ramifications.
The voting will take place across 62,779 polling stations in the state with the election process spread over three months apparently due to festivals that include Eid-ul-Zuha, Navratras and Dussehra. Over 6.68 crore voters are eligible to take part in the election.
The counting will take place on November 8, only a few days before Diwali and Chhath — the latter a major festival in Bihar. The term of the present Bihar assembly ends on November 29.
The first phase of polling for 49 seats will be held on October 12, the second phase for 32 seats on October 16, the third phase for 50 seats on October 28, the fourth phase for 55 seats on November 1 and the fifth and final phase for 57 seats on November 5.
Zaidi also announced that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will have photographs of the candidates.
Bihar polls are the first assembly election after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s defeat in Delhi and comes ahead of a string of elections next year including in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry.
The BJP, which had declared a chief ministerial candidate in Delhi, has not named a CM nominee in Bihar and is seen to be relying largely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for success of its election effort.
The election is crucial for the BJP to regain momentum of its electoral success. The party then gained power in Haryana on its own and in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir in an alliance since its triumph in the Lok Sabha elections last year.
The polls are also crucial for the Congress in its efforts at electoral revival.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was an ally of the BJP in the previous election and a lot is at stake for him as also for RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Bihar leaders, including Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi welcomed the announcement of polls.
“We welcome the poll announcement by the Election Commission. We are ready for it,” Nitish Kumar said.
Lalu Prasad said the main target of their alliance was to defeat the BJP-led NDA in the Bihar assembly polls.
“Our main target is to defeat the BJP-led NDA in polls in Bihar because this is not a Bihar’s election but of India’s as all eyes are on it,” Prasad told reporters in Patna.
Sushil Modi said the BJP-led NDA camp is upbeat and confident to defeat the alliance of JD-U, RJD and Congress. “We will finalise the seat sharing soon,” he said.
Congress general secretary C.P. Joshi said the contest was between a “hawabaaz PM and kaamkaaji CM (a prime minister who blows hot air and a chief minister who works).”
The Congress is contesting 40 seats. RJD and JD-U are contesting 100 seats each.
The six left parties that have joined hands to contest polls together for the first time in Bihar also welcomed the announcement. In the last election which JD-U and BJP as allies, the former won 91 seats and the latter 115. RJD won 22.
The BJP and JD-U had parted ways ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls over Modi’s projection as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.