Patna, Oct 16 (IANS) Defying Maoist threats, millions voted on Friday in the second round of Bihar’s staggered assembly elections that has pitted a BJP-led combine against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD-U and allies.
Although 23 of the 32 constituencies involved in the second of the five-phase balloting are known to be Maoist hubs, the polling was largely peaceful, officials here said.
As many as 456 candidates were in the fray on Friday in the districts of Gaya, the birthplace of Buddhism, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Arwal, Kaimur and Rohtas, which saw some horrific caste massacres in the 1980s and 1990s.
Polling in 11 constituencies, known to be Maoist bastions, ended at 3 p.m. and an hour later in 12 other constituencies where Maoists are active but not that strong.
This was to ensure that polling officials and the electronic voting machines leave the area before sunlight fades.
Over 50 percent of the 8.58 million eligible electorate on Friday had voted by 3 p.m., the Election Commission said. The percentage is expected to rise by 5 p.m. when balloting will end elsewhere.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer R. Lakshaman told IANS that the polling was slow initially but picked up later — a la the first round of voting on Monday.
According to him, women again voted in large numbers. “Like in the first phase, women may outnumber men in the second phase too,” he said.
As the day progressed, the queues outside polling booths turned serpentine, reports from various constituencies said.
The main contenders for power in Bihar are the Grand Alliance of the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and its allies, the RJD and the Congress as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led four-party coalition.
The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist had vowed to disrupt the elections. With most of the 8,849 polling booths in rural areas, officials in charge of security had their fingers crossed.
Five helicopters, drones and 993 companies of paramilitary forces were deployed.
In the last two days, more than half a dozen bombs were seized in Gaya and Rohtas districts, planted allegedly by the Maoists to disrupt the elections.
Bihar police chief P.K. Thakur told the media here that polling was peaceful barring minor clashes between rivals.
Officials said voters in over a dozen villages in Aurangabad, Kaimur, Jehanabad and Arwal boycotted polls and shouted slogans against what they said was lack of development.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch, 142 candidates in the second round face serious criminal charges including those of murder.
The staggered elections to pick a 243-member assembly ends on November 5. The results will be out on November 8. The third round will be held on October 28.