Over 50 percent voting in final phase of Bihar polls


Patna: More than three million people defied the Maoists’ poll boycott call Saturday to vote in 26 constituencies in the sixth and final phase of the Bihar assembly elections. Minor incidents of violence, however, marred the otherwise peaceful polling.

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An estimated 51 percent of the six million electorate eligible to vote in this round, exercised their franchise by 5 p.m. when the voting ended in the five worst drought-hit districts of Gaya, Aurangabad, Rohtas, Kaimur and Buxar, officials said.

The balloting in 18 constituencies of Maoist-affected areas ended by 3 p.m.

Bihar Police chief Neelmani told IANS that polling was largely peaceful and trouble-free. “The polls were by and large peaceful though Maoists triggered a country-made bomb and police found a cane bomb planted by Maoists. It was an attempt to create terror. Minor clashes and attempts to disrupt voting at a few booths were also reported,” he said.

Additional Director General of Police P.K. Thakur said that but for minor clashes, there was no trouble during polling. “It passed off peacefully,” he said.

More than 100 troublemakers were arrested to ensure a peaceful ballot, police said.

According to police officials, armed Maoists tried to disrupt polls in Gaya district, which is considered a Maoist-stronghold, but failed.

There were “minor clashes” between supporters of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of former chief minister Lalu Prasad, authorities said.

In some places, the electronic voting machines broke down, delaying the polling.

Bihar chief electoral officer (CEO) Sudhir Kumar Rakesh said that ignoring the Maoists’ call of poll boycott, voters, particularly women and youths, queued up outside the polling booths soon after balloting began at 7 a.m.

“People lined up to cast their votes early morning. It was a peaceful polling despite the fact that elections were held amid threats of Maoist violence,” he said.

According to official sources, voters’ defiance of the poll boycott call was evident as better than expected turnout was recorded in all Maoist-affected constituencies.

Maoists triggered a blast in Sherghati constituency in Gaya district in which one security personnel was injured, while police found a cane bomb, planted near a bridge by Maoists in Imamganj constituency in Gaya. The explosive was later defused.

In a separate incident in Sasaram in Rohtas district, six suspected Maoists were arrested with arms early Saturday. Reports reaching here said a gun-battle between police and Maoists took place in Rohtas but no casualty was reported.

According to reports, voters in over a dozen villages boycotted the polls and shouted slogans saying they would not vote because of lack of development in their area.

Central paramilitary force personnel manned all the booths in 11 Maoist-affected constituencies in Gaya and Aurangabad districts.

Besides, 90 percent of the booths in the other seven Maoist-hit constituencies were also covered by paramilitary forces. Special Task Force officials were conducting air surveillance from helicopters to ensure free and fair polls.

“Foolproof security is in place in Maoist-affected pockets in view of the threats of violence by the rebels,” Neelmani said.

The police chief said nearly 35,000 central paramilitary force personnel had been deployed and the border with Jharkhand was sealed.

Caste arithmetic, rampant corruption, rule of law and development played a key role in this final phase, in which over 426 candidates were in the fray.

While Nitish Kumar, and his JD-U are allied with the BJP, Lalu Prasad has tied up with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

The earlier five phases to pick a new 243-member legislative assembly have passed off peacefully except for stray incidents of violence.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist earlier this month vowed to intensify attacks to disrupt the election process and enforce its boycott of the polls. As many as 33 of Bihar’s 38 districts are Maoist-affected.

Counting of votes will be taken up Nov 24.