Millions vote in Bihar – peacefully


Patna : Millions voted peacefully Thursday at the start of staggered assembly elections in Bihar where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is facing a determined challenge from a divided opposition, officials said.

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Police said the balloting began at 7 a.m. and was conducted peacefully in 47 constituencies spread across eight districts to pick a new 243-seat legislature. The voting ends next month, and the results will be out Nov 24.

There were stray incidents of clashes between rival groups. At some places, the electronic voting machines malfunctioned. Apart from that, it was a smooth exercise in a state notorious for election violence.

Official sources said nearly 42 percent of the 10 million eligible to exercise their franchise in the first round voted till about 2.30 p.m. in the Kosi-Seemanchal and Mithilanchal belts.

The queues of men and women voters were long outside many polling centres.
“In the afternoon people were seen queuing up,” an official said.

Up to 18 percent voted in the first five hours. Balloting picked up rapidly after that.

Additional Director General of Police P.K. Thakur told IANS here that the election passed off peacefully except for “minor clashes”.

He said more than 50 troublemakers were arrested.

Reports reaching here said that voters in over a dozen villages boycotted polls by shouting slogans against lack of development.

There were 635 candidates in the first round. Most constituencies fell in rural areas. There were 10,868 balloting centres.

The eight districts going to the polls are Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia, Madhepura, Saharsa, Katihar, Supaul and Madhubani.

According to Bihar police chief Neelmani, central paramilitary forces guarded 85 percent of the booths. The Special Task Force maintained air surveillance from helicopters.

The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 37 of the 47 seats. At stake is not just the future of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, but also the political reputations of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan.

The Congress, which is fighting all seats on its own, will also be looking to break in.

After Oct 21, the next rounds in the elections will be held on Oct 24 and 28, and Nov 1, 9 and 20. Votes will be counted on Nov 24.