36 percent voting in Bihar polls

Polling is being held for 35 constituencies spread across eight drought-hit districts, over a dozen of which are Maoist-affected.

"Till now, the polls were by and large peaceful though Maoists torched a bus but no casualty was reported. It was an attempt to create terror. Minor clashes and attempts to disrupt voting at a few booths were also reported," Bihar Police chief Neelmani told IANS.

According to police officials, armed Maoists torched a bus near Jaipur village in Gaya district, which is considered a Maoists-stronghold.

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. Till 1 p.m., nearly 35 percent of the electorate had voted," an official at the Bihar state election office said.

"Voting will pick up in the next two to three hours," he added.

In Nawada district, a former minister and Congress leader Aditya Singh was arrested along with his supporters at a polling booth for creating trouble. The police also arrested over a dozen people at different places for creating trouble.

Some miscreants fled away with an electronic voting machine in Bhojpur district and another machine was damaged by some troublemakers in Nalanda district.

Neelmani said that central para-military force personnel are manning 90 percent of the booths in the Maoist-affected constituencies and officials of special task force are maintaining air surveillance to ensure free and fair polls.

Caste arithmetic plays a dominant role in this round. This phase is crucial for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is seeking the people's mandate for another term, as well as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad.

About 8.1 million people are eligible to vote in this round, where 490 candidates are in the fray.

Voting began at 7 a.m and will end 5 p.m. But balloting in 14 constituencies of Maoist-affected areas will take place only till 3 p.m. Voting is under way in the eight worst drought-hit districts of Gaya, Patna, Nalanda, Bhojpur, Arwal, Jehanabad, Nawada and Sheikhpura.

The heavyweights in this phase include Bihar ministers Hari Narayan Singh, Prem Kumar, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha.

The first four phases passed off peacefully except for stray incidents of violence.The last round of the elections will be held Nov 20. Votes will be counted Nov 24.

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