Nitish faces acid test in phase 1 of Bihar polls

Nitish faces acid test in phase 1 of Bihar polls

About 10.6 million voters will decide the fate of 635 candidates in the fray for the first lot of the 243 assembly constituencies. The areas going to the polls are in the flood prone and poverty stricken Kosi-Seemanchal and Mithilanchal belt. Most of the 10,454 polling booths are in rural areas.

The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 37 seats of the 47. While it will look to maintain that dominance, the combine of Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will want to make their presence felt as will the Congress.

The RJD has three legislators in the region and the Congress four. "This election will test Lalu's sway over his caste members, who did not vote overwhelmingly in the last assembly poll, resulting in the rout of RJD," said political analyst Satyanarain Madan.

The Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have one legislator each from the region.

The run-up to the election saw spirited campaigning with all the major players -- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as well as Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.

"Give me another five years to complete the unfinished task of development," Nitish Kumar pleaded in rally after rally. And Lalu Prasad cited his stint as railway minister to ask for a chance to achieve a turnaround in Bihar. The Congress attacked the state government for not utilising central funds -- and also criticised ally-turned-foe Lalu Prasad for not doing enough when his party ruled Bihar for 15 long years.

The leaders played the minority card with a sizeable Muslim population in Seemanchal, which includes Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia and Katihar districts.

In the Kosi belt, the JD-U hope lies with votes of the extreme backward castes (EBCs) to counter the caste factor in the Yadav and Paswan stronghold. The Congress, which is fighting all 243 seats on its own, is fielding an EBC candidate to tackle the JD-U and a Yadav to counter the RJD.

In the Mithilanchal belt, upper caste votes could be split between the Congress and the BJP.

The heavyweights in the fray in this phase include state Congress president Mahboob Ali Qaiser as well as four ministers -- Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Renu Kumari, Narendra Narain Yadav and Hari Prasad Shah.

There are several candidates with criminal records in the fray, including gangster Shankar Singh of LJP.

There are also several wives of convicted criminals turned politicians contesting the elections -- these include Bima Bharti, wife of gangster Awadesh Mandal, who is contesting on a JD-U ticket, Congress nominee Lovely Anand, wife of criminal-turned-politician Anand Mohan, and Ranjeet Ranjan, wife of former MP Rajiv Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Marxist leader Ajit Sarkar.
According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), a group of more than 1,200 NGOs, as many as 154 candidates in the first round of polls are facing criminal charges.

Of these, 97 have cases of murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, extortion, causing hurt by dangerous weapons and dacoity against them, the report said.

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

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