Patna/New Delhi: Fifty-four percent polling was recorded Thursday in the first phase of Bihar`s staggered assembly elections that passed off peacefully barring "minor clashes", officials said.
The elections were held in 47 constituencies spread across eight districts. Around 10 million people were eligible to exercise their franchise in the first round held in the Kosi-Seemanchal and Mithilanchal belts.
The Election Commission said the total percentage may increase. "By and large the elections were held peacefully. It was an incident-free elections," Vinod Zutshi, deputy election commissioner told reporters in New Delhi.
The balloting began at 7 a.m. and was conducted peacefully. The voting, to pick a new 243-seat legislature ends next month, ended 5 p.m. The results will be out Nov 24.
Additional Director General of Police P.K. Thakur told IANS in Patna that the election passed off peacefully except for "minor clashes". "There were no reports of violence, casualty or big trouble during the polls. It passed off peacefully," Thakur said.
He said more than 100 troublemakers were arrested.
Stray incidents of clashes were reported 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.
Long queues of men and women were seen outside many polling centres.
"Ten incidents of poll boycott were reported from several booths in Madhubani, Madhepura, Saharsa, Kishanganj and Purnia," said Zutshi. The reason for poll boycott in these constituencies was lack of development.
Up to 18-20 percent voted in the first five hours. Balloting picked up rapidly after that.
The eight districts which went to the polls are Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia, Madhepura, Saharsa, Katihar, Supaul and Madhubani.
Reports reaching here said that voters in over a dozen villages in Madhepura boycotted polls and shouted slogans against the lack of development. "We boycotted polls over the lack of roads in our village," Suresh Rai, a villager in Madhepura said.
Mansoor Alam, another angry man who boycotted polls, said that villagers decided not to vote as there was no electricity.
Interestingly, the main poll issue this election is development. All political parties have been wooing voters by promising development.
There were 635 candidates in the first round. Most constituencies fell in the rural areas. There were 10,868 balloting centres.
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.
The leaders also 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 hopes lie with votes of the extreme backward castes (EBCs) to counter the caste factor in the Yadav and Paswan strongholds. 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.
JD-U leader Shivanand Tiwari claimed after polling had ended that the JD-U-BJP alliance will increase its tally. "We are sure to do better than last polls," Tiwari said.
However, RJD leader Shakil Ahmad Khan said the RJD-LJP combine would surprise everyone. "We are confident to make a big gain," he said.
The next rounds of polling will be held Oct 24 and 28, and Nov 1, 9 and 20.