Bihar Assembly Election 2020: Nitish Kumar, 69, faces multiple challengers in the Bihar election. (File)
- Voting is taking place in 71 of the state's 243 seats
- Election Commission has drawn up elaborate safety rules for voting
- PM asked people in Bihar to go out in large numbers and vote
More than 50 per cent people voted in the first of the three-phase election in Bihar -- the first amid the coronavirus pandemic -- which will decide if Nitish Kumar will win a fourth term as Chief Minister. Till 5 pm, 52.24 per cent people voted, choosing candidates for 71 of the state's 243 seats. Nitish Kumar's challenger is RJD's Tejashwi Yadav, whose promise of 10 lakh jobs has proved a huge draw in the backdrop of the lockdown and widespread unemployment. The third factor in this election is Chirag Paswan, the son of the late Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, whose rebellion against Nitish Kumar is believed by many to be backed by the BJP. The Election Commission has drawn up elaborate safety rules for voting in the shadow of Covid.
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The Election Commission said 52.24 per cent polling took place till 5 pm in Phase 1, down from 54.9 per cent in 2015. The Election Commission had issued detailed safety guidelines that included lowering the cap on voters for a polling booth from 1,600 to 1,000, staggering of polling hours and postal ballot facility for those aged above 80 or those infected.
Parts of Bihar that voted today had given Lalu Prasad Yadav huge numbers in the 2015 election, with as many seats as the BJP and JDU put together.
The weeks-long campaign has been a clear indication of the increasing distance between the ruling allies - the BJP and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United. There has been little overlap and barring Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, no other BJP leader campaigned for the JDU. Posters and hoardings of neither party made any mention of the other.
In the morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked people in Bihar to go out in large numbers and vote, maintaining coronavirus safety guidelines. In his three rallies in the state so far, PM Modi made only a cursory mention of Nitish Kumar, whom he and Amit Shah had accepted as the face of the NDA in Bihar. He had sought votes only for the NDA and made cursory references to Nitish Kumar towards the end of his speech, which had raised eyebrows.
The campaign also saw Tejashwi Yadav - the political heir of Lalu Yadav and the Chief Ministerial candidate of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and the Left parties, come of age in terms of mass appeal. His rallies have been a packed and his party said the promise of providing 10 lakh jobs at his first cabinet meet has generated much excitement among the people. The 31-year-old RJD leader crafted his campaign around issues like jobs and unemployment, unlike his father who always championed the issue of dignity of castes.
The pressure on the ruling allies has been visible. While the Chief Minister, known for his calm exterior, has lost his temper on several occasions, the BJP, after repeatedly mocking the 31-year-old former Deputy Chief Minister for his jobs promise, included a promise of 19 lakh jobs in its election manifesto.
Midway through the campaign, Chirag Paswan, who has been criticizing Mr Kumar, initially over his alleged lack of initiative in bringing home the migrants and then over a range of issues, rebelled against the leadership of Nitish Kumar and declared that his party will contest solo. He has also declared loyalty to the BJP and said he wants a BJP candidate for the top job. While the BJP made strong remarks, declaring that Nitish Kumar will remain their Chief Ministerial candidate and anyone not accepting his leadership will not be part of NDA in the state, it has not taken any action against him.
Chirag Paswan, who joined politics after his film career tanked, has also emerged as a right-wing leader in the state, far from his father's secular credentials. With support for Triple Talaq, the scrapping of Article 370, and the promise of a temple for Goddess Sita in Sitamarhi, he is seen as proving his value to the BJP and could play the role of a political disruptor in the state that has so far been headed by secular leaders.
Mr Kumar, who broke away from the NDA after Narendra Modi was named its Prime Ministerial candidate, won the 2015 election as part of the Grand Alliance with the Congress and Lalu Yadav. But midway through the term, he ended the alliance over corruption allegations against Tejashwi Yadav and joined hands with the BJP to form a new government.
The Imamganj seat in Gaya is expected to witness a high stakes battle, with former Chief Minister HAM(S) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi taking on former Assembly speaker and RJD candidate Uday Narayan Choudhary. In Jamui, former Union minister Digvijay Singh's daughter and BJP candidate Shreyasi, who won gold in shooting in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, will face sitting RJD legislator Vijay Prakash. The second and third phase of the elections in the state will be held on November 3 and 7. The counting of votes will be held on November 10.