BIHAR POLLS .. As campaign for phase one ends, CM Nitish losing his cool, Tejaswi sharpens attack



POLLS BIHAR CAMPAIGN END


KS Shankar/IHN-NN

PATNA/NEW DELHI: Bihar is all set to make history on Wednesday, as it heads into India’s first elections under the shadow of coronavirus. The state goes to polls for 71 seats in the first phase of elections to the 243-member state assembly. Public mood is unpredictable and likely to change in the course of the campaign, and results for all seats will be known on November 10.

The elections see a contest between two alliances– the ruling National Democratic Alliance comprising the BJP and the Janata Dal (United), versus the Opposition Mahagathbandhan consisting of the Congress, Bihar strongman Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties the CPM, CPI and the CPI (ML).

Leading the NDA charge, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed three rallies where he urged the voters to return the NDA back to power. Congress heavyweight Rahul Gandhi also chipped in with two rallies. Notably, however, the highest public turnout for the rallies by the rival political formations, including also the LJP of Chirag Paswan, was reserved for Tejaswi Yadav of the RJD. But, opinion polls so far predicted the NDA will return to power in the state.

The BJPs quest for dominance over the state’s political scene, evident from a seat-sharing deal as part of which it clinched nearly as many constituencies as the JD(U)– resonated during the election campaign. Questions are raised whether BJP will opt for its own CM, if the NDA returns to power.

The 69-year-old chief minister Nitish Kumar, also the JD(U) president and seeking a fourth term in power, is continuing on a strenuous campaign which began with a series of virtual rallies and followed by dozens of election meetings where he has been physically present, including two where he shared the stage with the PM. At meetings, Modi made only passing references to him; that too at fag end of a rally at Nitish’s constituency.

For Nitish Kumar, the “Sushasan Babu” (Mr Good Governance) tag is now at stake. This election is seen principally as a referendum on his 15-year-governance. Reports hint that resistance against his rule is building up. Nitish is losing his cool too, this time, unlike his reputation of being calm and composed.

He made news more than once by losing his cool and snapping at protesters from the Opposition camp who turned up at his rallies and raising slogans in support of RJD.

Nitish Kumar’s record of 15 years is mixed. After initial improvement in governance and restoring law and order in a state known for its chaotic life, Nitish turned cool. Being in power since 2005, with a brief exit in between, there has been a spectacular downslide over the years, and he is also being accused of bungling in the handling of the Covid pandemic this year. He also allegedly slept over the growing menace of corruption.


RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, who has been named by his party as its CM nominee, ran an aggressive campaign, often targeting the CM, saying he was getting tired on the governance front. Nitish shot back, “Where were you for long,” an allusion to Tejaswi remaining stationed in New Delhi, away from the hustle and bustle of politics in Bihar, and now turning up to campaign for the party.

Lok Janshakti Party president Chirag Paswan also drew sizeable crowds during the campaign, after he stunned all by announcing separation from the JDU over differences with the CM, and saying his party will fight the polls solo and would work to defeat Nitish Kumar in this polls, but will continue associations with the BJP in the NDA framework.

The 37-year old Chirag, with a Bollywood actor shade to him, began campaigning actively rather late, only after the customary mourning period ended following  the death of his father Ram Vilas Paswan. The senior Paswan, who was food supplies minister in the Modi government, passed away on October 8 at a Delhi hospital due to heart-related ailment. 

CANDIDATES IN FIRST PHASE

Altogether 1066 candidates are in the fray for the first phase of elections, 114 of them females. The voting in the first phase on Wednesday will decide the fate of nearly half-a-dozen ministers of the Nitish Kumar cabinet — Krishnandan Varma, Prem Kumar, Jay Kumar Singh, Santosh Kumar Nirala, Vijay Sinha and Ram Narayan Mandal.

The 71 constituencies going to vote on October 28 fall in six districts, including Naxal-hit Gaya, Rohtas and Aurangabad. While RJD is contesting on 42 of the 71 seats, JD(U) candidates are in 41 constituencies, BJP (29), Congress (21) and LJP nominees in fray at 41 places.

EC GUIDELINES


The Election Commission of India has issue strict guidelines for the smooth conduct of the assembly elections due to the coronavirus epidemic. Polling hours have been increased by one hour. Voting is from 7am to 6pm, instead of the usual 5 pm, except for in Left Wing Extremism  areas. Covid-19 patients and suspected cases will be allowed to vote — in the “last hour of the poll day.” All physical contacts have been prohibited during the campaign.

The facilities of “postal ballots” have been extended to those over 80 years of age.

The EC said 7 lakh hand-sanitisers, 46 lakh masks, 6 lakh PPE kits, 6.7 lakh face shields and 23 lakh pairs of hand gloves have been arranged for the polls.

Not more than 1,000 voters, down from the current limit of 1,500, can vote at one polling station. Temperature check of all voters at the polling station, and wearing masks will be compulsory on the day of voting. All elections meetings will be monitored by election and health officials. Public gatherings can take place following social distancing norms. –IHN-NN

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