Bihar votes in final phase amid fears of Maoist violence (Second Lead)

Friday, November 19, 2010

PATNA - Ignoring a boycott call by Maoists, voters queued up outside polling booths for the sixth and final phase of the Bihar assembly elections in 26 constituencies Saturday, 18 of them in areas where the rebels hold sway.

Amid tight security and fears of Maoist violence, women and youths in particular turned up to vote soon after balloting began at 7 a.m.

A total of 426 candidates are in the fray for the last phase which is being held in the drought-hit districts of Gaya, Aurangabad, Rohtas, Kaimur and Buxar. About six million people are eligible to vote in this round.

In some places, queues started forming outside booths minutes before voting began.

“In the first one and a half hours, six to eight percent voting was recorded. The turnout is likely to increase,” a source in the Bihar chief electoral officer’s office said.

Additional Director General of Police P.K. Thakur told IANS that voting was by and large peaceful in the morning except for minor clashes and attempts by troublemakers to disturb polls at a few booths.

“Polls are proceeding peacefully except clashes between rival groups,” he said.

However, Maoists triggered a blast in Sherghati constituency in Gaya district in which one security personnel was injured.

In a separate incident in Sasaram in Rohtas district, six suspected Maoists were arrested with arms early Saturday.

According to reports, voters in over a dozen villages boycotted the polls and shouted slogans saying they would not vote because of lack of development in their area.

Bihar police chief Neelmani reiterated that peaceful polls were under way and said central paramilitary force personnel are manning all the booths in 11 Maoist-affected constituencies in Gaya and Aurangabad districts.

Besides, 90 percent of the booths in the other seven Maoist-hit constituencies will also be covered by paramilitary forces. Special Task Force officials would conduct air surveillance from helicopters to ensure free and fair polls.

“Fool-proof security is in place in Maoist-affected pockets in view of the threats of violence by the rebels,” he said.

Neelmani said nearly 35,000 central paramilitary force personnel have been deployed. “The Bihar-Jharkhand border has been sealed,” he added.

The Election Commission has cut down polling hours in the Maoist-hit areas till 3 p.m.

“Balloting will take place in the 18 constituencies in Maoist-affected areas only till 3 p.m.; in the remaining constituencies it will end at 5 p.m.,” an official said.

Caste arithmetic, rampant corruption, rule of law and development play a key role in this final phase.

While Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who heads the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), has alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for company, Lalu Prasad has tied up with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

But the region, infamous for caste massacres due to rivalry between the Maoists and the upper caste militia Ranvir Sena, also has strong pockets of supporters of the Bahujan Samaj Party of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML).

The earlier five phases to pick a new 243-member legislative assembly have passed off peacefully except for stray incidents of violence.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist earlier this month vowed to intensify attacks to disrupt the election process and enforce its boycott of the polls. As many as 33 of Bihar’s 38 districts are Maoist-affected.

Votes will be counted Nov 24.

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