Nearly 25 percent voting in Bihar polls (Third Lead)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

PATNA - Nearly 25 percent of the electorate had cast their votes by noon Saturday as polling proceeded peacefully in the sixth and final phase of the Bihar assembly elections in 26 constituencies, 18 of them in Maoist-prone areas.

Ignoring a boycott call by the Maoists, voters queued up outside polling booths and excercised their right to vote.

“Around 25 percent voting was recorded in the first five hours of polling. The turnout is likely to increase in afternoon,” an election official said.

Amid tight security and fears of Maoist violence, women and youth 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 before voting began. “People lined up to cast their votes early morning,” an official 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 the polls in a few booths.

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

Maoists triggered a blast in Sherghati constituency in Gaya district in which one security personnel was injured, while police found a cane bomb, which was planted near a bridge by Maoists in Imamganj constituency in Gaya. Later it was defused.

In a separate incident in Sasaram in Rohtas district, six suspected Maoists were arrested with arms early Saturday. Reports reaching here said a gunbattle between police and Maoists took place in Rohtas but no casualty was reported.

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 underway 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 are also being covered by paramilitary forces. Special Task Force officials are conducting air surveillance from helicopters to ensure free and fair polls.

“Foolproof 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 Paswans Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

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 Bihars 38 districts are Maoist-affected. Votes will be counted Nov 24.

Filed under: Politics

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