The first phase of the Bihar Assembly election will be held today, with 2.14 crore voters heading to polling booths across 71 constituencies to decide the fate of 1,066 candidates. This is the first major election to be held anywhere in the world amid the Covid pandemic – at least until the United States holds its presidential election on November 3. Several measures have been put in place by the Election Commission to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, including staggered voting hours and a postal ballot facility. This election will see Nitish Kumar and his JDU, who are backed by the BJP, fight for a fifth consecutive term. Challenging him will be a mahagathbandan led by the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav and Congress. Chirag Paswan’s LJP, an ally of the BJP at the centre, is in the mix as an independent party – which led to speculation of a tacit deal with the BJP.
Here are 10 big points about the first phase of the 2020 Bihar Assembly election:
- The Bihar Assembly election will be held over three phases – on October 28, November 3 and November 7. Results will be declared on November 10. In the first phase, voting will take place for 71 seats, many of which are in the state’s Naxal belt. The second phase will cover 94 seats and the final phase 78 seats. Overall, more than 7.3 crore people will vote to fill 243 seats of the Assembly.
- Guidelines issued by the Election Commission for safe conduct of polls during the coronavirus pandemic include staggering of polling hours and a postal ballot facility for those aged above 80 or suspected to be carrying the virus. Voting hours have also been extended and separate booths will be set up for those infected or believed to be infected.
- In addition, all EVMs will be frequently sanitised and all personnel at polling booths will wear face masks and other protective gear at all times. All voters will also have to wear face masks and be screened by thermal scanners. Around seven lakh units of hand sanitizers, 46 lakh masks, six lakh PPE kits, 6.7 lakh face shields and 23 lakh pairs of gloves have been made available.
- The poll body has also limited the maximum number of voters allowed at a polling station – down to 1,000 from 1,500. This has led to an increase in the number of polling stations – from 65,367 in 2015 polls to over 1.6 lakh in this election.
- Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JDU will contest 35 seats in the first phase. The BJP has fielded candidates in 29, with seven seats going to smaller allies. The RJD will fight 42 seats and the Congress 20. Mr Paswan’s LJP will fight only 41 seats but these include the 35 being contested by the JDU. In the 2015 elections the RJD won 27 of 71 seats that polled in the first phase. The JDU won 18, the BJP 13 and the Congress only nine.
- Of the total of 1,066 candidates contesting the first phase, 952 are men. The maximum number of candidates for a single seat is in Gaya Town, where 27 people are on the ballot. The minimum is in Banka district’s Katoria, where only five people are running.
- Prominent candidates in the first phase include Shreyasi Singh, the Commonwealth Games gold medalist who joined the BJP earlier this month. She is contesting the Naxal-dominated Jamui seat, where she is pitted against the RJD’s Vijay Prakash, the incumbent.
- Former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who quit the JDU in 2015 after being forced to make way for Nitish Kumar, will fight from the reserved Imamganj seat in Gaya district. Mr Manjhi and his Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) quit the opposition alliance in August and, days later, joined the NDA. He will look to defend Imamganj from four-time winner Uday Narayan Chaudhary, who left the JDU to join the RJD and the opposition alliance.
- An interesting three-way fight for the Sasaram seat is on the cards, with the incumbent – Ashok Kumar, who won it in 2015 on a RJD ticket – is fighting this time on a JDU ticket. He is up against veteran leader Rameshwar Chaurasiya, who quit the BJP to join Chirag Paswan’s LJP. The RJD has fielded Rajesh Kumar Gupta.
- Other key faces in action during the first phase are six members of the state cabinet – Prem Kumar (Gaya Town), Vijay Kumar Sinha (Lakhisarai), Ram Narayan Mandal (Banka), Krishnanandan Prasad Verma (Jehanabad), Jaikumar Singh (Dinara) and Santosh Kumar Nirala (Rajpur). Of these Mr Verma, Mr Singh and Mr Nirala are JDU while the rest are BJP.