Patna, Oct 12 (IANS) Millions voted on Monday in the first round of staggered assembly polls in Bihar where the BJP-led alliance is determined to oust the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and its allies.
More than 53 percent of the 13.5 million voters in the first of the five-phase polling trooped to polling booths in 49 of the 243 constituencies spread over 10 districts, officials said.
Barring stray incidents of violence, the balloting was largely peaceful.
The Bihar battle, which ends on November 5 and whose outcome will be known on November 8, is the biggest popularity test in the country after the Delhi election in February in which the AAP routed the BJP.
Braving Maoist threats and a humid hot afternoon, hundreds of thousands voted. While the polling started slowly at 7 a.m., it picked up rapidly as the day progressed.
Unidentified men fired at LJP candidate Vijay Kumar Singh in Jamui constituency but he escaped unhurt. Police arrested one of the criminals involved in the attack.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer R. Lakshaman told IANS that women voters outnumbered males in many polling centres.
As the voting progressed, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told IANS that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity had not waned, at least in Bihar.
“I am campaigning in the whole of Bihar. I see no dent in the prime minister’s image. The people of Bihar still have confidence in him,” the former BJP president said, adding he was confident of the BJP’s win.
Maoists called for a boycott of the election but the message was ignored except in a few polling booths in Nawada, Jamui and Banka districts.
“There are reports of some violence in Banka, Jamui and Bhagalpur districts. Supporters of rival parties attacked each other in Jamui and clashed in Banka,” a senior police official said.
The BJP-led NDA alliance, also including three other parties including the LJP, is trying to dislodge the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U), which has the RJD and the Congress as allies. The BJP alliance also includes the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP).
Voters in most polling booths said they would vote for development. “It is the only agenda that has attracted me,” said Suman Kumar, a voter in Bhagalpur district.
Another voter, Giridhari Yadav in Khagaria, said he would vote for the Grand Alliance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
“Why should I vote for the BJP when we have tested Nitish Kumar? He has constructed roads, provided electricity, and set up schools and hospitals in rural areas,” he said.
Samastipur, Begusarai, Khagaria, Bhagalpur, Banka, Munger, Lakhisarai, Sheikhpura, Nawada and Jamui districts voted in the first phase.
The second round of polling will be held on October 16.
Officials said that voters in over a dozen villages in Samastipur, Bhagalpur, Jamui and Banka boycotted the polls and shouted slogans against what they said was lack of development.
In areas of Maoist influence, the voting ended at 3 p.m.
The heavyweights in the fray on Monday included state LJP president Pashupati Kumar Paras, BJP ally HAM state president Shakuni Choudhary and Congress leader and former Speaker Sadanand Singh.
The JD-U and the Rashtriya Janata Dal came together for this election after years of hostility.