India gets through biggest poll day in Covid-19 shadow

Roughly 15 million people voted in 94 constituencies across 17 districts of Bihar in the biggest phase of the assembly elections on Tuesday with a provisional turnout of 54.44%, marking a tough day for election officials who worked round-the-clock to ward off the Covid-19 threat.

Assembly bypolls for 54 seats in 10 seats also passed off peacefully, and the voting percentage ranged from a low of 53% in Uttar Pradesh to a high of 87%in Nagaland. The most crucial among the bypolls is in Madhya Pradesh, where 28 seats are up for grabs in the 230-member assembly.

In Bihar, the provisional turnout was 1.73 percentage points less than the 2015 assembly polls (56.17%) in these constituencies. It was also lower than the first phase (55.69%) in 71 constituencies on October 28.

To be sure, polling numbers are usually revised upwards the day after polling, and Bihar’s chief electoral officer (CEO) HR Srinivasa said he expected the final voter count to go up by Wednesday because the final vote count in 13 constituencies was yet to come.

“The electoral exercise going on in the country is by far the largest exercise in the world amid the pandemic…the voter turnout in the first phase has been exceptionally good. The voter turnout has further continued and the confidence level has been much more in this phase,” Election Commission (EC) secretary general Umesh Sinha said.

State capital Patna recorded the lowest voter turnout at 48.23%. Patna’s Digha constituency, the largest assembly segment in terms of electorate (450,000), recorded the lowest voter turnout at 34.5%, followed by Bankipur at 35.9% and Kumhrar at 36.4%. Muzaffarpur district topped with the highest provisional turnout of 59.98%, followed by West Champaran at 59.69%, and Begusarai at 58.82%, according to information shared by the chief electoral officer.

The polls sealed the fate of top Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leaders, Tejashwi Yadav and his brother Tej Pratap Yadav, as well as four sitting ministers. In all, 1,463 candidates were in the fray.

Voting was largely peaceful, barring isolated instances of stone-pelting and clashes in Saran and Muzaffarpur. An electronic voting machine (EVM) was broken by a young manin Saran. Police detained as many as 62 people across the state and seized 726 illegal firearms.

Srinivasa said 152 control units, 219 ballot units and 540 VVPAT (voter verification audit trail) were changed following snags. A total 50,115 control units, 73,210 ballot units and 53,853 VVPAT were used during the second phase, he added.

Polling began at 7am, but the time for conclusion was extended by one hour till 6pm to facilitate Covid-19 patients and those with symptoms to exercise their franchise during the final hour. The process concluded early in Maoist-hit areas. The third and final phase of Bihar polls, for 78 seats, is on November 7.

Stakes were also high in Madhya Pradesh, which saw roughly 70% voting with sporadic incidents of violence reported from some areas in the Gwalior-Chambal region, resulting in bullet injuries to four persons. In the 2018 assembly elections, 73.39% polling was reported from these constituencies.

“The polling was peaceful. The incidents of violence mainly took place away from the polling centres. The voter turnout was good in view of Covid situation. During polling 44 ballot units, 37 control units and 155 VVPAT machines had to be replaced,” said additional chief electoral officer, Madhya Pradesh, Arun Kumar Tomar.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) needs eight seats to maintain its majority in the assembly.

The commission said Chhattisgarh recorded 71.99% turnout, Gujarat 58.58%, Haryana 68% and Jharkhand 62.51%. Polling in Odisha stood at 68.08%, Nagaland at 83.69%, and Telangana at 83%. Eight assembly seats in Gujarat, seven in Uttar Pradesh, two each in Odisha, Nagaland, Karnataka and Jharkhand, and one each in Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Haryana went to the polls on Tuesday. Their results, along with that for Bihar, will be out on November 10.

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