Patna: About 34.82% of Bihar’s voters exercised their franchise till 3 pm in the third and final phase of the state assembly elections on Saturday, according to the Election Commission of India. The polling exercise has largely been peaceful with voting underway in the flood-prone Seemanchal, Koshi and Mithilanchal regions. The areas are known for being underdeveloped with a high rate of poverty and migration outside.
During the lockdown due to COVID-19, a large chunk of the official number of 21 lakh workers returned to their native villages in this region.
As in the first and second phase, a large number of women and youth – including many first-time voters – cast their votes. In several places youth voters were vocal about joblessness and the lack of employment opportunities. Women expressed concern over rising prices, especially of potatoes, onions, mustard oil and pulses.
Enthusiastic youth turning to polling booths is being widely seen as a sign of a change. The younger lot has been expressing their unhappiness and anger over the failure of the ‘double engine’ government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
A total of 78 assembly seats of the state's 243 constituencies in 15 districts are voting in the third phase. Nearly 2.35 crore voters will decide the electoral fate of over 1,204 candidates. Polling began at 7 am amid high security.
According to the official figures by the Election Commission at 3 pm, 34.82% of the total electorate has exercised their franchise.
The maximum turnout of 40.1% (as of 1 pm) was recorded in Muzaffarpur, followed by 37.99% in Vaishali, 37.58 % in Saharsa and 36.86% in Purnea.
Reports mention that security personnel have opened fire in the Dhamdaha assembly seat in Purnea district to disperse a group of people trying to influence free and fair polls. At another booth, a clash took place between the police and people after security personnel beat up a voter.
In neighbouring Araria district, the District Magistrate has ordered an FIR against the RJD candidate from Jokihat assembly seat for violating the model code of conduct.
However, guidelines issued by the ECI for a safe election in view of COVID-19 were openly violated. Voters in urban booths were seen wearing masks and kept a distance between each other. However, in rural areas, where most of the booths are found, there was a lack of social distancing and masks were missing.
ADG police headquarters Jitendar Kumar said no incident of violence has been reported so far. Polling was underway peacefully except instances of minor clashes between rivals.
At some places, the electronic voting machines malfunctioned. However, it was a relatively smoother exercise in a state notorious for election-related violence.
Officials said that voters in over a dozen villages boycotted polls over the lack of development.