Will the exit polls verdict hold good, when the election results to the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly are announced on Tuesday (November 10)? Almost all exit polls have given an edge to the Grand Alliance (GA), or Mahagathbandhan, comprising the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Left parties.
Will Bihar get a new and young chief minister in Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who celebrates his 31st birthday on Monday? Or have the voters reposed their faith in incumbent Nitish Kumar, who is eyeing his fourth term?
The three-phase Bihar elections, which were the first to be conducted amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, have another first. This is the first election in three decades that was held without RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who is languishing in a Ranchi jail following his conviction in multiple fodder scam cases, and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who died in October following a brief illness.
The results will decide whether the voters of Bihar have decided to hand over the state’s baton to the young generation represented by Tejashwi and the LJP’s Chirag Paswan (37).
Exit polls’ findings are scoffed at by many in the state capital, Patna.
“Wait for the counting day,” said Rajiv Ranjan, a spokesperson of the ruling Janata Dal (United).
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has made elaborate arrangements for counting of votes on Tuesday.
ECI has set up 55 counting centres in all the 38 districts of the state, which had voted in three phases on October 28, November 3 and November 7.
Three counting centres each have been set up in four districts of East Champaran (which has 12 assembly constituencies), Gaya (10 seats), Siwan (8 constituencies) and Begusarai (7 constituencies).
A three-layer security has been provided at counting centres. The first layer comprises Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the second layer is of Bihar Military Police and the third of district armed police for 38 strongrooms across the state.
“Bihar Police officers are ensuring their safety from outside,” said a senior police official of the state police headquarters, adding that 1,900 Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are guarding 38 strong rooms, including in the state capital.
The AN College premises in Patna are the biggest strongroom in the state as the EVMs of 14 constituencies of Patna district are stored. At least one section of CAPF personnel would be deployed in the innermost perimeter round the clock. Video cameras would be provided to CAPF personnel to record all visits by polling personnel and polling agents.
A total of 106,524 EVMs are in different strong rooms across 55 centres in the state which will decide the fate of 3,558 candidates, including 370 women and a transgender. The counting process, scheduled tol start at 8am on November 10, will be videographed, officials said, adding postal ballots would be counted first.
Bihar recorded 57.05% turnout in the assembly elections this time, marginally higher than that of 2015, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, as per official data. The voter turnout in the 2015 elections was 56.66%.
In this assembly election, employment overshadowed development, as the poll narratives changed from development agenda to jobs for unemployed youth.
The RJD-led GA set the ball rolling on this with a promise to provide 1 million jobs. Though initially, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) mocked at the proposal, later the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a part of the NDA along with the ruling JD(U), was compelled to announce 1.9 million jobs for youth . “We have a road map for this exercise. The RJD is trying to fool innocent youth,” Dr Sanjay Jaiswal, the BJP’s Bihar unit chief, had said after the release of the party’s manifesto.
The parties were forced to lure youth because of the sheer number of young voters and their craving for education and employment opportunities.
ECI data showed, of a total 729 million voters in Bihar, over 50% belong to the age group between 18 and 39.
While 700,140 voters are in the age group of 18 and 19 years, with no first-hand experience of what Prasad’s “jungle raj” (lawlessness) was like between 1990 and 2015.
The other 160 million voters are in the age group of 20 and 29 years and around 20 million are between 30 and 39 years, who are nonchalant about politics.
They are only focussed on higher education, employment and other related opportunities in a bid to make a decent living for themselves.
The Covid-19-induced return to their native places of 1.6 million migrant labourers from the affluent parts of the country have only added to the people’s aspirations of leading an economically secure life in their native state .
Four alliances, six candidates
This assembly election was unique in more than one way. The state witnessed the participation of no less than four alliances and there were six chief ministerial candidates in the race.