|A jawan keeps watch over a polling booth in Naxalite-affected Aurangabad district on Thursday. Picture by Sanjay Choudhary
Patna, April 10: A homemaker in her fifties from Nawada who voted to make a difference: she wants to improve the plight of the primary healthcare centre, which doesn’t work, and schools that lack good teachers; a businessman from Jhajha (Jamui) who wants to lead a normal and peaceful life out of the shadow of Naxalite threats; a student — and first-time voter — from Bodhgaya who wants growth for opportunities.
Residents of the six Lok Sabha seats that voted on Day I of the elections in Bihar today defied the Maoist warnings and created history of sorts as they recorded the largest turnout percentage in recent memory.
This, in spite of a dawn attack in Jamui in which two CRPF jawans were killed and three others wounded when the guerrillas triggered an explosive on the fringes of the dense Bhimbandh forests.
A team of the CRPF and Bihar police were travelling in two jeeps when the Maoists triggered the IED planted under a bridge near Sawa Lakh Baba Mandir at the entrance of the jungle, deputy superintendent of police, Haveli Kharagpur, Ranjan Kumar said. The injured police personnel have been admitted to Paras HMRI Hospital in Patna.
The CRPF personnel killed have been identified as head constable Ravindra Rai and constable Sone Gora, Ranjan Kumar said.
A report from neighbouring Lakhisarai district quoting superintendent of police Manoj Kumar Singh said the Naxalites bombed a government school in Narotampur which hosted CRPF personnel late last night, but there was no casualty as they had left by then. In Gaya, the police seized and defused six can bombs weighing 30kg each from Banke Bazar area in Imamganj Assembly segment, a part of Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat. The Maoists had called for a poll boycott there.
The attack prompted the administration to further beef up security in and around the voting centres.
Polling was slow to start off with but picked up as the day progressed. Sasaram, from where Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar is contesting, recorded a turnout of 56 per cent against 42.7 per cent in 2009.
Jamui, a largely Maoist-dominated constituency dotted with hills and jungles on the Bihar-Jharkhand border, surprised pollsters — it recorded 52 per cent polling against 38.12 per cent in 2009. Karakat, Aurangabad, Gaya and Nawada too recorded 51 to 54 per cent polling, besting the numbers registered in previous Lok Sabha polls — the turnout in these constituencies has usually ranged between 41 and 43 per cent.
Overall, the first phase of polling in the state recorded 53 per cent of polling against 41.66 per cent in the same constituencies in 2009.
Voters said they were keen to come out and send a message.
“I have been voting for the past 30 years. I have voted for a change in the present scenario of my village. We don’t have proper primary healthcare centres. The schools still lack quality education and teachers. The roads are potholed, clean drinking water and women’s security remain vital issues,” said Nilu Devi, a homemaker from Warsaliganj in Nawada constituency, who proudly displayed the black ink on her forefinger.
Election and political pundits interpreted the “phenomenal rise” in the poll percentage as an indicator of a resurgent interest of voters in the democratic process and also as a “wave” against the existing establishment at the Centre.
“The high percentage of polling indicates the people’s anger and frustration against the incumbent establishment on a pan-India scale. It indicates a wave against the existing order at the Centre,” said Shaibal Gupta, economist and member-secretary, Asian Development Research Institute.
Gupta was, however, cautious about predicting the beneficiaries of the “wave”. “It is pre-mature to predict which political force will benefit from the high percentage of polling. It might differ from state to state. It will take some time to figure out whom the anti-incumbency forces have chosen as their horse in the context of their states and their ground reality,” he said.
Bihar chief electoral officer Ajay V. Nayak expressed happiness over the rise in the polling percentage, saying the Election Commission’s awareness campaign had increased the interest of voters in the democratic process.
He, however, acknowledged that the polling percentage would have been higher had large areas not been affected by Naxalite activities.
Nayak said polling in as many as 373 polling stations out of the 10,040 where voting took place underwent live Web-casting for the first time.
He said polling was affected, either because of disturbances or other “security reasons”, in 23 polling stations in the Naxalite-hit Aurangabad, Jamui, Gaya and Nawada constituencies. Repolling in these seats would be decided after the observers submit their reports, he added.
The main political parties — RJD-Congress-NCP, JD(U)-CPI and the BJP-LJP — preferred not to react immediately after the polling. “The first phase of polling has just ended. Five more phases remain. It is a staggering poll process in Bihar,” said the Congress’s media-in charge, Prem Chandra Mishra.