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Poll strain on parties, panel focus on fair play

The countdown to the penultimate phase of the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar started on Monday, as the campaigning for the seven seats going to the polls drew to a close.

Deputy election commissioner Alok Shukla reviewed the arrangements for the fifth phase of the polls scheduled on Wednesday, while the candidates in the fray made valiant attempts to reach out to the farthest voter. Polling would be conducted in the Saran, Hajipur, Ujiarpur, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur and Maharajganj parliamentary constituencies on Wednesday.

The fate of two political stalwarts — Lalu Prasad’s through Rabri Devi in Saran and Ram Vilas Paswan in Hajipur — would be decided in this round. The poll outcome would be crucial for their political future.

The campaigning for the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha elections in the state lacked the usual vigour, though. Most speakers repeated the charges and counter-charges. The prolonged electioneering exercise appeared to be telling on them.

“We all seem to have run out of ideas,” said a senior BJP leader, referring to the long campaigning, which began from the first week of April. Chief minister Nitish Kumar continued to seek votes against his work. He was never tired of saying that the name of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, triggered a sense of insecurity among Muslims.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad, stressed in most of his rallies that the country could disintegrate if Modi became the Prime Minister.

Barring Hema Malini, the BJP, too, had nothing new to offer during the campaigning for the fifth phase of polls. Senior leader Sushil Kumar Modi continued to declare that Narendra Modi was unstoppable and the alternative before the people was between a strong government and anarchy.

The strain of the four rounds of polls have started showing on some parties, especially on the JD(U). The speech of the party president, Sharad Yadav, in Muzaffarpur clubbing Lalu Prasad and Nitish for not rising above caste politics and terming the party candidate, Bijendar Choudhary, a party-hopper demoralised the Dal workers and leaders. “Nobody makes a slip of tongue like that. It was deliberate,” said a JD(U) MLA.

The statement of the party’s general secretary, K.C. Tyagi, that the JD(U) would support Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi was not taken kindly by several party leaders. The state party chief, Bashishtha Narayan Singh, declared that no JD(U) leader would go to campaign in Varanasi because the next two phases of polls in the state were crucial.

But Yadav headed to the holy town on Monday. Soon after, Bashishtha changed tracks and said: “I had a talk with Sharadji and the party decided to send him to Varanasi.”

“The directives were mostly about security arrangements, sensitive polling stations reported by the candidates and vulnerable areas identified by the Election Commission,” additional chief electoral officer R. Laxmanan said.

The borders of the state with Nepal have been sealed on the directive of the EC. Chief secretary Ashok Kumar Sinha said special arrangements had been made to patrol the riverine belts. Twenty-seven boats have been hired from the state disaster response force for river patrolling.