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Low turnout in hyped poll

Hajipur, Aug. 21: The hype surrounding the by-elections to 10 Assembly seats, primarily created by the formation of the Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar axis, failed to cut ice with the people as only 46.25 per cent of the electorate cast their votes, a sharp drop from the Lok Sabha poll numbers.

The by-elections are being seen as a referendum for the alliance forged by arch political rivals — former chief ministers Nitish and Lalu with the Congress in tow — against the BJP after the drubbing received by them in the Lok Sabha polls. The polls are also a test for BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who has led the party’s campaign in the absence of national leaders and whose future as a potential candidate for chief minister could well depend on the outcome. The results are expected on Monday.

“The polling passed off peacefully. A total of 46.42 per cent of the people exercised their franchise in today’s bypolls. Altogether 33 persons were arrested and 12 vehicles were seized in order to ensure peaceful polling,” additional chief electoral officer R. Laxmanan said. The Lok Sabha turnout in Bihar was around 57 per cent.

The lack of enthusiasm was visible in Hajipur, where the turnout in both urban and rural areas was abysmally low, much to the discomfiture of all the 15 contestants in the fray.

The scene at a polling booth on the premises of a school in Subhai, around 10km east of the Hajipur district headquarters, was bleak. Till 1pm, only 320 of a total 852 votes had been polled, the only silver lining being a large turnout of women. The polling ended at 4pm as some parts of the constituency were declared Maoist-affected.

The polling at Subhai, the native place of late minister Basawan Singh, assumes significance because Lalu and Nitish had kicked off their joint campaign from here on August 11. The low turnout at the election meeting, when the two were together seen on a public platform after almost two decades, had struck a note of discord.

“The enthusiasm that was palpable during the Lok Sabha polls was missing today. This bypoll has been thrust on us. The sitting MLA, Nityanand Rai, was elected to the Lok Sabha on a BJP ticket after serving the constituency for four consecutive terms. Everyone is aware that the bypoll is going to serve no purpose,” said Jag Mohan Mishra, a resident of Subhai village.

In Chhapra, there were reports of snags in some EVMs. The response of the voters was lukewarm and in Naini village, Dalit voters boycotted polling, saying they had been prevented from casting their vote in the Lok Sabha polls.

In Darbhanga’s Jale Assembly seat, the voters of Agayaspur boycotted the polls, chanting slogans of “no road, no vote”.

According to an Election Commission statement, the Narkatiaganj constituency saw the maximum voting among the 10 seats at 58 per cent. The BJP fielded Rashmi Verma, a kin of the first President of the country, Dr Rajendra Prasad, from the seat. She is pitted against Fakruddin Khan of the Congress.

Bhagalpur saw the minimum at mere 37 per cent at the end of voting at 6pm, the EC statement said.

The turnout was, however, high in the three constituencies in Karnataka (72 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (70 per cent in three seats) and Punjab (66 per cent in two seats).