BIhar voting security
Security personnel carrying Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) on the eve of the first phase of Bihar Assembly Elections, at Paliganj in Patna district on Tuesday. Image Credit: ANI

Patna: The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar faces tough challenge from opposition Grand Alliance to retain its seats as the state goes to polls in the first phase on Wednesday amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guidelines have been issued by the Election Commission for safe conduct of polling. Adequate measures have been adopted to keep the voters safe, including lowering the cap on maximum number of voters for a polling booth from 1,600 to 1,000, staggering of polling hours and postal ballots for those above 80.

Apart from these, intensive efforts have been launched for massive sanitization of electronic voting machines (EVMs), providing masks to the voters and making available thermal scanners, hand sanitizers, soaps, gloves and waters at the polling booth.

Although the first phase of polling is going to decide the fate of 1,066 candidates in 71 assembly constituencies across 16 districts of Bihar, the prominent candidates whose fate remain at stake include a former chief minister and six current ministers.

They include Prem Kumar, Vijay Kumar Sinha, Ram Narayan Mandal, Krishna Nandan Prasad Verma, Jai Kumar Singh, Santosh Kumar Nirala, all ministers in the current NDA government and former chief minister Nitan Ram Manjhi who returned to the NDA just ahead of polls. Another important candidate is Shreyasi Singh, the CommonWealth Games gold medallist shooter.

What is further interesting with this phase is the presence of a large number of criminal-politicians and their wives in the fray. While some criminals have jumped into the fray, several have fielded their wives.

Anant Singh, a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate from Mokama seat in Patna district faces 38 criminal cases, including murder, attempt to murder and kidnapping. But what is more interesting, is that many criminals and gang-lords have fielded their wives as they themselves cannot contest elections.

They include—Vibha Devi (RJD), wife of rape convict Raj Ballabh Yadav serving life term in jail, Aruna Devi (BJP), wife of gang-lord Akhilesh Singh, Manorama Devi (JDU), wife of dreaded gangster late Bindi Yadav, Munni Devi (BJP)sister-in-law of gangster Visheshwar Ojha who was killed in shootout and Aruna Yadav (RJD), wife of RJD lawmaker Arun Yadav accused of rape.

A number of millionaire candidates are also in the fray. The richest among them is JDU candidate Manorama Devi who owns property worth Rs530 million. Others include Rajesh Kumar, Congress candidate having assets worth Rs 336 million and Kaushal Yadav, JD-U candidate who owns total assets worth over Rs262 million. According to a report compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), as many as 375 candidates (35 percent) trying their luck in the first phase are millionaires.

28-year-old RJD candidate Divya Prakash is the youngest candidate in the first phase. Divya, who is the daughter of former federal minister Jai Prakash Yadav, is contesting from Tarapur seat in Munger district.

On the other hand, former minister Rameshwar Paswan, 79, who is contesting as an Independent candidate is the oldest candidate in the fray. He is contesting from Sikandara seat in Jamui district.