While the first phase had development as the main election plank,
Bihar's second phase of assembly poll Sunday will see caste
arithmetic and the minority card in play as 45 constituencies in
the flood-prone belts go to vote.
The stakes are high for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as well as the
combine of his arch rivals, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) boss Lalu
Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan.
A total of 99,49,873 voters are eligible to vote in the second
phase that will decide the fate of 623 candidates. The areas going
to the polls are in the flood-prone and poverty-stricken
Tirhut-Mithilanchal belt. Most of the 9,952 polling booths are in
Polls will be held in six districts - Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga,
Samastipur, Motihari, Sheohar and Sitamarhi.
In the first phase Thursday, polls were held for 47 of Bihar's 243
The first phase in the Kosi-Seemanchal belt was a litmus test for
the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) -- comprising Nitish
Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP). But in the second phase, the RJD-LJP combine will have an
edge as their social support base is stronger in the
The Congress is keen to make its presence felt in the wake of the
euphoria created by party general secretary Rahul Gandhi's visit.
The RJD has 19 legislators in the region and the LJP has 3, while
the JD-U and BJP together have 23 legislators.
This is the strongest base of the RJD-LJP and they will try to
retain it. "It was the strongest belt of Lalu Prasad till the late
1990s when he used to champion the cause of social justice with
aggressive support of Other Backward Caste-Extreme Backward
Caste-Muslim. Even in the 2005 assembly polls, the vote of the
RJD-LJP was higher than the NDA, despite a dip in RJD's votes by
10 percent," a political watcher said.
The region has a sizeable number of Lalu Prasad's castemen, Yadav,
and Paswan's castemen, Paswan, and they are likely to favour the
RJD-LJP. In the last assembly polls, the NDA was benefited due to
a split between the RJD and LJP.
"The OBC-EBC-Dalit votes along with Muslims will be a decisive
caste arithmetic for the RJD-LJP again," RJD leader Shakil Ahmad
Khan said. But the JD-U is looking for EBC-OBC, Mahadalit and
Muslim support to get an upper hand. Its hopes, however, lie with
the strong presence of the upper caste, particularly Bhumihar,
Brahmin and Rajput, who are regarded as supporters of Nitish
Kumar's development plank and are a counter to the Lalu-Paswan
social justice politics.
"The JD-U hope lies with votes of the EBCs, upper caste and
Muslims to counter the caste factor in the Yadav and Paswan
stronghold," Satyanarain Madan, a political analyst said. The
Congress, which is fighting all seats on its own, is hopeful of
regaining its traditional support base of Muslims, Dalits and
upper castes. But in the Tirhut-Mithilanchal belt, the upper caste
votes could be split between the Congress and the BJP.
The run-up to the election saw spirited campaigning by top leaders
- BJP's Nitin Gadkari and L.K. Advani, who addressed the first
three election meetings for this round, followed by Congress
general secretary Rahul Gandhi as well as Lalu Prasad and Nitish
All of them blamed their rivals for the backwardness of Bihar and
promised development if voted to power.
The heavyweights in this phase include state JD-U president Vijay
Kumar Choudhary, RJD state president Abdul Bari Siddiqui as well
as minister Ramnath Thakur, son of legendary Karpoori Thakur.
There are several candidates with criminal record in the fray.
The next election rounds will be held Oct 28, Nov 1, 9 and 20.
Votes will be counted Nov 24.