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Naxal threat fails to deter Bihar voters

Shoumojit Banerjee
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52.5% polling in second phase; EVMs burnt in Runnisaidpur

UNFAZED: Voters line up at a booth in the Minapur constituency in Muzaffarpur district during the second phase of the Assembly elections in Bihar on Sunday. — Photo: Ranjeet Kumar (morE PHotographS on page 13)
UNFAZED: Voters line up at a booth in the Minapur constituency in Muzaffarpur district during the second phase of the Assembly elections in Bihar on Sunday. — Photo: Ranjeet Kumar (morE PHotographS on page 13)

Despite the Naxal threat looming large, 52.5 per cent of the 98.44 lakh voters in the Mithilanchal-Tirhut belt exercised their franchise in 45 constituencies in the second phase of the Bihar Assembly elections on Sunday.

Following Friday's landmine blast in Sheohar district that killed six police personnel, the Election Commission had reduced the voting time in the Sheohar and Belsand constituencies by two hours.

Polling ended at 3 p.m. also in the Naxal-hit constituencies of Paru, Minapur and Sahebganj. There was a large turnout of voters in these areas, said Chief Electoral Officer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh.

Official sources said people boycotted elections in over half-a-dozen booths alleging bureaucratic apathy to developmental issues.

Authorities said Paru recorded 62 per cent polling, Sahebganj 52, Minapur 53.72, Sheohar 49 and Belsand 48 per cent. Heightened security was in evidence with intensified patrolling and air surveillance. The border with Nepal was also sealed off.

Preventive arrests

Director-General of Police Neelmani said paramilitary forces were deployed at most of the polling stations and armed police from other States and the Bihar Military Police maintained a strict vigil.

The Inspector-General and Commissioners of the Tirhut Division conducted air surveillance along with Special Task Force personnel. Over 115 preventive arrests were made.

Naxal posters, exhorting people to boycott the polls, appeared on government buildings and polling stations in East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi and Muzaffarpur districts.

A total of 623 candidates, including 46 women, were in fray in the 45 constituencies spread over six districts, which include Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Samastipur and parts of East Champaran.

Stray incidents of violence were reported in Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga districts.

Reports said suspected Naxals raided a polling station in the Runnisaidpur constituency and burnt down electronic voting machines (EVMs) early in the morning. After this, three presiding officers went missing. However, substitute EVMs and personnel were rushed to the booth and voting began on time.

Vehicles attacked

In another incident, a vehicle of Janata Dal (United) Minister Dinesh Prasad Kushwaha was allegedly attacked by supporters of an Independent at Minapur in Muzaffarpur district.

While Mr. Kushwaha escaped unhurt, his bodyguard was injured.

A vehicle of Bahujan Samaj Party candidate in Sheohar was damaged when BSP activists and Rashtriya Janata Dal workers clashed outside a booth.

In Muzaffarpur, two persons tried to snatch away sealed EVMs from the poll personnel at Karambir village in the Sahebganj constituency.

The first phase of the elections, held on October 21 for 47 seats in the Kosi-Seemanchal belt, witnessed 55 per cent polling.

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