The first phase of Assembly elections took place in 13 constituencies of Jharkhand on Saturday, with a voter turnout of 64.66%. A total of 37.8 lakh voters were eligible to vote across six districts. In the fray were 189 candidates in Chatra, Gumla, Bishunpur, Lohardaga, Manika, Latehar, Panki, Daltonganj, Bishrampur, Chhatarpur, Hussainabad, Garhwa and Bhawanathpur constituencies.
Hours after voting began, suspected Maoists blew up a bridge in Bishnupur in Gumla district, ANI reported. No injuries were reported, and voting was not affected, Deputy Commissioner Shashi Ranjan said. An investigation is under way.
In Daltonganj, a minor clash broke out between two groups near Kosiyara polling station, reported News18. A group broke the window panes of a police vehicle after Congress candidate KN Tripathi allegedly tried to enter the polling booth with arms, said Palamu Deputy Commissioner Shantanu Agrahari, who was also the returning officer. The police have seized a pistol and three cartridges.
As the voting began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed people to vote in maximum numbers. “Phase 1 of the Jharkhand elections is in progress,” he tweeted. “I urge those whose constituencies go to the polls today to vote in large numbers & enrich the festival of democracy.” Chief Minister Raghubar Das asked people to vote for a “new Jharkhand”.
State Health Minister and BJP leader Ramchandra Chandravanshi, who contested from Bishrampur, and state Congress chief Rameshwar Oraon fighting from Lohardaga, were among the major candidates in the fray. Former BJP chief whip Radhakrishna Kishore, who was denied a ticket from Chhatarpur, contested on an All Jharkhand Students’ Union ticket.
As many as 1,097 of the 3,906 polling stations had been declared hyper sensitive to left-wing extremism, while 461 polling stations were declared sensitive, according to the Hindustan Times. The Ministry of Home Affairs has declared Chatra, Gumla, Lohardaga, Latehar and Garhwa seats as affected by left-wing extremism.
“We have made adequate security arrangements both for electors and polling personnel,” Jharkhand Chief Electoral Officer Vinay Kumar Choubey said earlier. “A large number of security personnel have been deployed at all polling stations, besides heli-dropping and cluster arrangements have also been ensured.”
The second phase of voting will take place in 20 constituencies on December 7. Seventeen seats will vote on December 12 in the third phase, 15 constituencies on December 16, and the remaining 16 seats on December 20 in the final phase. The results will be declared on December 23.
The term of the 81-member Assembly ends on January 5 next year. Chief Minister Raghubar Das-led Bharatiya Janata Party is hoping to retain power in the state once again. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the All Jharkhand Students’ Union are contesting the elections separately as they failed to finalise a seat-sharing agreement. The saffron party is left with no other ally as Lok Janshakti Party is also contesting the elections alone.
The elections will test the strength of the Opposition alliance, which includes the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
In the 2014 Assembly elections, the saffron party had won 35 seats and alliance partner All Jharkhand Students’ Union won five seats. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha was the largest Opposition party with 17 seats, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) won eight seats and Congress managed to win only six seats.
Jharkhand will be the third BJP-ruled state to head to polls since last month after Maharashtra and Haryana. The party formed an alliance with Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janta Party after it fell six seats short of a majority in the Haryana Assembly. In Maharashtra, the BJP emerged the single-largest party but fell out with alliance partner Shiv Sena. The Sena then formed a government with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.