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Phase I of Bihar polls will show which way the wind blows

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Polling for the Bihar elections will kick off on Wednesday when people cast their vote in 71 of the 243 Assembly seats in the first phase where the stakes are high for BJP and JD(U) as the two parties have traditionally had a strong base in this belt. A poor performance here, which has a sizable Yadav population on some seats, will also be a clear indicator that RJD will perform well in these elections.

This phase will also make some of the broad trends clear, the first being the strong anti-incumbency against ruling JD(U) and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. JD(U) is in the fray in 35 seats while BJP is contesting 29 in the first phase. RJD has put up candidates in 42 of the 71 seats while its ally Congress is contesting 20 seats.

Chirag Paswan-led LJP will also play an important role in this phase as its stronghold of Jamui and adjoining areas go to polls on October 28. It has fielded 41 candidates in phase I which includes all the 35 seats where JDU is contesting. Paswan has said he will jail Nitish Kumar for corruption if he forms the government while openly supporting BJP candidates like international shooter Shreyasi Singh (BJP candidate from Jamui Assembly seat.

BJP has maintained a conspicuous silence against Paswan’s vicious attack on Nitish Kumar who is the “undisputed” chief ministerial pick of the NDA. However, BJP has subtly started distancing itself from JDU. The full-page advertisements released by the saffron party had only Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photo though it carried the symbol of the four NDA parties in the fray (HAM and VIP being the other two).

JDU will be tested in the constituencies falling in the districts of Gaya, Banka, Munger and Jehanabad. The Left parties, which are a part of the Mahagatbandhan, will be contesting nine of the 71 seats in this phase. The Left has a strong presence in the Gaya belt. With LJP having a good support base in some seats going to polls in this phase, JDU will have to ward off the challenge from this quarter as well. The polling trend will also make it clear if the BJP supporters are backing LJP instead of JDU.

This phase will also make it clear if BJP is being pulled down by the strong anti-incumbency against the Nitish Kumar government or will manage to stay afloat on the popularity of Narendra Modi. BJP has claimed that most voters feel the Centre did a good job in distribution of free foodgrains, running 1200 trains for the migrants to return home, and in the fightback against Covid-19.

Among the prominent faces contesting in this phase is HAM leader and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. He in the fray from Imamganj seat in Gaya. He is contesting against Udai Narayan Chowdhury of RJD, who is the sitting MLA and a former Speaker of the Assembly.

Six ministers- three each from BJP and JDU- of the present dispensation are also contesting in this phase.

Two BJP leaders who were denied a ticket as their seats went to the JDU quota are in the fray on LJP ticket in this phase. Rajendra Singh (Dinara) and Rameshwar Chaurasia (Sasaram) will be fighting against JDU and RJD. BJP has expelled them.

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