Patna: Who will rule Bihar for the next five years? The answer will be known on Wednesday when about 30 million votes will be counted following a six-phased election that was largely violence free and saw more women than men coming out to exercise their franchise.
The high stakes battle for power in Bihar, with a population of 83 million, pitted Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) combine of Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan.
The Congress made up the third corner of the electoral contest with the Left parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) also pitching for power in some seats of the 243.
The results would have ramifications for the political scenario in New Delhi where the opposition has trained its guns on the Congress-led UPA government over allegations of corruption.
Though exit polls predicted a landslide victory for Nitish Kumar's alliance, Lalu Prasad also exuded confidence that his combine would come to power. "The exit polls are nothing, it is going to be proved wrong," he told reporters, flashing the victory sign.
Nitish Kumar played the humble card.
"Whatever is the ruling of the public will be acceptable. We have tried to focus on making direct contact with the people during the campaigning and were not running after media like others," the chief minister said Tuesday.
Counting day should set the record straight.
Officials said the results were expected to be declared by about 2 p.m. Counting of votes in the 243 Assembly constituencies will begin at 8 a.m. and first trends would be available between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., sources in the Bihar chief electoral officer's office said.
"The electronic voting machines (EVMs) in all the constituencies will be opened for the counting amid tight security and under constant vigil of Election Commission officials," an official told IANS here.
"We have made elaborate security arrangements to prevent any untoward incident," Bihar police chief Neelmani said, adding that all six phases had passed peacefully except for stray incidents of violence.
According to the Election Commission, an estimated 52.43 per cent votes were polled to decide the fate of 3,523 candidates who contested the elections that began Oct 21. Over 55 million voters were eligible to exercise their franchise.
Of the 3,523 contestants, 308 were women. National and regional parties fielded 1,225 candidates. While 1,342 contested as Independents, 956 candidates had been fielded by unrecognised registered parties.
The Congress was the only party to contest all 243 seats as it was fighting the elections on its own. The BSP contested 239 seats. In the ruling NDA, the BJP fought 102 seats and the JD-U 141. The RJD and its ally LJP contested 168 and 75 seats respectively.
In a remarkable development, Bihar witnessed record turnout of women in all the six phases. According to an Election Commission report, the overall per centage of women votes was 54.85 per cent compared to 50.70 per cent for men.
In nine of Bihar's 38 districts, the turnout of women voters was over 60 per cent while women outnumbered men in the 23 remaining districts.
"This was a positive sign for democracy as well as for society because the high percentage of women votes suggest that they voted as per their choice," said Prof Ajay Kumar Jha, a socio-political analyst of the A.N. Sinha Institute here.
According to political analysts, this was the first time that the development plank dominated. While Nitish Kumar appealed for another terms to finish the development work initiated by him, Lalu Prasad promised voters he would develop Bihar like the Indian Railways, a portfolio he once had as a cabinet minister in the first UPA government.
In the last election, the BJP got 55 seats and the JD-U 87. The RJD bagged 54 and the LJP 11 seats. The Congress could manage only nine seats.