Assembly polls: Bihar's third phase ends, 53 percent vote

Patna: The third phase of Bihar's staggered assembly polls ended on Wednesday evening, with 53.20 percent of the 14.5 million electorate voting in 50 constituencies across six districts.

Additional Chief Electoral Officer R. Lakshmanan said the exercise passed off peacefully, including in areas where Maoists are active. There were only minor clashes between rival political activists.

According to officials, more than 7.5 million people voted during the day in a battle that has pitted the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the Grand Alliance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

The voters on Wednesday included Nitish Kumar, his ally and RJD leader Lalu Prasad, BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi and BJP's dissident MP Shatrughan Sinha.

After voting in Patna with his family, Lalu Prasad, a former chief minister, hit out at Modi.

"Modi is playing the communal card on reservation. People in the country never expected such words from the prime minister," he said.

He was referring to Modi's statement that the Grand Alliance was trying to put in quotas in jobs and educational institutions for Muslims.

Sushil Modi also voted in Patna. And so did Nitish Kumar and Shatrughan Sinha, a Bollywood veteran who has embarrassed the Bharatiya Janata Party by publicly praising Nitish Kumar.

When journalists asked him who he thought will win the Bihar battle, Sinha retorted: "Khamosh" (silence). The MP has been sidelined by the BJP in the election campaign.

Polling began at 7 a.m. in the districts of Patna, Saran, Vaishali, Nalanda, Bhojpur and Buxar. It got over at 4 p.m. in 10 constituencies located in Maoist strongholds. Elsewhere it ended at 5 p.m.

Nalanda is Nitish Kumar's home turf, and is widely known as 'Kurmistan' due to the dominance of his Kurmi caste.

As in the first and second rounds of polling on October 12 and 16, serpentine queues formed at polling stations since early in the morning.

Officials said voters in over a dozen villages boycotted the polls to protest what they said was lack of development in their areas.

Lalu Prasad's prestige was at stake on Wednesday as his sons Tej Pratap Yadav and Tejaswi Yadav were in the fray. They contested from Mahua and Raghopur respectively in Vaishali district.

The BJP is banking heavily on Dalits and other backward castes, including Yadav voters, besides most upper castes to get the winning votes. Its allies include the Lok Janshakti Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party.

The JD-U has tied up with the RJD and Congress.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch, 215 of the candidates in the third round faced serious criminal charges, including those of murder.

The staggered elections to pick a 243-member Bihar assembly will end on November 5. The results will be known on November 8. The fourth round of polling will take place on November 1.

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