Patna, Oct 16 (IANS) The second phase of staggered assembly elections in Bihar ended on Friday with about 54 percent of the 8.58 million electorate voting in 32 of the 243 constituencies, officials said.
The polling was peaceful as millions defied Maoist threats to troop to more than 8,800 polling centres across six districts to decide the fate of 456 candidates including former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.
The main battle for power is between the BJP-led four-party alliance and the Grand Alliance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The Bihar battle, which began on Monday and ends on November 5 and whose outcome will be known on November 8, is the biggest popularity test in the country after the Delhi election in February in which the AAP routed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As many as 23 of the 32 constituencies where ballotting took place were known Maoist hubs. Polling in 11 of them ended at 3 p.m. and in 12 others an hour later to enable officers to leave the area before sunlight fades.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer R. Lakshmanan told IANS that the polling was slow initially but picked up later -- a la the first round of voting on Monday.
According to him, women again voted in large numbers.
As the day progressed, the queues outside polling booth turned serpentine, reports from various constituencies said.
The two main coalitions fighting it out in Bihar are the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and its allies the RJD and the Congress as well as the BJP and its allies including the LJP, HAM and RLSP.
Among the key contestants on Friday were HAM leader and former chief minister Manjhi, Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary and BJP leader Prem Kumar, one of the contenders for the chief minister's post.
Manjhi contested for two constituencies: Makhdumpur in Jehanabad and Imamganj in Gaya.
With caste equations coming to the fire, the Grand Alliance banked on OBCs and Muslims and sections of Dalits and EBCs to capture most of the 32 seats. The BJP and its allies are confident of the support of upper castes along with sections of OBCs, EBCs and Dalits.
The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist had vowed to disrupt the elections. With most of the 8,849 polling booths in rural areas, officials in charge of security had their fingers crossed through the day.
Five helicopters, drones and 993 companies of paramilitary forces were deployed.
Bihar Police chief P.K. Thakur told the media here that polling was peaceful barring minor clashes between rivals.
Officials said voters in over a dozen villages in Aurangabad, Kaimur, Jehanabad and Arwal boycotted the polls against what they said was lack of development in the past five years.
According to the Association of Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch, 142 candidates in the second round faced serious criminal charges including those of murder.
The third round of polling will be held on October 28.