Patna, Nov 1 (IANS) The fourth and penultimate phase of Bihar's assembly polls, the biggest popularity test in the country since the February Delhi election the BJP lost, ended on Sunday with around 58 percent of the 14 million electorate voting, officials said.
Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Grand Alliance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar claimed they had the upper hand as polling ended in 55 of the 243 constituencies in seven districts.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer R. Lakshmanan said the exercise passed off peacefully, including in Maoist strongholds.
About 55.32 percent voting took place till 4 p.m. -- and 58 percent when it got over an hour later.
Barring minor clashes, the polling was peaceful, police said. Over two dozen "anti-social elements" were arrested for violating the model code of conduct and threatening election officials.
Even as the voting was on, Prime Minister Modi addressed election rallies in constituencies that will see polling on November 5 - three days before the Bihar result will be known -- and urged the people to vote for the BJP-led four-party alliance.
BJP leaders claimed that the large voter turnout showed their party was headed for a victory. The same claim was also made by leaders of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U).
Polling in 12 of the constituencies where Maoists are active ended early.
Voters queued up at many polling stations even before they opened. As the day progressed, the pace of polling picked up.
At some places, the electronic voting machines malfunctioned -- but they were quickly restored.
There was no major incident of violence. But police used force when political activists clashed outside a polling booth in Sheohar district.
As many as 776 candidates were in the fray on Sunday in the districts of Gopalganj, Siwan, West Champaran, East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi and Muzaffarpur.
The main contest is between the BJP and its allies the LJP, HAM and RLSP on the one hand, and the JD-U, the RJD and the Congress on the other.
The Bihar election is the most significant political battle after the BJP lost the Delhi assembly election to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in February.
Both Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have been on an aggressive drive in a bid to woo voters in Bihar -- only to be countered by Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and former chief minister Lalu Prasad, who said again on Sunday that the BJP would face defeat in the state.