Polling for the first phase of Bihar elections began on Wednesday in 71 assembly constituencies of the state. Nearly 2.15 crore voters are eligible to exercise the franchisee who will decide the fate of over 1,000 candidates.
Nearly half-a-dozen ministers from Nitish Kumar cabinet are in the fray in the first phase.
Of these 71 seats, JD (U) is contesting in 35 constituencies while BJP has fielded candidates in 29 seats. From the Opposition 'Mahagathbandhan' alliance, RJD has candidates in 42 seats, while Congress is contesting in 20 seats.
As election pundits say, the trend in the first phase will decide the fate of the other 172 seats that will go to polls in next two rounds. Some of the seats are, however, key in the first phase which decide which side the wind is blowing. There are 243 seats in Bihar assembly.
Here are five key seats in the first phase of Bihar election:
Bihar's Agriculture Prem Kumar is contesting from Gaya Town. The BJP has won the seat for the last 30 years with Prem Kumar winning the constituency a record six times. Congress' Akhauri Onkar Nath is facing the three-time BJP minister and any flip on the seat can signal a drastic result for the ruling alliance.
Former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi is contesting from Imamganj Assembly constituency where he is pitted against RJD's Uday Narayan Chaudhary. Former Assembly Speaker Chaudhary had represented the seat from 2000-2015, losing it to Manjhi in 2015. A long-time loyalist of Nitish Kumar, Chaudhary quit the JD(U) in 2017 over his decision to rejoin the BJP-led NDA. Manjhi had won the seat in 2005 as NDA candidate despite a 'Mahagathbandhan' wave. This seat will be watched out for a fierce contest between two Dalit leaders.
Bahubali leader Anant Singh has been an MLA from the seat for the last three terms. Once considered close to Nitish Kumar, he won the seat on a JD(U) ticket in 2005 and 2010 but contested as an Independent after a fallout with the party. He retained the seat and is contesting on an RJD ticket from the jail this time. The JDU has fielded Lochan Narayan Singh who looks to dislodge the local strongman. An RJD loss here may send a deeper signal to the party.
Labour Resources Department Minister Vijay Kumar Sinha is BJP's candidate from Lakhisarai. Having won the seat twice in a row, Sinha is looking to repeat the performance against Congress’s Amaresh Kumar in this election. This seat is considered a BJP bastion with the Congress the last winning from here in 1980. The BJP was able to retain it in 2015 when the JD(U), RJD and the Congress contested together. Any adverse result for the BJP may set a trend for other seats in the region.
While Congress may not have much base in most of the state, this is one seat which the party has won consistently. Sadanand Singh, a senior Congress leader has won from here nine times but has passed the baton to son Shubhanand this time who is being challenged by BJP's Pawan Yadav this time. While Shubhanandis favourite to win the seat, a loss may sting the Congress party for a long time to come and the trend may also reflect the mood of Bihar.
Other key seats in this election Jehanabad, Nirala, Dinara and Jamui.