Patna: On the chaotic streets of Patna, rickshaw puller Ram Jagan Yadav casts a thoughtful glance around and says, "Change is here and change is the rule." As life goes on amid the Bihar polls, people have not failed to note that things are different.
Fewer posters on the walls, fewer rallies and meetings, fewer extortion demands - the feel of the elections has been different this time, say Patna residents, many of whom voted in the fourth phase of the polls Monday to decide the fate of candidates on 42 seats.
"I was pulling this rickshaw when the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was here, I am still pulling the same thing - but this time, we did not have goons coming up and snatching my day's earnings," says Ram Jagan.
"Earlier, during elections, specially when the big rallies happened, you could end up with someone using the rickshaw for free and even taking away your day's earnings."
"No doubt, work has been done by the ruling Janata Dal-United government," Ram Jagan adds while rolling a "bidi".
Residents from all walks of life in this city of 18 lakh people feel a greater sense of security, more confidence in the administration even as they point out the better roads beneath their feet.
"I am coming here after more than five years, I am so happy to see that the roads are better, there are new shopping complexes, new hotels, all visible signs of change. I hope things get better," says Bihar native Monica Srivastava, who works with an IT major in Bangalore.
At Patna's tea stalls, vegetable markets, shopping complexes, schools and colleges, the six-phase elections from Oct 21 to Nov 20 seem to top the agenda of discussions.
At present, all three assembly seats in the capital are held by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the junior partner in the JD-U government.
The JD-U has 88 members, the BJP 55, the RJD, 54, and the Lok Janshakti Party 10. Elections are being held to 243 Bihar assembly seats, results will be known Nov 24.
"Roads have been built all across the state, it is so much easier to commute. There is a sense of security, people are happy with the change," says Chintu Kumar, who runs a tea stall near Patna railway station.
Though caste politics has not disappeared totally as an issue, voters agree that this time development is more in focus.
"We believe that all political parties are the same, whosoever works must get the vote," Chintu says.
Ramesh Yadav, a businessman and a customer at the tea shop, echoes the same views as Chintu. "People vote for candidates from their caste because they expect those leaders to work for them."
"If we know that someone from another caste will work, and not the one from our own caste, we will definitely vote for the one who works," he says.
Apart from Patna voters, the Election Commission's data on the ongoing elections also signal a change. The commission's data has shown a higher polling percentage in the phases held so far.
After the third phase of voting, Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi said in New Delhi: "The poll percentage is increasing, there may be many reasons, including voter awareness programmes and confidence building messages.
"There is also an increase in the number of women voters, they could reach the polling stations fearlessly."
In 2009, Lok Sabha elections 43.75 percent voting was recorded, according to Election Commission figures.
While middle class voters seem impressed with the increased sense of security and improved roads and new malls, some people from the economically weaker sections say people more needs to be done for them.
"Roads have been made, schools are also functioning regularly in my village, but more job opportunities must be created for people like us. We cannot read or write, there should be something for us," says Santosh Kumar, a daily wage earner from a village in Buxar district.
The business community is breathing easier, though it is still wary of extortion.
"Earlier election times meant goons big and small coming to us for 'chanda' (donation). This 'wasooli' (extortion) has stopped. The business class is feeling more confident though the goons are still around," says a shopkeeper at Patna's central Maurya Lok shopping complex.