Votes will be counted on Monday for the Gujarat Assembly election in what some are considering a prestige battle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state and a litmus test for new Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Votes will be counted at 37 centres across the state's 33 districts.
Voting ended in 93 Assembly seats in North and Central Gujarat in the second and final phase of polling on 14 December amid reports of malfunctioning EVMs, clashes among party members and accusations of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) violations.
While the BJP is seeking a sixth straight term in office, the Congress is aiming to stage a comeback in power after being in the Opposition for over two decades. The results are expected to have a bearing on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls also as Modi came to power in 2014 based on the Gujarat Model.
As many as 1,703 candidates filed their nominations for the 89 constituencies which was covered in the first phase of Assembly polls in Gujarat on 9 December.
Prominent candidates who contested in the first phase included Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani (Rajkot West), senior BJP leader Dilip Sanghani (Dhari) and senior Congress leader Paresh Dhanani. While the BJP put up 11 candidates who were defeated in the previous election, five are Congress defectors and five more are making their debut at the polls. Among these candidates, 16 are Patidars, seemingly to counter the Hardik Patel factor.
There is also Dilip Sanghani, once a close confidant of Modi. He has been fielded from Lathi constituency in Saurashtra after dropping sitting rebel MLA Nalin Kotadia. Sanghani lost to Congress’ young and aspiring chief ministerial candidate Paresh Dhanani from the nearby Amreli constituency.
The Congress's first list of 77 candidates named sitting MLA Indranil Rajyaguru of Rajkot East seat as prime contender against Rupani from Rajkot West seat. However, after the first list was released, PAAS members expressed anger and began protesting in many parts of the state, claiming they were not given proper representation.
The voting was held following an acrimonious campaign, where both the main political parties indulged in no-holds-barred attacks on each other. Modi led the campaign for the BJP, while Rahul was the pivot of the Congress' electioneering.
Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah trained guns on the Congress on issues like Ram Temple, alleged Pakistani interference in the Gujarat polls and (suspended Congress leader) Mani Shankar Aiyar's 'neech' remarks. Rahul meanwhile, attacked Modi and the BJP for "not talking about the future of Gujarat" and ignoring key issues being faced by the people.
The Congress also stitched about a broad social coalition with prominent Patidar, OBC, and Dalit leaders—Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jigesh Mevani—in its bid to unseat the BJP in power for over two decades.
Patel led a long agitation of his community for reservation, while Thakor led a counter-protest against the inclusion of Patidars in the OBC reservation list. Mevani raised his voice against Dalit atrocities.
As the campaign neared its end, "vikas" (development) took a back seat, and caste and religious issues received prominence.
The two main rival parties also tried to counter each other on social media, as the Congress and its supporters launched the campaign Vikas Gando Thayo Che (development has gone crazy), while the BJP launched a counter drive of "I am development, I am Gujarat".
An average 68.41 percent polling was recorded in the two-phase Assembly elections in Gujarat.
According to the final figures released by the Election Commission, the voter turnout in the second phase of balloting on 14 December, for 93 seats of North and Central Gujarat, stood at 69.99 percent.
In the first phase of polls held on 9 December for 89 seats in Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat, 66.75 percent voting was recorded.
The total voter turnout this time has seen a dip of 2.91 percent, as compared to the 2012 polls when 71.32 percent polling was registered.
In terms of numbers, of the total 4.35 crore registered voters, 2.97 crore exercised their right to franchise in the elections held on 9 and 14 December.
According to the Election Commission )(EC) data, the tribal-dominated Narmada district witnessed the highest voter turnout of 79.15 percent, while Devbhumi-Dwarka of Saurashtra region recorded the lowest at 59.39 percent.
The districts which recorded a high turnout are: Tapi (78.56%) Banaskantha (75.15%) and Sabarkantha (74.97%). The districts which saw a low turnout are: Amreli (61.29%), Bhavnagar (61.56%) and Porbandar (61.86%).
Only Devbhumi Dwarka district registered polling below 60 percent.
In the second phase, while Sabarkantha district recorded the highest voter turnout of 56 percent, the lowest polling of 41.23 percent was recorded in Chotta Udaipur district.
War of words
During the second phase, the BJP and the Congress were locked in a war of words after Modi voted in Ahmedabad and then went around the area, flashing his finger with the voter mark. A total of 44 complaints of violation of the Model Code of Conduct were received by the Gujarat CEC on Thursday.
After casting the vote at Nishan High School, Modi showed his inked finger to thousands of supporters who had gathered outside the school in Ranip locality of Sabarmati constituency, amid chants of "Modi, Modi". He walked a certain distance to greet the people standing on both sides of the road outside the polling booth. Later, he stood on the foot-board of his car and waved to the crowd.
However, the Congress alleged that Modi's roadshow was a violation of the Model Code of Conduct and accused the Election Commission of bias. While the polling was largely peaceful, two incidents of clashes were reported in Mehsana and Vadodara districts, police officials said.
The EC received complaints from five places that electronic voting machines (EVMs) were connecting to external devices via Bluetooth, but after inquiry, it was found that there was "no substance" to the complaints, poll officials said.
Complaints of EVMs being connected with external devices via Bluetooth were received from Patan, Kheda, Mehsana districts, Ghatlodia in Ahmedabad district and Godhra in Panchamahal district. Voting was also temporarily stopped in Chhaniyana village as voters alleged EVM rigging.
The EC also ordered re-polling on Sunday in six booths of the second phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2017 07:00 AM