A voter turnout of 60.23 per cent was recorded in the first phase of high-stakes Gujarat assembly elections held in 89 out of the total 182 seats across 19 districts of the Saurashtra-Kutch region and southern parts of the state on Thursday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled Gujarat for 27 years, is trying to retain power in the state for the seventh term in a row. While leaders of the saffron party including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have exuded confidence in a sweeping win with a record number of seats, the BJP faces its traditional rival Congress as well as new poll entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has tried to position itself as the main challenger of the ruling party.
Voting began at 8 am on Thursday in 89 assembly constituencies across 19 districts of the Saurashtra-Kutch region and southern parts of the state to decide the fate of 788 candidates. In the first three hours of polling, 33 ballot units, 29 control units and 69 voter verifiable paper audit trails (VVPATs) were replaced at different stations due to malfunctioning, the office of the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) said.
The voter turnout was less than 66.75 per cent recorded in the first phase of the 2017 Assembly polls. As per the provisional figure, Narmada district recorded the highest voter turnout at 73.02 per cent followed by Tapi district at 72.32 per cent. As many as eight districts recorded more than 60 per cent voting. Surat registered 60.17 per cent turnout and Rajkot 57.69 per cent, according to EC data.
Elections were held in 14,382 polling stations, of which 3,311 are in the urban and 11,071 in rural areas. As many as 26,269 ballot units, 25,430 control units and 25,430 VVPATs were being used in polling stations across the 19 districts.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former chief minister Vijay Rupani, state BJP chief CR Paatil, Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani, BJP candidate from Jamnagar (North) Rivaba Jadeja, former Congress leader of opposition Paresh Dhanani, state Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) president Gopal Italia were among those who voted in the early hours of polling.
Among the key candidates in the first phase, AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Isudan Gadhvi is contesting from Khambhalia seat in Devbhumi Dwarka district of Saurashtra region, while AAP state unit president Gopal Italia is contesting from Katargam in Surat.
Rivaba Jadeja, Cricketer Ravindra Jadeja’s wife is BJP’s candidate from Jamnagar (North). BJP MLAs Harsh Sanghavi and Purnesh Modi from different seats in Surat and five-time MLA Parshottam Solanki from Bhavnagar (Rural).
Sitting Congress MLAs like Lalit Kagathara, Lalit Vasoya, Rutvik Makwana and Mohammad Javed Pirzada are among the candidates in fray in the first phase from seats in Saurashtra region.
Seven-time MLA and veteran tribal leader Chhotu Vasava contested from Jhagadia in Bharuch.
The BJP and the Congress are contesting all 89 seats while AAP is contesting 88 seats. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party had suffered a setback after its candidate from the Surat East constituency withdrew his candidature, leaving the party with one less seat to contest in the first phase.
Apart from the BJP, Congress and AAP, 36 other parties including the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) have also fielded candidates in various seats in the first phase. The BSP has fielded 57 candidates, BTP 14 and CPI-M four candidates.
As many as 339 independents are also in the fray in the first phase.
The AAP launched its campaign with a host of “guarantees" such as free electricity up to 300 units a month, unemployment allowance and government jobs. The Congress has made a similar pitch while promising a cooking gas cylinder for Rs 400, free electricity and English medium schools, among others. The BJP remained firm with its development and Hindutva agenda, promise of 20 lakh jobs, the setting up of an ‘anti-radicalisation’ cell and implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in the state.
PM Modi Holds Rallies in Gujarat
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed rallies at Kalol in Panchmahal and Chhota Udepur, where the elections will be held in the second phase on December 5.
Launching a scathing attack on Congress over party chief Mallikarjun Kharge’s “abusive" remarks, PM Modi said he respects the senior leader as he was “compelled" to follow the orders of the party high command to call him “100-headed Ravan". He said, “I respect Kharge Ji but he has to follow orders of the party high command. He was compelled to say that Modi has 100 heads like (demon king) Ravan."
During the public address at Bodeli town of Chhota Udepur district, Modi alleged, “For decades, Congress has been saying only one thing - Garibi Hatao (eliminate poverty). People gave you power to do that, but you were asking people to remove poverty. The only thing they did was to raise slogans, give promises and misguide people. That was the reason why poverty actually increased during its regime."
The prime minister claimed that poor people, tribals and those from Other Backward Classes (OBC) community were not given priority in education, health and industrial sector by the Congress during its government. Referring to Droupadi Murmu’s election as the President earlier this year, Modi alleged that the opposition party was not in favour of a tribal woman occupying the country’s top constitutional post and that was why it fielded its own candidate.
Cooking Gas Cylinders Become Symbol of Protest
While polling remained largely peaceful, cooking gas cylinders became a symbol of protest against price rise in Gujarat as some voters carried them to polling stations, according to reports. Congress MLA and former Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Paresh Dhanani too carried a gas cylinder on a bicycle to a polling station in Amreli. “The 27 years of BJP rule has ruined Gujarat. Inflation has affected people badly. The prices of petrol and diesel have crossed Rs 100 while a gas cylinder is available for Rs 1,100. How will the poor survive? My vote is to defeat inflation, slowdown, joblessness and end the corrupt and atrocious government of the BJP," Dhanani was quoted as saying by PTI.
The office of the Chief Election Officer (CEO) said voters of three villages - Dhrafa in Jamnagar district, Samot in Narmada district and Kesar in Bharuch district - completely boycotted the election for different reasons.
Gujarat Election Phase 2
The second phase of elections will be held on December 5 and results will be announced on December 8. According to the Election Commission, 833 candidates are contesting in Phase II in 93 constituencies. This time, there are slightly more females in the fray when compared to the last time — 69 (8 per cent) female candidates are contesting in the Phase II election, up from 61 in 2017.
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