Ahmedabad: An estimated 68 per cent voter turnout was recorded in the first phase of assembly election in Gujarat till 5 pm, the Election Commission said on Saturday. The final figure is likely to cross 70 per cent and may touch the 71 per cent mark recorded in the last assembly election in 2012.
There were reports of technical glitches in electronic voting machines (EVMs) in Surat and some other centres, but the polling process resumed after the machines were replaced, the poll panel said.
Chief Election Officer B B Swain said an inquiry was ordered after Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia complained of possible EVM tampering at three polling booths in a Muslim- dominated area in Porbandar. Modhwadia claimed that some machines were found to be connecting to external devices via Bluetooth.
"We have received complaints of faulty EVMs from some places and all such machines have been replaced with the spare ones kept at the polling stations," he said.
A total of 977 candidates were in the fray in the 89 seats of Saurashtra and South Gujarat, of which 63 were won by BJP and 26 by the Congress in the previous polls.
A senior citizen comes out after casting her vote in Rajkot on Saturday. (PTI Photo)
Even as the voting was underway for phase one, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president continued their political duel as both held rallies one after the other in Vadnagar, which would vote in the second phase on December 14.
Saturday’s polling process started at 8am, with people started queueing up at voting centres from the very beginning, braving the cold weather.
Several political heavyweights, including Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, his opponent on Rajkot-West seat Indranil Rajyaguru, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, Gujarat BJP chief Jitu Vaghani were among the early voters. Cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara also cast his vote in Rajkot.
With the marriage season on, some brides and grooms, clad in their wedding finery, came to polling booths along with their relatives to exercise their franchise. Many such voters were seen in Bharuch, Bhabvnagar, Gondal and Surat. A 115-year-old woman from Upleta town of Rajkot, Aajiben Chandravadia, also voted.
Women show their inked fingers after casting their vote in Rajkot on Saturday. (PTI Photo)
Prominent candidates in Saturday’s battle included Rupani, Congress’s Shaktisinh Gohil, who contested from Mandvi and Paresh Dhanani from Amreli.
The election is a crucial one for the Congress and the BJP before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and is seen as a prestige battle for Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, and a litmus test for the leadership of soon-to-be Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
Emotive issues of religion and caste competed with that of development and the attacks by the two parties often turned personal as leaders indulged in name-calling.
The Congress, in political wilderness in Gujarat for nearly 22 years, is desperate to break the jinx. It has raised questions on BJPs Gujarat "development model", demonetisation and GST.
The BJP is banking on Modi’s popularity to counter any anti-incumbency or impact of the Patidar quota stir. Modi has attacked the Congress over the issue of dynastic politics and corruption and invoked "Gujarati pride in his campaign speeches.
While Modi addressed about 15 rallies, Gandhi spent more than seven days in Saurashtra and south Gujarat, addressing a number of meetings and emerging as the Congress pivot to take on the prime minister on his home turf.