68% polling in Gujarat 1st phase polls
Ahmedabad: The enormously high-stakes do-or-die political battle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress party's incoming President Rahul Gandhi got off to a roaring start on Saturday with sixty-eight per cent polling reported in the first phase of Gujarat polls in 89 Assembly seats, according to the Election Commission (EC.) However, the final voting percentage might be as high as 72 per cent since people were still standing in queues outside polling centres even after the official close of voting at 5 pm, Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha said in New Delhi.
The heavyweights whose electoral fortunes were being scripted on Saturday include Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani (Rajkot-West)) and Congress' leaders Shaktisinh Gohil (Mandvi) and Paresh Dhanani (Amreli). A total of 977 candidates were in the fray in the 89 seats of Saurashtra and South Gujarat, of which 63 had been won by the BJP and 22 by the Congress in the 2012 Assembly polls.
While the Congress, which has been out of political office in Gujarat for 22 years, is hoping to stage a comeback by capitalising on "popular anger" with Prime Minister Modi's twin gambles of demonetisation and GST — as well as disenchantment with his Gujarat "development model" — the ruling BJP's central leadership is brimming with confidence that it will pull off a historic sixth consecutive victory in this western state.
Asked whether the Patidar movement for reservations led by 24-year-old Hardik Patel and his electoral alliance with the Congress would endanger the BJP's chances of winning, several BJP leaders this correspondent spoke to replied that the converse would prove true. The alliance with Hardik Patel would prove suicidal for the Congress, they claimed. Elaborating on the issue, they explained that the Congress poll pact with a section of Patidars would lead to almost complete consolidation of votes of several other key segments of the state's electorate, who would vote en masse for the BJP.
When it was pointed that many observers are saying that one of the BJP's traditional vote bastions in Gujarat — the trading community — might break their loyalty this time due to "the damage caused to their businesses by demonetisation and GST", the BJP leaders retorted by pointing out that even in Saurashtra, where the Congress is claiming that it will do very well, the attendance of traders at a highly flaunted closed door meeting with former Prime Minister and economist Manmohan Singh was extremely low. "This itself indicates the true sorry figure the Congress will cut during the counting of votes on December 18," they said, with a tinge of transparent amusement.
The second phase of polling in 93 seats will be held on December 14 while the counting of votes is scheduled on December 18.