Voting for the second phase of the crucial Gujarat assembly polls will be held on Thursday after the high-voltage campaign witnessed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi leading the electioneering for their parties.
A total of 851 candidates are in the fray for 93 seats spread across 14 districts in north and central Gujarat, in the final phase of the polls, where 2.22 crore people are eligible to exercise their franchise.
Prominent candidates in the fray for Thursday’s battle include state deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, who is contesting from Mehsana against Jivabhai Patel of Congress.
Alpesh Thakor, who joined the Congress, is seeking election from Radhanpur constituency. Lavingji Thakor of the BJP is contesting against him.
Vadgam SC seat is another key constituency from where independent candidate Jignesh Mevani is fighting the election on Congress support against BJP’s Vijay Chakravarti.
In Maninagar, the constituency once represented by PM Modi, Congress has given ticket to foreign-educated young face Sweta Bhrambhatt against BJP’s sitting MLA Suresh Patel. Modi had vacated the constituency after becoming the PM in 2014.
In its bid to form a caste bloc against the BJP, the Congress has won over Hardik Patel, Thakor and Mevani, who have emerged as the young Turks representing the Patidars, OBCs and Dalits respectively.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP patriarch L K Advani and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley are among the saffron heavyweights expected to exercise their franchise in the second phase of the elections.
While Modi will cast his vote at Sabarmati assembly constituency, Advani is expected to exercise his franchise at Jamalpur-Khadia seat and Jaitley in Vejalpur constituency, all located in Ahmedabad, a party release said.
Advani currently represents Gandhinagar constituency in the Lok Sabha, while Jaitley is a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat.
BJP president Amit Shah and former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel are expected to cast their votes at Naranpura and Ghatlodiya, respectively, again in Ahmedabad.
“Modiji will cast his vote at a poll booth in the Nishan High School in Ranip locality of Sabarmati. Advani will cast his vote at the Hindi School poll booth in Khanpur and Jaitley at the Chimanbhai Institute in S G Highway,” the release said.
While Shah is expected to cast his vote at Naranpura sub-zonal office in Naranpura, Anandiben Patel and Nitin Patel will do so at the Shilaj Primary School at S P Ring Road and at the Sanskar Bharti School at Kadi, respectively.
The elections, being viewed as precursor to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, are a prestige battle for Modi, who helmed the campaign for the ruling BJP in his home state, and a litmus test for Gandhi, who spearheaded the campaign for the Congress.
The electioneering for the second phase concluded on Tuesday after Modi took a seaplane ride from the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad to Dharoi Dam in north Gujarat, and returned after offering prayers at the famous Ambaji Temple and holding a road show.
On the concluding day of the campaign, Gandhi told reporters that there was “tremendous undercurrent” against the ruling BJP in Gujarat and predicted a victory for his party in the Assembly polls. He claimed that “public mood” had undergone a radical change with all sections of society angry with the saffron party.
In the final stages of the electioneering, Modi set off a political firestorm after he alleged during a rally in Palanpur that Pakistan was trying to influence the Gujarat polls. He claimed that some Pakistani officials and former prime minister Manmohan Singh met a day before Mani Shankar Aiyar made the “neech aadmi” jibe against him.
However, the next day Manmohan Singh asked Modi to apologise to the nation for his remarks.
Earlier, at a rally in Bhabhar town in Banaskantha district in north Gujarat, Modi accused Aiyar of giving “supari” (contract) while on a visit to Pakistan to get him “removed” from the way to ensure peace between India and the neighbouring country.
This came a after Aiyar called Modi a neech kism ka aadmi (lowly man).
Several senior leaders from both the BJP and the Congress also campaigned extensively for their candidates in major parts of north and central Gujarat.
Apart from Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah also trained guns at the Congress over several issues, including the Ayodhya dispute.
On the other hand, Gandhi persistently attacked Modi and the BJP for “not talking about the future of Gujarat” and skipping key issues being faced by the people of the state. He accused Modi of ignoring the masses and working for only a handful of industrialists.
Patidar reservation agitation spearhead Hardik Patel charged up the campaign by holding a massive rally in Nikol area of the city, where he appealed to voters to “teach a lesson” to the BJP this time.
The 24-year-old, arguably the most talked-about personality in Gujarat today, even held a road show although the authorities had denied permission for the event.
The influential Patidar community, which accounts for around 12 per cent of the state’s population, could prove to be the ‘X factor’ in the polls, in which Hardik Patel has pledged support to the Congress and appealed to the people to “uproot the BJP” this time.
The Election Commission had earlier announced that Gujarat would be the second state after Goa, where the voter verifiable paper audit trail system would be used, along with electronic voting machines.
In the 2012 assembly polls, the BJP had won 115 seats, while the Congress bagged 61. The counting of votes will be taken up on December 18.
Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters
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