There was 29.3 per cent voter turnout till noon on Thursday as Gujarat votes in the final phase of assembly elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi waited in queue to vote at booth 115 at an Ahmedabad school, and then walked down the road holding up his inked finger as a big crowd gathered to greet him roared. The Congress has accused the Prime Minister of holding a "road show" even as the state votes, alleging it is a violation of election rules. It has made an unprecedented attack on the Election Commission accusing it of "sleeping on the job" and acting as a "puppet and frontal organisation of the BJP," demanding action against PM Modi.
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The Election Commission has said it is examining the Congress' complaint and "will take action if necessary" after 4 pm today. Voting in Gujarat for final phase of elections ends at 5 pm.
The Congress allegation today escalates a political row over the party's president-elect Rahul Gandhi being asked by the poll panel to explain by Monday an interview aired by a Gujarati channel on Wednesday after the BJP alleged that it flouted rules.The Congress had demanded similar action against PM Modi for a speech at industry body FICCI yesterday an is angry at a lack of response from the election body.
North and central Gujarat are voting in 93 of the state's 182 constituencies today. BJP chief Amit Shah, along with son Jay Shah, was among early voters, as was PM Modi's mother Hiraba, 95, who voted in Gandhinagar. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley voted in Ahmedabad.
This phase is vital for the BJP with many urban centres, which have traditionally backed the party. It hopes for a good voter turnout and PM Modi has urged his home state to vote in large numbers.
The BJP's big challenge in this round is to retain Ahmedabad and Vadodara, Gujarat's two mega cities that had overwhelmingly backed the party in the last election. The BJP had won 26 of the 31 seats from these two districts alone. Overall, of the 93 constituencies voting today, the BJP had won 52 last time, and the Congress had won 39.
The BJP, which has been in power in Gujarat for the last 22 years, expects to make up in the tribal belt for any loss in other places because of an anti-incumbency sentiment. As the BJP's lead campaigner, PM Modi extensively focused on the tribal belts to complement the party's conscious effort to deepen its roots within the tribal community, including encouraging local leaders.
In the first phase of assembly elections in 89 constituencies across Kutch, Saurashtra and south Gujarat on Saturday last, there was 68 per cent voter turnout, lower than the 71.3 per cent for the whole of Gujarat in the last assembly election. The turnout was low in rural areas and those dominated by the Patels or Patidars, loyal to the BJP for years, but upset this time at not being included among castes which get the benefit of affirmative action.
The Congress has attempted to harness the anger of key groups against the ruling party and has tied up with Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, backward leader Alpesh Thakore and the face of the Patel agitation for reservation, Hardik Patel.
Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel is contesting from Mehsana, from where Hardik Patel had launched his movement to demand reservation for Patels or Patidars in government jobs and colleges. Jignesh Mevani is contesting from Vadgam as an Independent candidate, with the Congress not fielding anyone against him.
PM Modi has pitched the Gujarat battle as one between "vikas (development)" and "vanshwaad (dynasty)," in an attack on Rahul Gandhi, who is set to take over from his mother Sonia Gandhi as Congress president on Saturday, two days before votes are counted. Results will be announced on Monday, December 18.