High powered campaigning closes as state enters phase 1 of elections

Surveys and statistics, claims and counter-claims and between them all stood Narendra Modi. This was how it looked post-5 p.m. on Tuesday as curtains fell on campaigning for the first December 1 phase of polling for the Gujarat election.

Two crucial regions, Saurashtra and South Gujarat, go to the polls on Thursday and will decide the fate of the entire electoral exercise as the ruling BJP aspires to enter its seventh consecutive term in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

There are as many as 788 candidates trying their luck on 89 seats spread across 19 districts of south Gujarat and Kutch-Saurashtra regions. Gujarat has 33 districts and 182 State Assembly seats.

The elections in Gujarat have generally gone on predictable lines with the state conventionally witnessing a bipolar contest between the ruling BJP and Congress, but a huge element of suspense has queered the pitch for both the traditional players in the form of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which is contesting 181 seats.

Popular candidates for Assembly polls

Former popular Gujarati TV journalist Isudan Gadhvi is among the key candidates fighting it out in the first phase as the AAP’s chief ministerial face from Khambhalia in Devbhumi Dwarka district. Six-time MLA and Congress turncoat Kunwarji Bavaliya, cricketer Ravindra Jadeja’s wife Rivaba, Gujarat AAP president Gopal Italia and Kantital Amrutiya who saved several lives in the Morbi bridge collapse is the BJP candidate from Morbi.

Pollster surveys and their statistics predict a huge victory for the BJP, even higher than Modi’ best of 127 out of 182 in the 2002 elections, in the range of 131 to 139 seats, Congress 31 to 39 seats – even lower than 52 in 2002 – and 7 to 15 for the AAP. The Congress and the AAP have rubbished the survey as sponsored and both claim they will win, while the BJP has declared it will break all records to register a huge mandate.

Ground realities suggest the BJP will win its seventh term but the numbers may not be as high as the pollsters say, as well as that the AAP is not simply a vote-breaker and would register a strong presence and the Congress, which maintained a low-profile campaign with each of its candidates legging it out door to door to woo the voters, may keep its record of winning at least 50 seats or 30% vote share intact.

Between all these claims and counter-claims, the BJP expects to win Gujarat again on the shoulders of Narendra Modi alone, with every leader worth his salt from chief minister Bhupendra Patel, State BJP chief CR Paatil to national party president JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking votes in his name.

Realising the situation, Narendra Modi also campaigned for himself pointing out that it was his government first in the State and later at the Centre that taught anti-national elements a lesson while there is a “double engine” government delivering developments on people’s doorsteps.

Among other BJP campaigners were Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma and several union ministers and leaders addressed scores of rallies in the State.

AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, who scribbled a prediction note at a press conference in Surat on Monday that his party is winning the Gujarat elections, has led a massive campaign covering the entire state within five months since July and his party was the first to announce the list of contestants. Kejriwal has covered Gujarat multiple times during the last six months.

In the first phase, 89 candidates each of the BJP and Congress, and 88 of AAP are in the fray. AAP candidate for Surat East withdrew his nomination on the last day.

Mayavati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded 57 candidates in the first phase, Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) has fielded 14, Samajwadi Party 12, CPM four and CPI two candidates, while there are 339 Independents in the fray.

An official Election Commission communique stated that a total of 2,39,76,670 voters are registered in the 89 constituencies. They comprise 1,24,33,362 male, 1,15,42,811 female and 497 third gender voters.

Gujarat has a registered electorate of 4,91,35,400. Voting will be held at 25,434 polling booths, 9,018 of which are in urban areas and 16,416 in rural areas.

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