PM Modi Votes In Gujarat, Walks With Inked Finger For Huge Crowd

BJP chief Amit Shah, along with son Jay Shah, visited a temple after voting early; PM Modi’s mother Heeraben, 95, has voted in Gandhinagar, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Ahmedabad. Polling began at 8 this morning and has been slow in the first few hours, with the overall turnout recorded at 11.7 per cent till 10 am .
North and central Gujarat are voting in 93 of the state’s 182 constituencies today. 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 the 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 Paatidars, 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 Paatidars in government jobs and colleges. Jignesh Mevani is contesting from Vadgam as an Independent candidate, with the Congress not fielding anyone against him.
Hours before polling began, a political row erupted over Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi’s interview to a local television channel in Gujarat that aired on Wednesday. The BJP alleged that Mr Gandhi violated the model code of conduct and complained to the Election Commission, which has issued a notice to him. The Congress has demanded similar action against PM Modi for a speech at industry body FICCI.
“There is a massive undercurrent against the BJP in Gujarat,” said Rahul Gandhi, who, quite unlike his previous efforts in state elections, camped in Gujarat for weeks and campaigned aggressively. He attacked the BJP on economic and development issues during much of his campaign hoping to amplify any anti-incumbency factor that could go against the BJP after its uninterrupted run in power for 22 years. Mr Gandhi has predicted a “zabardast” verdict.
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. Votes will be counted on Monday, December 18.