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As the clock ticks for the second phase of Assembly polls in central and north Gujarat on December 14, all eyes are on 39 lakh voters of 16 seats in the mega city, considered a stronghold of the BJP since the 90s. On Tuesday, both Modi and newly elected Congress President Rahul Gandhi are expected to take the fight further when they address a number of rallies on the last day of election campaign ahead of the second round of voting. Modi will travel from Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad to Dharoi Dam via a seaplane. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, will hold his first presser as Congress President in Ahmedabad at 1 PM. During the 2012 Assembly polls, the BJP won 14 seats here, including Ghatlodia, Jamalpur-Khadia, Vejalpur, Vatva, Ellisbridge, Naranpura, Nikol, Naroda, Thakkarbapa Nagar, Bapunagar, Amraiwadi, Maninagar, Sabarmati and Asarwa(SC), while the Congress won two seats-Dariyapur and Danilimada(SC). Like other cities of Gujarat, the voters of this bustling urban centre have been standing firmly behind the BJP since the early 90s. At least five seats - Ghatlodia, Nikol, Maninagar, Sabarmati and Thakkarbapa Nagar - have a sizable population of Patidars. These areas witnessed violence and arson during the quota agitation led by Hardik Patel two years back. Four seats - Jamalpur-Khadia, Dariyapur, Danilimada and Vejalpur - have a considerable number of Muslim voters. The Maninagar constituency, represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi thrice from 2002 till 2014 as then MLA and Gujarat chief minister, can easily be termed as the city's most high profile seat and a bastion of the BJP. In 2012, Modi won by a margin of over 86,000 votes. Following Modi's resignation from Maninagar after becoming the prime minister in 2014, BJP candidate Suresh Patel won the byelection from the seat, having around 52,000 Patidar voters, by a majority of over 49,000 votes. Patel, who has been renominated by the BJP, will now face Shweta Brahmnbhatt, the IIM-educated young face from Congress. Another important seat is Ghatlodia, once represented by former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel. She had quit last year after the quota agitation, which had also gripped Ghatlodia where there were violent protests and arson by the Patidars. Respecting her "wish" of not wanting to contest the polls this time, the ruling party has given ticket to another senior party leader Bhupendra Patel. The adjoining seat is Naranpura, having around 40,000 Patidar voters.
It was earlier represented by BJP president Amit Shah, who resigned from it in August this year after being elected to the Rajya Sabha. The party has now fielded former minister Kaushik Patel, who is considered close to Shah. Though Patidars were known to be committed supporters of the saffron party since last two decades, the equations seem to have changed after the quota agitation and Hardik Patel's appeal to his community to "uproot BJP" this time. The other seats which might face the brunt of 'Patidar anger' are Thakkarbapa Nagar (having around 35,000 Patidar voters), Bapunagar (31,000), Nikol (52,000), Naroda (34,000) and Sabarmati (44,000). Amid the turmoil over Patidar votes, the old city's Jamalpur-Khadia seat is also in focus for different reasons. Out of the total 1.98 lakh voters in the constituency, the Muslims are in the driving seat with their numbers being a little over one lakh. Their votes could be crucial in deciding the fate of sitting BJP MLA Bhushan Bhatt. In 2012, Bhatt won the election apparently through the division of minority votes between independent candidate Sabir Kabliwala and Congress candidate Samirkhan Pathan. Kabliwala, a rebel Congressmen, got around 30,000 votes, paving way for Bhatt's win by a thin margin of 6,300 votes. This time too, Kabliwala, who was hoping to get the Congress ticket, filed his candidature as an independent out of anger when the opposition party chose local councillor Imran Khedawala over him. Both Khedawala and Kabliwala belong to Chhipa community, which accounts for around 25,000 to 30,000 voters in Jamalpur-Khadia seat. However, in a sudden turn of events which may spell trouble for the BJP on the seat, Kabliwala withdrew his nomination at the last moment. Besides, the Muslim-dominated Dariyapur seat is currently held by Congress MLA Gyasuddin Shaikh, who also enjoys support of some Hindu voters for having an image of being a "progressive" leader. Out of the total 1.97 voters in this mix population seat, there are around 85,000 Muslims. In 2012, Shaikh defeated BJP candidate Bharat Barod by a thin margin of just over 2,600 votes. This time too, both the old rivals are pitted against each other. Polling for the second phase will be held on December 14. Votes would be counted on December 18.
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