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Gujarat Polls: Record 68% turnout in phase I

Fate of 846 candidates, including big wigs of BJP, Cong & GPP sealed in voting machines

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The first phase of polling for elections on Thursday recorded a historic high polling of 68% and remained peaceful through. The polling which ended today sealed the fate of 846 candidates in fray for 87 seats in Saurashtra and South Gujarat regions.

"The polling in first phase recorded a historic high polling of 68%. The entire polling remained peaceful throughout. There was no case of booth capturing," Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi told mediapersons today.

He said that in during the first phase of assembly election in 2007 the polling was 59.77%. "This year the increase is nearly 15% compared to last elections," Zutshi said, adding that the figures given by him are rough estimates base on reports from polling stations. He said figures may change as some polling centres were yet to send final reports.

Giving details of the polling, Zutshi said there were 214 cases of electronic voting machine (EVM) malfunction which were replaced immediately. There were also two cases where people had boycotted the polls due to no development in their regions. These villages were from Visavadar in Junagadh and Dholka in Surendranagar district.

In the phase I of which ended today, out of over 18 million voters, 68% voted to decide the fate of bigwigs of ruling BJP and Congress contesting alongside new entrant the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) headed by former chief minister Keshubhai Patel.

There are 48 seats in Saurashtra, 35 in South Gujarat and 4 seats in Central Gujarat were the polling took place in the first phase. The BJP has pitted candidates in all the 87 seats in the first phase while Congress has 84 candidates. The GPP has 83 candidates in the first phase of the assembly polls. There are a lot of independent candidates fighting in the first phase of polls. The second phase of polling is on December 17. The counting of votes is scheduled on December 20.

Eleven ministers from the Narendra Modi government are in fray from Saurashtra and South Gujarat. While presidents of the two major parties -- RC Faldu of BJP and Arjun Modhwadia of Congress are contesting from Jamnagar Rural and Porbander seats, respectively. Modhwadia faces old rival and former BJP Minister Babu Bokhiria, while Faldu will have Raghavji Patel from Congress as his nearest rival.

Also, in fray is GPP president Keshubhai Patel and its general secretary Gordhan Zadafiya who are contesting from Visavadar in Junagadh and Gondal, Rajkot, respectively. For GPP, it will be an acid test, which will decide its political future. Zadaphiya faces Jayrajsinh Parmar of BJP, while Patel who is contesting after nearly a decade, will face his former protege Kanu Bhalala of BJP who is a sitting MLA from the constituency.

People had come out in large numbers since the voting began at 8 am and voted for their candidates. All BJP ministers in fray for another term were the first to vote in their respective constituencies. Other political leaders who cast vote early in the day included finance minister Vaju Vala, minister of state for fisheries Parshottam Solanki, states Congress president Arjun Modhwadia, leader of opposition Shaktisinh Gohil, GPP president Keshubhai Patel, his deputy Gordhan Zadafiya.  Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi also cast his vote in Piraman near Ankleshwar in Bharuch district.

Faldu after voting said, "We have been successful in holistic development of the people. And we are sure to sweep the elections and form the next government." He further said, "We believe that BJP will win more seats as compare to last election in Saurashtra. Middle class people voting has increased this time as they want development and they can understand that BJP is the only option for the development of Gujarat.”

Congress candidate from Dhoraji in Rajkot district Vitthal Radadiya said, “People now don’t like Modi and we have seen it at the time of voting. Change will definitely be seen in election result as Congress party has done many things in Saurashtra and especially in rural areas and for farmers.”

While Keshubhai Patel said, “People of Gujarat wants change and GPP will form the government with absolute majority. Some power hungry leaders are misguiding people by giving false statements but people of the state want a change and GPP will lead the change," said Keshubhai.

Commenting Thursday's voting Chief Minister Narendra Modi said, "It’s a BJP storm in Gujarat. From the news I am getting, wherever there is voting, all records of previous voting have been broken." Modi was speaking during a public meeting in Siddhpur town of North Gujarat.

"This shows that these elections are not being fought by BJP or its candidates, the people of Gujarat are fighting them. I know the people, I know their problems and also know the solutions to the problems you face," he added.

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