Amid powerful rallies, heightened emotional drama and continuous exchange of dialogues, 89 constituencies of Gujarat are set to exercise their right to franchise in the first phase of Assembly elections 2017 on December 9.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has left no stone unturned to help his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) return to power in his home state, Gujarat will also be an important factor for the soon-to-be Congress President Rahul Gandhi's political stature.
Here are a few things to look out for in the first phase of polling on Saturday:
Election in numbers
This phase is crucial for Gujarat, as the state will see the first phase of Assembly Elections for 89 of its 182 seats. Spread from Rajkot to Saurashtra, these constituencies will see a total of 977 candidates trying their luck on Saturday. Around 21.2 million voters are expected to exercise their voting rights in the state. Of the 182 seats, 13 are reserved for scheduled castes and 27 for scheduled tribes. About 11 million male voters and 10.1 million female voter will be exercising their democratic rights on Saturday.
Big names that will be in the fray
Vijay Rupani vs Indranil Rajyaguru: Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani will be contesting from the Rajkot West constituency, from where Modi had earlier won his election in 2002. With around 300,000 registered voters, Rajkot West has always voted in the favour of BJP. To pose a tough competition to Rupani, Congress has fielded Indranil Rajyaguru in Rajkot West. With a net worth of Rs 141 crore, Rajyaguru is the richest candidate contesting in the Gujarat polls
Paresh Dhanani vs Bavkubhai Undhad: Patidar-dominated Amreli is gearing up for a fight between two Patel candidates — Paresh Dhanani and Bavkubhai Undhad. Sitting Congress MLA Paresh Dhanani is also a strong candidate for the chief ministerial post. Congress is cashing in on the farmer issues in the state, such as a confusion in the minimum support price (MSP) in the agricultural region of Amreli. Will Dhanani, a close aide to Rahul Gandhi, clinch a victory for the Congress? December 18 will answer.
Shaktisinh Gohil vs Virendrasinh Jadeja: The Congress hopes the 57-year-old MLA Shaktisinh Gohil to breach the BJP bastion of Mandvi. In the Muslim-dominated Mandvi Assembly constituency, BJP faces anti-incumbency issues like lack of developement. Virendrasinh Jadeja, the 51-year-old local leader, will be fighting against Gohil in Mandvi.
Tough nut to crack: Saurashtra and Kutch
Muslim majority in Kutch: The final outcome of the Gujarat polls
is likely to see a major sway because of the 54 Assembly seats in Saurashtra and Kutch regions. The Congress is trying to get hold of six major seats in Kutch, where BJP is facing stiff challenges amid issues like shortage of drinking water. Four seats in Kutch – Abdasa, Anjar, Mandvi and Bhuj – have a sizeable chunk of Muslim voters. By opting for a local Muslim candidate in Bhuj, Adam B Chaki, the Congress is looking to play on the ‘local’ sentiment. With no candidates from the Patel community here, MLA Nimaben Acharya is confident to retain the seat with a strong support from Hindu voters.
Patels of Saurashtra: Considered a strong ground for BJP, Patel-dominated Saurashtra can be a tough nut to crack. The influential Patidar community, which accounts for 12 per cent of Gujarat’s 60 million people, is against the present state government because of its demand for reservation in government jobs and education sectors. With 11 districts, Saurashtra will send 48 legislators to the Assembly. The quota agitation over unemployment and lack of opportunity in the higher education gave national prominence to the young leader Hardik Patel and his party Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (Paas).
Back to paper: Using VVPAT in state election
The Election Commission has decided to use the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system for all the constituencies in the Gujarat Assembly elections. This is the first time that VVPAT will be used on a state-wide basis. VVPAT will allow voters to verify their votes after casting on the EVM. The paper trail in VVPAT allows for an audit of the election results by the EC.