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The voter turnout in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly election on Saturday was 68 per cent — just short of the record in the last polls, 70.75 per cent. The high turnout split the opinion of political pundits. Some claimed it showed anti-incumbency; others said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) campaign strategy of blitzkrieg rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given it an advantage. At 89 of the 182 constituencies in the state, 68 per cent of the 21,231,652 voters turned up at polling booths to decide the fate of 977 candidates. Some of the districts that voted on Saturday were Surendranagar, Morbi, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Dwarka, Porbandar, Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli, Bhavnagar, Botad, Narmada, Bharuch, Surat, Tapi, Dangs, Navsari, and Valsad, apart from Kutch. Allegations fly thick and fast Malfunctioning of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) was reported from many districts. According to reports, as many as 70 EVMs malfunctioned in Surat, while 33 machines reported technical errors in Rajkot. While voting officially ended at 5 pm, people who had faced issues due to faulty EVMs were allowed to cast their vote with tokens even after the deadline. Chief Electoral Officer B B Swain ordered a probe. The EC later said the allegations were untrue. Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia had complained of possible EVM tampering in a Muslim-majority area (Memanwada) of Porbandar (his constituency). Voters at polling booths during the first phase of Gujarat Assembly elections in Surat on Saturday. Photo: PTI The party was unhappy with the EC decision.
Manish Doshi, a spokesperson for the party, said, “We hope the EC will take concrete action. It is necessary for a transparent polling process.” The BJP said these allegations indicated the Congress was jittery and had accepted defeat. “When Congress wins elections, the EVMs have no problem but when it senses loss, it starts panicking. The EC has investigated and resolved the issue. The BJP has been working hard and will win,” said a party spokesperson. Forty-five EVMs were replaced because of technical problems, according to estimates. But, the EC said this was only a small percentage of the total number of EVMs used (27,158) at 24,689 polling stations. Day of reckoning Navsari and Morbi districts witnessed the highest voter turnout at 75 per cent each. Botad and Porbandar were among those with the lowest, at 60 per cent each. Some of the important industrial clusters in Morbi, Jamnagar, Rajkot, and Surat in key regions of Saurashtra and South Gujarat voted on Saturday. Many traders in these regions have suffered from the dual disruption caused by demonetisation last year and the roll-out of the goods and services tax (GST) this year. Many in the textile and diamond sectors in Surat were still unhappy with the BJP. The BJP manifesto, released on Friday, has promised irrigation in Saurashtra and jobs for the youth. South Gujarat also has a crucial role, as it is one of the strongholds of the Patidar community, which has been agitating for reservation under the leadership of Hardik Patel. His rallies have drawn massive crowds. Sociologist Gaurang Jani said a high turnout, especially with a good number of young voters, could hint at anti-incumbency. “In several places, it seems to be a neck-and-neck between the two major parties. With many young voters turning up, it could swing in favour of the Congress,” he added.