Ahmedabad: More than 12 million people voted in Gujarat on December 13 in elections that have pitted a confident Chief Minister Narendra Modi against a disparate opposition. An estimated 68 percent of the 18 million eligible to vote in the first phase exercised their franchise by end of balloting at 5:00 p.m. in 87 of the 182 assembly constituencies, the Election Commission said.
It was the highest voting percentage since 61.54 percent of the electorate voted in 2002. This slid to 59.77 percent in 2007. Earlier, 59.30 percent had voted in 1998.
In New Delhi, the Election Commission said the nine-hour polling was "totally peaceful and historic."
The BJP has fielded candidates in all 87 seats, the Congress in 84, GPP in 83 and the Bahujan Samaj Party in 79.
Queues began forming outside many polling booths even before balloting started at 8 am. Within three hours, 18% had voted. The numbers kept rising amid pleasant weather.
Fifty-four of the 87 constituencies voting on December 13 lie in Saurashtra, Keshubhai Patel's known stronghold, and 33 in south Gujarat. BJP officials say the Keshubhai factor will not affect them majorly.
Narendra Modi on election day urged the voters in the state to vote in the polls.
"A vote is the foundation of a strong and vibrant democracy. I urge you all to exercise your franchise," tweets Narendra Modi.
Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, said after casting his ballot that the heavy polling "shows how much dissatisfaction is there among the people (against Modi)".
Amid media glare, Keshubhai Patel voted in Rajkot. Gujarat Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia exercised his franchise in Porbandar.
Apart from the major parties, there are total 26 political parties and 383 independents in the fray, which include BJP rebel and sitting MLA Kanubhai Kalsaria, who has formed a new forum - Sadbhavna Manch - and fielded six candidates.
There are 846 candidates, only 46 of them women; 1,81,77,953 people are listed voters for today, 95,75,278 men, 86,02,557 women and 118 other voters. About 22 per cent candidates have criminal cases registered against them and a big 30 per cent are listed as "crorepati" candidates. 15 constituencies have been altered by delimitation.
After casting his ballot, BJP state leader RC Faldu thundered: "We will win with a big majority."
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley claimed that BJP will come back to power in Gujarat with a thumping majority.
He further said Congress conducted its campaign in Gujarat elections merely as a formality and the high percentage of voting in the first phase suggested that BJP would return to power with thumping majority.
The largest constituency by area was Abdasa (6,278 sq km) and the largest constituency by population Kamrej (304,621 voters).
At Maninagar in Ahmedabad, Modi was pitted against suspended police officer Sanjiv Bhatt's wife Shweta.
A possible victory for the BJP will be widely seen as a personal triumph for Modi, who towers over the party in Gujarat.
The elections, no matter whom you ask, are first and foremost about Narendra Modi, the charismatic and polarizing chief minister of the state. A convincing win in Gujarat for his Bharatiya Janata Party will not only give Mr. Modi his third full-term as chief minister but boost his case as a top contender for the post of India’s prime minister when general elections take place in 2014.
If the BJP loses, the claims of Modi's political invincibility by his admirers would be punctured.