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Gujarat elections: Voter turnout plunges in Patidar­-dominated areas

The constituency that saw the highest turnout was Dediapada, in Narmada district.

GujaratElection2017 Updated: Dec 11, 2017 10:32 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Ahmedabad, Hindustan Times
Gujarat Assembly Election,Gujarat Elections 2017,Gujarat Election Phase 1
People stand in queues to cast their votes inside a polling booth during the first phase of Gujarat assembly election in Limbdi town of Surendranagar district, December 9, 2017. (REUTERS)

Fewer people voted in the first round of Gujarat elections this year compared to 2012, according to the Election Commission that released on Sunday final turnout figures showing a 4.6 percentage point drop.

The biggest fall was in the Patidar-dominated Saurashtra region that accounts for 48 of 89 assembly constituencies where polling was held on Saturday. The other regions are Kutch and South Gujarat. The remaining will vote on December 14 and the results will be declared on December 18.

According to the final figures, 66.85% of the registered electorate voted on Saturday, down from 71.35% in the same constituencies in 2012. The tribal district of Narmada recorded the highest turnout of 79.15%, while Devbhumi Dwarka, which has a significant population of OBC, registered the lowest at 59.39%.

The maximum fall — between 5 and 12 percentage points — was reported from rural areas dominated by Patidars, who are seen as key to the opposition Congress’s efforts to wrest power from the Bharatiya Janata Party that has ruled Gujarat for 22 years.

Experts say a fall in turnout might point to discontentment with the current government, but the feeling may not be strong enough to spur many into voting for the rival Congress.

“The trend indicates lack of enthusiasm in the rural voters, compared to 2012. But we should also not forget that 2012 saw higher turnout as it was pitched as last elections of Narendra Modi before he make leap for Delhi,” said political analyst Jwalant Chhaya.

The Patidars — who turned against the BJP in 2015 over demands for reservations in jobs and college admissions —constitute 12% of the population and can influence the result in about 60 assembly seats. Hardik Patel, widely regarded as the most prominent face of the quota struggle, announced his support for the Congress last month.

Urban pockets dominated by Patidars, such as Morbi, Rajkot East, Jetput, Jamnagar North, Surat North and Katargam, the dip in voter turnout was less compared to the rural areas.

The only exception was Rajkot West, where chief minister Vijay Rupani is contesting: voting went up by 4.07 percentage points.

When seen by region, the turnout drop was sharpest in Saurashtra (6 percentage point), followed by Kutch (3.63 percentage point) and south Gujarat (3.22 percentage point).

All south Gujarat districts — barring Surat — reported a turnout of more than 70%, while Saurashtra-Kutch region reported overall polling of 64.21%. Kutch recorded 64.88% voter turnout.

Among the assembly constituencies, Dediapada, a seat in Narmada reserved for a Schedule Tribe contestants, saw the highest voter turnout at 84.63%, and Gandhidham (SC) in seat in Kutch registered lowest at 54.18 per cent.

In all, 919 male and 58 female candidates were in the fray with Rupani, state BJP chief Jitu Vaghani, former Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) chiefs Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel and Shaktisinh Gohil among the key contestants.