Women show their ink-marked fingers after casting their vote during the first phase of the Gujarat assembly elections, in Rajkot on Saturday.(PTI)
Women show their ink-marked fingers after casting their vote during the first phase of the Gujarat assembly elections, in Rajkot on Saturday.(PTI)

Gujarat elections: 68% voter turnout in first phase, EC dismisses claims of EVM tampering

The election is a crucial for the Congress and the BJP before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and is seen as a prestige battle for PM Modi and a litmus test for soon- to-be Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
Ahmedabad, Hindustan Times | By Hiral Dave
UPDATED ON DEC 09, 2017 10:48 PM IST

A 68% turnout was recorded in 89 seats that voted on Saturday in the first phase of assembly polls in Gujarat, where the BJP and Congress are locked in a contest that analysts expect to be the closest in years.

The BJP, which has governed the state for 22 years, won 63 of these 89 seats in the 2012 polls. The Congress won 23; and others three.

Gujarat has always been a state with a high voter turnout. In the previous election, 70.7% voters cast their vote for the assembly’s 182 seats.

The highest turnout of 75% was recorded in Navsari and Morbi on Saturday. Botad and Porbandar districts in the Patidar-dominated Saurashtra region recorded the lowest turnout of 60%.

Voter turnout in urban areas, where most of the first-round seats are located, was lower than that in rural areas, Election Commission (EC) officials said.

Analysts caution against drawing any inferences on the outcome based on the turnout. In the run-up to the elections, several analysts said some of the BJP’s traditional supporters could stay away from the polls because they were angry with the party over the agrarian crisis and implementation of the goods and services tax.

Voting was slow in the morning cold but picked up pace in the afternoon, despite reports of electronic voting machines (EVMs) malfunctioning in about 40 polling booths in several segments, including Surat and Rajkot, the state’s diamond and textile hubs.

The EC said snag-hit EVMs were replaced immediately and the glitches caused only a “minor” disruption in voting.

The poll panel also dismissed allegations that EVMs and paper-trail machines were tampered with to manipulate results, which will be out on December 18 after the second round of polling next Thursday.

The remarks came after Arjun Modhwadia, the Congress’s Porbandar candidate, complained to the poll panel that some EVMs got connected to a mobile phone through Bluetooth.

“A Congress worker in Porbandar found that his mobile phone was connecting to the EVM machines. We have made a representation to the EC in this regard,” Modhwadia said.

The Congress also alleged that the machine, which gives a receipt after a person had voted, showed the vote recorded in favour of the BJP when the button was pushed next to the Congress candidate’s name.

Chief electoral officer BB Swain denied the charges and ruled out the possibility of the machines being hacked into. He said the ballot and control panels are safe from hacking and tampering as these cannot be linked with any device or the Internet through any means, including Bluetooth.

“There was some misunderstanding as the Bluetooth handle visible on the phone of a Congress worker, ECO105, was of a mobile phone of a staff on duty. He (the Congress worker) thought it was the EVM number,” he said.

Complaints of faulty EVMs prompted the poll panel to clarify that people in queues would be allowed to vote even after polling closes officially at 5pm.

Chief minister Vijay Rupani, BJP’s Gujarat chief Jitu Vaghani, former minister Saurabh Patel, and the Congress’s Shaktisinh Gohil and Arjun Modhwadia were among 977 candidates in the first phase, spread across southern Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch.

Rupani attributed the high turnout to “people’s enthusiasm” and “protest against the “unrest”, referring to the violence during the Patidar protests for reservation in jobs and education in 2015.

Around 30 Patidar candidates are contesting, fielded by the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.

The BJP is trying to retain its hold over the otherwise loyal Patidars, while the Congress has forged a partnership with the community’s leader Hardik Patel. The opposition party is also supported by several backward-class communities, led by Alpesh Thakor, and the Dalits, led by Jignesh Mewani.

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