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Gujarat election dates announced: EC says voting on December 9 and 14, results on Dec 18

Polling will be held in 89 seats across 19 districts under the first phase and 93 seats in 14 districts in the next round. Results will be out on December 18.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2017 22:22 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gujarat election dates,Gujarat election 2017,Gujarat assembly elections 2017
Chief election commissioner AK Joti announces the schedule for the Gujarat assembly elections, at a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday.(PTI)

Gujarat will vote in two phases to pick a new assembly, the election commission said on Wednesday, setting the stage for a crucial battle that is seen as a test of support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies to revive a sputtering economy.

Chief election commissioner AK Joti said voting will take place on December 9 and 14. Polling will be held first in 89 seats across 19 districts and then 93 seats in 14 districts. Results will be out on December 18.

Joti said all polling stations will have voting machines with a paper trail attached called the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The system records the candidate and symbol a person voted for but the voter cannot take the receipt home.

The election comes at a time when sluggish economic growth has handed the opposition Congress party a possible opening to regain political ground.

The contest in Gujarat, Modi’s home state where the BJP has been in power for 22 years, will also be keenly watched for signs of voter reaction to some of his radical economic policies that made doing business far more complicated and raised the cost of compliance.

The BJP has also been facing angry protests by the state’s powerful Patidar community that has been demanding a quota in education and government jobs. Earlier this month, a new potential embarrassment emerged over the business dealings of Jay Amitbhai Shah, son of BJP chief Amit Shah.

Not that any of this necessarily upsets the BJP’s expected victory in its citadel of Gujarat. The party has been extending its reach across the country, emboldened by a string of state election victories and consistently high public approval for Modi.

But with the economy still reeling from last year’s cash clampdown and the bumpy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, the party appears to have lost, for the first time since its resounding national victory in 2014, some of its confidence.

“It’s not going to be easy for the BJP. The job market has all but collapsed… Scheduled castes have started organising themselves. People are unhappy,” said Sebastian Morris, professor of economics at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

For the Congress, the stakes have never been higher, given that a good showing in BJP’s bastion could help the party recover nationally from a raft of bruising election defeats. Its vice-president Rahul Gandhi is said to be preparing to take over the party by the end of this month, setting up what could be his first formal leadership test in Gujarat.

Over the past few months, Gandhi has also displayed a new confidence in his public speeches as well as social media campaigns that have triggered some unease in the BJP.

“For the first time in three decades, the Congress is calling the shots and the BJP is reacting. But it remains to be seen if the support gets translated into votes,” said senior Ahmedabad-based political analyst Hari Desai.

The elections are also a test of Gandhi’s ability to stitch political alliance in the state which is seeing the emergence of several young leaders, especially along caste lines, who oppose the BJP and whose support could be a swing factor.

The Congress has reached out to the most popular among them, Hardik Patel, the leader of the Patidar community, as well as Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani. The party has already enlisted the support of Alpesh Thakor, who leads a section of the Other Backwards Classes who are opposed to the Patidars’ demand for quota.

The BJP has responded with several incentives for voters in the state, including loans without interest for farmers, jobs for sanitation workers and big ticket infrastructure projects. The Gujarat election dates also come a day after the central government announced Rs 9 trillion in investments in banks and roads to boost the economy.

The poll panel has faced criticism for not announcing these dates along with the election schedule for Himachal Pradesh earlier this month. Opposition parties allege that this helped the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to sidestep rules and offer incentives to voters in Gujarat.

The panel denies any wrongdoing.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 13:41 IST