Long queues in Gujarat as BJP, Cong claim win
After a poor start to polling, voter turnout went up rapidly in the do-or-die battle involving 599 candidates in 95 constituencies.india Updated: Dec 16, 2007 16:16 IST
Hundreds of thousands of men and women stood in long queues to vote in the final phase of Gujarat's assembly elections on Sunday as both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress claimed victories.
After a poor start to polling due to cold winds, voter turnout went up rapidly across Gujarat's northern and central areas as the day progressed in a do-or-die battle involving 599 candidates in 95 constituencies.
In some places, however, voters gathered at polling centres even before they opened at 8 am.
A total of 18.7 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday, and cities and towns in both regions witnessed maximum enthusiasm to pick a new assembly.
A confident and combative Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the BJP would sweep the elections to retain power in a state whose electoral outcome is widely expected to have an impact on national politics.
BJP leader and prime ministerial candidate LK Advani also made a similar assertion.
After casting his vote in Ranip area of Sarkhej constituency, Modi flashed a V sign to his cheering supporters. "The BJP is fighting for the future of Gujarat. I am sure we will get an unprecedented majority," he said.
A large crowd of Modi fans who had been waiting for the chief minister went wild as he reached the polling booth, screaming in unison: "Modi! Modi!"
Modi's cabinet colleague Amit Shah is contesting from Sarkhej, the biggest seat in size and number of voters.
The chief minister, who has turned the Gujarat ballot as a Modi-versus-Congress battle, himself is pitted against central minister Dinsha Patel in the adjoining constituency of Maninagar in Ahmedabad.
Shortly before Modi spoke, Advani voted in Shahpur constituency of Ahmedabad amid chaos after an electronic voting machine (EVM) at the polling booth failed to function.
Advani told reporters later: "The BJP is going to win in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. And the results are going to decide the timing of the mid-term (parliamentary) elections."
The Congress made similar claims.
State Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki said: "There is a wave for change. This time the situation will be a reverse of what it was in 2002."
But Advani insisted that there was no anti-incumbency. "The BJP will form the government in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh," he said, referring to the two states going to the polls this month.
Several heavyweights from the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for almost a decade barring a short break, and the Congress, which is desperate to oust the BJP, are in the fray.
Issues of security and terrorism dominated the acrimonious campaign in the second round. Developmental issues, with which the campaign began in the state, took a back seat.
Among the other high profile contenders on Sunday are cabinet ministers Anandiben Patel, Amit Shah, Prabhatsinh Chauhan and Ashok Bhatt. Congress veteran Narhari Amin is also in the fray.
Sunday began with a major embarrassment for the BJP when one of its candidates was arrested within an hour.
Police took into custody Jayanti Rathwa, candidate from Pavi Jetpur constituency of central Gujarat. He was charged with illegal possession of weapons, which were seized from three vehicles driven by his supporters.
Also, the Election Commission has charged Gujarat Education Minister Anandiben Patel with violation of poll conduct after she allegedly distributed saris among voters in her Patan constituency in the northern region.
The EVMs did not function well in more than one place. In some seats, voters complained that their names were not in the Election Commission list though they possessed the relevant identity cards.
Naturally, arguments erupted in several places between angry voters and exasperated officials.
In 2002, the BJP swept central Gujarat and dominated the northern region of the state in the aftermath of communal violence. The Congress is making a determined bid to bounce back to power.
The first phase of the Gujarat assembly election took place Dec 11. The votes will be counted Dec 23.