Gujarat goes into the second and final phase of polling for the remaining 95 Vidhan Sabha seats on Monday that includes chief minister Narendra Modi and his Congress rival Shankersinh Vaghela and covers a voter population of 1.98 crores.
There are 820 candidates slugging it out for the 95 seats of north and central Gujarat as well as six seats of Kutch. The voting effectively covers 40 assembly seats in five districts of central Gujarat, 32 seats in five districts of north Gujarat ,17 seats of Ahmedabad and six seats of Kutch district.
The intense voting of the first phase which saw a record turnout of 70.75 per cent in Saurashtra and south Gujarat besides four seats of Ahmedabad district on December 13 has set the pace and heightened expectations for the second phase.
Besides Modi and Vaghela, key members of the ruling party cabinet as well as Vaghela’s son, Mahendrasinh are also in the fray. Facing Modi is IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife Shweta doing duty for the Congress, while ministers Anandiben Patel, Amit Shah, Saurabh Patel, Ramanlal Vora, Jaynarayan Vyas, Pradipsinh Jadeja and Fakirbhai Vaghela, among others, are before the electorate for a renewed vote of popular approval.
If Modi confidante and former minister of state for home, Amit Shah, returns to Gujarat after a stint in jail as an accused in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, another former home minister's wife, Jagruti Pandya, is in the fray as a candidate of the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). Jagruti is the wife of late Haren Pandya ,a minister in the Modi cabinet who was killed in 2003 and is in the fray as part of the rebel BJP breakaway group which is now a regional political outfit lead by former BJP patriarch Keshubhai Patel.
The GPP essentially opposed to Modi , has turned a normally straight contest between traditional rivals BJP and Congress into a triangular one creating a sense of uncertainty in an otherwise straight fight in this Vidhan Sabha election. In the Monday phase of polling the BJP is contesting all the 95 seats, the Congress 92 and the GPP 84 seats.
According to chief electoral officer, Gujarat, Anita Karwal, apart from the three main political entities, there are 32 political parties in the fray besides 284 independents .”To ensure fair elections in the second phase we have put 7256 micro-observers on the job throughout the 12 districts of the state where polling will take place at 23,318 polling stations,” she added.
Though campaigning ended on Saturday, poll posturing continued into Sunday. Chief minister Narendra Modi thought it fit to pay his respects at the venue of ‘Ram Katha’ in Ahmedabad where Shri Morari Bapu was holding forth on the interpretative nuances of Ramayana. He took this opportunity to receive the blessings of Shri Moraribapu a day before the city goes to polls. Leader of the opposition, Shaktisinh Gohil, seems to have been pipped to the post or so he admitted. "We were invited but no sooner did Modi come to know of it that he raced here. We had no problems so chose to go later,” he said.
Meanwhile the Congress ad.mascot this elections, Tulika, made an appearance at a Congress press conference to denounce attempts in her name seeking to rubbish her own campaign through fakes on the internet. ”I have chosen to undertake this campaign because I believe in it and the Congress,” she added.