Polling began at 8 am on Thursday for the first phase of Gujarat Assembly elections in 89 out of the total 182 seats across 19 districts of Saurashtra-Kutch region and southern parts of the state to decide the fate of 788 candidates.
The voting is being held across 14,382 polling stations, of which 3,311 are in the urban and 11,071 in rural areas, the office of the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) said.
Live webcasting is being done from 13,065 polling stations to keep a close eye on the process, it said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled Gujarat for 27 years, is trying to retain power in the state for the seventh term in a row.
If it succeeds, it will equal the record of the Left Front government which won the West Bengal elections for seven consecutive terms till 2011.
This time, the BJP faces competition not just from its traditional rival Congress but also the new poll entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has tried to position itself as the main challenger of the ruling party.
The BJP and the Congress are contesting in all 89 seats.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP is contesting in 88 seats. Its candidate from Surat East constituency had withdrawn his candidature, leaving the party with one less seat to contest in the first phase.
Apart from the BJP, Congress and AAP, 36 other political outfits including the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) have also fielded candidates in various seats up for grabs the first phase.
The BSP has fielded 57 candidates, BTP 14 and CPI-M four candidates.
As many as 339 independents are also in the fray in the first phase.
In the 2017 elections, the BJP won 48 out of these 89 seats, the Congress won 40, while one seat was bagged by an independent candidate.
Of the total 788 candidates in fray, 70 are women including nine fielded by the BJP, six by the Congress and five by the AAP.
Out of the total 4,91,35,400 registered voters in Gujarat, 2,39,76,670 are eligible to cast their votes in the first phase. There are 5.74 lakh voters in the age group of 18-19 years, and 4,945 above the age of 99 years who are eligible to cast their votes, the state CEO’s office said.
The election body has set up 89 ‘model polling stations’ and as many eco-friendly polling stations. There are 89 stations run by differently-abled and 611 by women.
A total of 34,324 ballot units, an equal number of control units, and 38,749 Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines are being used for the election in the first phase, the release said.
It also said that 2,20,288 trained officers and employees have been deployed for the smooth conduct of the election process.
Besides, 27,978 presiding officers and 78,985 polling officers are also on duty, it said.
The AAP has anchored its campaign around a host of “guarantees” such as free electricity up to 300 units a month, unemployment allowance and government jobs.
The Congress has made a similar pitch while promising a cooking gas cylinder for Rs 400, free electricity and English medium schools, among others.
The BJP seems firm on the ground with its development and Hindutva agenda, the promise of 20 lakh jobs, setting up of an ‘anti-radicalisation’ cell, and implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned extensively for the BJP in the run-up to the election.
The first phase of election will decide the fate of AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Isudan Gadhvi, who is contesting from Khambhalia seat in Devbhumi Dwarka district. AAP state unit president Gopal Italia is contesting from Katargam in Surat.
Rivaba Jadeja, the wife of cricketer Ravindra Jadeja, is another prominent contender from Jamnagar (North).
BJP MLAs Harsh Sanghavi and Purnesh Modi (both contesting from different seats in Surat) as well as five-time legislator Parshottam Solanki (Bhavnagar-Rural) are also contesting in the first phase.
Sitting Congress MLAs like Lalit Kagathara, Lalit Vasoya (both from seats in Rajkot) and Mohammad Javed Pirzada are also in the fray in the first phase from seats in Saurashtra region.
Seven-time MLA and veteran tribal leader Chhotu Vasava is contesting from Jhagadia in Bharuch.
With 54 seats, the Saurashtra-Kutch region is crucial for the Congress as it seeks to improve its performance.
In the region, the Congress won 30 seats in 2017 compared to 16 in the 2012 election. The BJP, on the other hand, was reduced to 23 seats in 2017 as against 35 won by it in the previous election.
In south Gujarat, the Congress in 2017 improved its tally to 10 compared to six in the previous polls, while the BJPs tally dropped to 25 in the last election from 28 earlier.
South Gujarat also comprises Surat city with 12 seats which have remained the BJP’s bastion since a long time.
Voting for the second phase in 93 seats will be held on December 5. The counting of votes will be taken up on December 8.