68.70 per cent voter turnout was recorded in the second and final phase of Gujarat Assembly elections today, according to the Election Commission.
The figure is likely to go up as details are still being worked out, Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha told media persons.
The 93 seats that went to polls today are spread across north and central Gujarat. Around 2.22 crore people were eligible to exercise their franchise to choose their representatives from among 851 candidates in the fray.
Prominent candidates in the fray for today’s battle include state deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, who is contesting from Mehsana against Jivabhai Patel of Congress. Alpesh Thakor, who joined the Congress, is seeking election from Radhanpur constituency. Lavingji Thakor of the BJP is contesting against him.
The elections, being viewed as precursor to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, are a prestige battle for Modi, who helmed the campaign for the ruling BJP in his home state, and a litmus test for Gandhi, who spearheaded the campaign for the Congress.
The electioneering for the second phase concluded on Tuesday after Modi took a seaplane ride from the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad to Dharoi Dam in north Gujarat, and returned after offering prayers at the famous Ambaji Temple and holding a road show.
On the concluding day of the campaign, Gandhi told reporters that there was “tremendous undercurrent” against the ruling BJP in Gujarat and predicted a victory for his party in the Assembly polls. He claimed that “public mood” had undergone a radical change with all sections of society angry with the saffron party.
In the final stages of the electioneering, Modi set off a political firestorm after he alleged during a rally in Palanpur that Pakistan was trying to influence the Gujarat polls. He claimed that some Pakistani officials and former prime minister Manmohan Singh met a day before Mani Shankar Aiyar made the “neech aadmi” jibe against him. However, the next day Manmohan Singh asked Modi to apologise to the nation for his remarks.
Earlier, at a rally in Bhabhar town in Banaskantha district in north Gujarat, Modi accused Aiyar of giving “supari” (contract) while on a visit to Pakistan to get him “removed” from the way to ensure peace between India and the neighbouring country.
This came a after Aiyar called Modi a “neech kism ka aadmi” (lowly man).
Several senior leaders from both the BJP and the Congress also campaigned extensively for their candidates in major parts of north and central Gujarat.
Apart from Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah also trained guns at the Congress over several issues, including the Ayodhya dispute.
On the other hand, Gandhi persistently attacked Modi and the BJP for “not talking about the future of Gujarat” and skipping key issues being faced by the people of the state. He accused Modi of ignoring the masses and working for only a handful of industrialists.
Patidar reservation agitation spearhead Hardik Patel charged up the campaign by holding a massive rally in Nikol area of the city, where he appealed to voters to “teach a lesson” to the BJP this time.
The 24-year-old, arguably the most talked-about personality in Gujarat today, even held a road show although the authorities had denied permission for the event. The influential Patidar community, which accounts for around 12 per cent of the state’s population, could prove to be the ‘X factor’ in the polls, in which Hardik Patel has pledged support to the Congress and appealed to the people to “uproot the BJP” this time.
The Election Commission (EC) had earlier announced that Gujarat would be the second state after Goa, where the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system would be used, along with electronic voting machines (EVMs). In the 2012 assembly polls, the BJP had won 115 seats, while the Congress bagged 61.
The counting of votes will be taken up on December 18.
(With PTI inputs)