Ahmedabad: Amid heavy security, polling got underway for the first phase of elections on Thursday morning for 87 seats in Gujarat to elect a new 182-member assembly.
Polling will end at 5 p.m.
Voters in 87 of the 182 constituencies of the state assembly will exercise their franchise at 44,579 polling stations.
As voters queued up since Thursday morning to cast their ballots, focus in this phase is on constituencies in Saurashtra region where Keshubhai Patel, former colleague of Chief Minister Narendra Modi turned a rebel, wields considerable power.
Keshubhai Patel resigned from BJP in August this year to launch a new political party called "Gujarat Parivartan Party."
Saurashtra could be the main battleground for the race to Gandhinagar. The battle became interesting with the entry of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party. Patel has field candidates in 83 constituencies.
With a significant percentage of the electorate in the state (over 20 per cent) coming from the Patel community, analysts believe that the K factor could come into play.
In this phase other prominent contestants are Assembly Speaker Ganpat Vasava, state BJP president R C Faldu and Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia. Also in the fray is Leader of Opposition in the state, Shaktisinh Gohil.
The 87 Assembly constituencies going for polling in Phase is spread over 44579 polling stations in 15 districts from Saurashtra and southern parts of the state.
Of the total 3,80,77,454 voters in this phase, male voters accounts for 1,99,33,543 of the electorates while the female voters number 1,81,43,714.
At least 846 candidates are in the fray in this phase, including 46 female candidates.
Among the 846, the ruling BJP has 87 candidates for all the 87 seats, Congress has fielded 84 candidates while Gujarat Parivartan Party has 83 challengers.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded 79 candidates while there are 383 Independents. Other parties fielded 130 candidates.
The total number of Electronic Voting Machines being used in this phase are 44579.
The largest assembly constituency (area wise) in this phase is Abdasa (6,278 sq.km . approx.) while the largest assembly constituency (Electorate wise) is Kamrej (3,04,621 voters).
The smallest assembly constituency (Electorate wise) is Karanj (1,44,161 voters).
Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is not a candidate in this phase, would try to capture power for his fourth term (third consecutive term) as the CM and is leading in all surveys with predictions of two-third majority.
Modi would fight the polls himself in the second phase from Ahmedabad's Maninagar seat on Dec 17.
The run up to the polls witnessed high-octane canvassing when the Congress top leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hit the campaign trail to take on the well-entrenched Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by the charismatic Narendra Modi.
Out of jail, Amit Shah lords over Naranpura
He may be one of Gujarat's most controversial figures, facing the charge of plotting the murder of alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a fake police encounter, but Chief Minister Narendra Modi's Man Friday Amit Shah is more loved than feared in Naranpur.
The portly Shah, a key strategist in 'Team Modi', is locked with Congress' Jeetu Bhai Patel, who crossed over from BJP weeks ahead of the assembly elections, in an electoral battle he is expected to win hands down in this BJP bastion.
Though there are 23 candidates vying for the Naranpura assembly seat, it is a straight contest between Shah and Patel, belonging to the two dominant communities in the constituency with an electorate of little over 2.13 lakh.
Shah was allowed to enter Gujarat this September by the the Supreme Court, nearly two years after his arrest on July 25, 2010, when he was charged with the murder, extortion, kidnapping besides five other sections of IPC in connection with the killing of Sheikh in an allegedly fake encounter and subsequently eliminating his wife Kausar Bi and associate Tulsiram Prajapati.
Sheikh allegedly ran an extortion racket with the help of senior police officers and four IPS officers including D G Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Abhay Chudasama and Dinesh M N, apart from eight other officers of lesser rank are under arrest in the case.
The gory details of these extra-judicial killings may not give a good account of Shah as a politician, but for an overwhelming majority of voters in this urban, middle and high-middle class locality of Ahmedabad city, Shah is regarded as a "saviour".
"We don't believe he had hatched the conspiracy to eliminate Sohrabuddin and others but even if he did, he played the saviour for Hindus. The AK 47 rifles, hand grenades and bullets recovered from Sohhrabuddin's place would have been used against us," says Hemang Bhai, a realtor.
Shah was Minister of State for Home when these alleged fake encounters took place and the police officials accused in the case reported directly to him.
Shah, who was granted bail in October 2010 by the Gujarat High Court but was forced out of the state by a Supreme Court order, has now brought out a booklet that proclaims his innocence and presents him as a victim of Congress and CBI.
"With malicious political intent, Congress misused CBI to falsely implicate Amit Shah in Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Sohrabuddin was a terrorist from whose house AK 47, 150 hand grenades, one lakh cartridges and explosives were seized," claims the booklet.
"The Centre falsely implicated him and sent him to jail. He was kept away from Gujarat and his family for two years but who can defeat the truth?" it reads.
"This time we have to ensure that Amit Bhai wins with the largest margin in entire Gujarat. He takes care of his constituency and party workers", he says.
In Naranpura, the politically and numerically influential Patels and Banias, the traditional votebank of BJP in Gujarat, together constitute over 60 per cent of the electorate.
Former Chief Minister and Modi-baiter Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party, which is expected to pose a challenge to the incumbent Chief Minister in Kutch-Saurashtra belt of the state, is unlikely to make a dent in BJP's vote bank in Naranpura.
Gujaratis will vote for change and reject Modi: Keshubhai
Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) supremo Keshubhai Patel on Thursday said the people would vote for a change in the state, and added that Chief Minister Narendra Modi would be thrown out of power after the assembly polls.
"There is a wave of change in entire Gujarat now, be it the tribal areas, coastal region, Ahmedabad, towns or villages," said Patel.
"People have rejected him. The children poke fun at him. Narendra Modi will go this time," he added.
The former Gujarat Chief Minister cast his vote here as polling in 87 constituencies for the first phase of assembly polls began at 8 a.m. amidst tight security in the state.
Patel, considered to be Modi's arch political rival, is banking on the support of his 'Leuva Patel' community, which dominates 17 constituencies in Saurashtra and Kutch. The 'Patels' are a key 20 percent of Gujarat's electorate.
Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party is contesting 83 of the 87 seats that poll on Thursday.