BJP rebels seek change as Gujarat votes


Ahmedabad : Dissidents in Gujarat’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) breathed fire Tuesday against Chief Minister Narendra Modi as millions voted in the first phase of the make-or-break assembly elections.

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As voters queued up at polling stations in the regions of Saurashtra, Kutch and south Gujarat amid tight security, both the BJP and the Congress claimed they were confident of winning a majority in the 182-member legislature.

Voting Tuesday was on for 87 seats, involving 668 candidates.

An Election Commission official in New Delhi told IANS that “good and brisk” polling had been reported from Gujarat.

Officials in Ahmedabad, however, said polling picked up from about noon after a slow start thanks to a wintry morning. They said voting was more brisk in rural areas.

The voter turnout in urban pockets, especially Surat, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar, was low.

Although officials made no announcement, information available from various sources indicated the polling in urban areas was only around 15 percent by 2.30 p.m.

The voting remained largely peaceful except for reports of a BJP worker being stabbed in Rajkot by an unidentified attacker.

The BJP dissidents, who are mostly concentrated in the regions going to polls Tuesday, went on an offensive on the day of the polling, making undisguised attacks on Chief Minister Modi.

MPs and former central ministers Kashiram Rana and Vallabhbhai Kathiria, upset with Modi’s style of functioning, urged the people to bring about a “change” – a way of saying that Modi needed to be defeated.

But they did not speak out against the BJP, the party that is hurt by their dissidence.

“We want a change so that the workers of BJP get a proper deal, their voice is heard. We want a strong BJP and a government,” said Rana after casting his vote in Surat.

But BJP leader and Finance Minister Vajubhai Vala, looking for a sixth win from Rajkot II seat, expressed confidence that the ruling party’s tally was only going to increase.

“People know that the government has delivered what it had promised. Our tally will definitely go up,” he said.

Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, after casting his vote in Bhavnagar, said: “People have seen that they have been taken for a ride. They now want a change.”

Ten ministers of the Modi government are contesting in the first phase and so is the leader of the opposition, Arjun Modhvadia.

Of the 87 seats where polling took place Tuesday, Saurashtra and Kutch account for 58 while the remaining are from south Gujarat.

Saurashtra and Kutch are expected to decide who will form the new government after the results are declared Dec 23.

The dissident factor in Saurashtra continues to be a talking point with five former BJP leaders contesting on Congress ticket.

Former BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who spearheads the dissidence, has again called for a change in government in advertisements issued from the platform of the Sardar Patel Utkarsh Samiti.

The regions have witnessed a high-pitched poll campaign with Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi being the prime campaigners.

The campaign was marred by controversy over Gandhi’s reported remark, calling the state government “merchants of death”.

Modi’s reported justification of the alleged staged killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, an innocent branded as terrorist, kicked up a storm too. And both have been served notices by the Election Commission.

Modi has asserted the state has made economic progress during his rule but the Congress has been rubbishing his claims.

The largest assembly constituency in terms of voters is Chorasi in Surat with 1.59 million voters. In terms of area it is Abdasa in Kutch. The smallest constituency is Manavadar in Rajkot district with 125,902 voters.

Porbander is the constituency with maximum number of 15 candidates including Modhvadia.

The second phase of the polls for the remaining 95 assembly seats will be held Dec 16 and the votes will be counted Dec 23.