63.14% turnout had been recorded till 10 pm Thursday across 89 Assembly seats that voted in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections Thursday. 68% voting was recorded in the first phase in the same seats in 2017.
While some ascribed the reason to absence of any big issue to polarise voters, the BJP and Congress claimed the other’s voters didn’t turn out at booths.
Tapi district recorded the highest provisional voting turnout of 72.32%. The tribal-dominated district has two Assembly constituencies, Vyara and Nizar. With 68.09% turnout, Narmada district stood second. Four other districts recorded over 60% turnout: Navsari (65.91%), Dang (64.84%), Valsad (62.46%) and Gir Somnath (60.46%).
The constituency that saw the highest polling was Dediapada (81.37%) in Narmada district, an ST reserved seat; while the lowest was in Gandhidham (39.89%), one of the most industrialised regions in Kutch district. In 2017, Dediapada had seen 85.5% voting, and Gandhidham 54.54%.
“The exact figure can be known only after polling parties reach reception centres,” P Bharathi, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Gujarat said.
Apart from Dediapada, tribal seats like Nizar (77.87%), Jhagadia (77.65%) and Kaprada (75.17%) also saw high turnouts.
In Saurashtra region, 67.16% of the voters turned out in Morbi seat, where a bridge collapse claimed 135 lives recently. This is significantly lower than the 71.74% voting seen here in the 2017 polls. Neighbouring Tankara seat in Morbi district also saw a low turnout (64.23%), compared to 2017 (74.5%).
The fate of 788 candidates is to be decided in the first phase. In 2017, of the 89 seats, the BJP had won 48, and the Congress 38, with Congress allies Bharatiya Tribal Party and NCP winning 3.
Vinod Chavda, BJP general secretary for Saurashtra-Kutch, told The Indian Express that its voters had cast their ballot. “The turnout remained low as there is no popular agitation going on. Last election, social agitations were on and people voted with zunoon (passion). People drove all the way from Surat to their native places in Saurashtra. That polling was against us. But the polling this time is natural. Our supporters came out and voted for the BJP,” he said.
The Congress claimed it were BJP supporters who had not turned up to vote. “The anger which was there in 2017 against the BJP government has only increased as it has done nothing substantial to assuage it. On the other hand, the BJP has not done anything special to make it more attractive to voters. So, traditional BJP supporters didn’t go to polling booths while those angry with the BJP thronged polling booths and voted for the Congress,” claimed Paresh Dhanani, former Leader of the Opposition.
The Election Commission said at least six villages boycotted voting, including Dhrafa in Jamnagar district, Samot in Narmada district and Kesar in Bharuch district.
In Dhrafa, villagers boycotted as their demand for separate polling stations for male and female voters was not met, while in Kesar village, the boycott was due to the lack of basic facilities for voting, as per primary information available with the EC. In Samot village, which has 1,625 votes, the boycott was related to a demand for regularisation of encroachments on agricultural land in the village.
Over 460 EVMs – including ballot units and control units — and 570 VVPATS had to be replaced. The CEO said the figures equalled 0.34% of the ballot units, 0.32% of the control units and 0.94% of VVPATs. The EC found “no merit” in complaints regarding bogus voting received on email from Gir Somnath and Jamnagar.
In the morning, the Congress filed a formal complaint with the EC saying EVMs were not working in at least 50 polling booths, mostly in the Saurashtra region. It also complained about electronic channels showing bytes of the BJP which could influence voters. The EC assured that the EVMs had been rectified and appropriate action taken, the party said.
Former chief minister Vijay Rupani, state BJP chief C R Paatil, BJP candidate from Jamnagar (North) Rivaba Jadeja, former Leader of the Opposition Paresh Dhanani, and state Aam Aadmi Party president Gopal Italia were among those who voted early. While Rivaba Jadeja voted in Rajkot, her husband and cricketer Ravindra Jadeja voted in Jamnagar.
AAP’s Italia questioned the slow turnout in the initial hours. “@ECISVEEP If you have to work this way under the pressure of the BJP goons, then why are you holding elections? An average of 3.5 percent voting was done in the entire state but only 1.41 per cent in Katargam. Don’t stoop so low to defeat a small child,” he tweeted.
Voting for the second phase will be held on December 5, and counting of votes on December 8.