While the final data are still to come in, the Gujarat Assembly elections are set to finish with a voter turnout of around 64.26%, a drop of more than 3% from 68.39% in 2017. The bigger fall was seen in the second phase, to 65.22% from 71%; compared to 63.1% and 68% in the first phase, respectively.
In the first phase, the slide was the sharpest in constituencies in Saurashtra-Kutch represented by former chief minister Vijay Rupani and his cabinet, which was entirely replaced a year ago, and those who defected to the BJP from the Congress in recent years.
The turnout in Rupani’s seat Rajkot West (he did not contest this time) was among the lowest, more than 11% below the district’s average and around 7% lower than the state’s. The Election Commission flagged the turnout in this seat after voting in the first phase, while appealing for a higher turnout in the second phase, which did not seem to have worked.
Keshod in Junagadh district, represented by a sitting minister, was among the few exceptions in Saurashtra where polling was fractionally higher from 2017. The Koli-dominated seat recorded a 62.05% turnout, against 61.95% last time.
Other constituencies which saw a higher turnout were Gariadhar in Bhavnagar, represented by the BJP’s Keshu Nakrani (a 5.17% rise); Khambhalia in Devbhumi Dwarka district from where AAP chief minister face Isudan Gadhvi is contesting and which was won by the Congress in 2017 (2.01% rise); and Dwarka in Devbhumi Dwarka (1.78% rise).
In 2017, the Congress had won 30 of Saurashtra-Kutch’s 54 seats, while the BJP tally had shrunk to 23 from 35 in 2012.
The former Rupani cabinet had nine ministers from Saurashtra: Kunvarji Bavaliya (Jasdan), Jayesh Radadiya (Jetpur), R C Faldu (Jamnagar South), Jawahar Chavda (Junagadh), Saurabh Patel (Botad) and ministers of state Dharmendrasinh Jadeja alias Hakubha (Jamnagar North), Vibhavari Dave (Bhavnagar East), Parsottam Solanki (Bhavnagar Rural) and Vasan Ahir (Anjar). Barring Anjar and Botad, the turnout was lower than the average for the districts in all seats.
Of the nine Rupani ministers, only Bavaliya, Solanki, Radadiya and Chavda were given tickets this time for re-election. Bavaliya, Chavda and Jadeja had defected from the Congress after 2017.
The highest dips in Saurashtra were seen in three constituencies that are all in Rajkot district.
Of them, Jasdan in Rajkot district saw the sharpest fall of 11.47%. Dominated by OBC Kolis, the seat generally records a high turnout. The last-time winner, Bavaliya, a Congress doyen from here, had defected to the BJP later. The second-highest drop in the region, of 11.42%, was in Rajkot West, a BJP fortress since 1985, followed by Jetpur that saw a 7.72% drop.
BJP Rajkot president Kamlesh Mirani ascribed the phenomenon to reduced voting hours, the wedding season and big faces like Rupani opting out. “Last election, polling was from 7 am to 6 pm. Voters had two hours less this year, as polling began at 8 am and closed at 5 pm. Had we got equal time, polling would have been on a par with 2017,” said Mirani.
The fourth and fifth highest drops in Saurashtra were in Jamnagar North and Jamnagar South (7.68% and 7.28%, respectively) – again higher than the rest of Jamnagar district.
The Morbi constituency recorded 67.16% voting, 5.58% lower than 2017, a sharper fall compared to the other three Assembly seats in Morbi district.
Even three of the serving ministers who got tickets again in Saurashtra – Jitu Vaghani (Bhavnagar West), Raghavji Patel (Jamnagar Rural) and Kiritsinh Rana (Limbdi) — saw turnouts fall. The only minister nominated again whose seat saw higher turnout was Deva Malam’s Keshod.
Apart from the wedding season, a senior BJP leader said, the Rabi sowing season has also been in full swing. “That is one factor which affected polling. Secondly, it appears voters have got tired of listening to the same thing every election.”
Another leader said apathy by urban voters kept the overall turnout down. “Look at the Assembly seats dominated by OBC voters in rural areas. The turnout is quite high there. But well-educated people living in cities remained unenthusiastic. Secondly, when big names are not in the fray, party workers remain disappointed over ticket distribution for a few days,” said the leader. “However, core BJP supporters turned up and cast their votes. Therefore, we are confident of winning a majority of the seats in Saurashtra this time,” he said.