A record 67 per cent voter turnout was registered in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections on Thursday in the biggest electoral test for BJP stalwart and Chief Minister Narendra Modi who is seeking a third straight term.
The fate of state's top political leaders including the the fledgling Gujarat Parivartan Party(GPP) president Keshubhai Patel, a former Chief Minister and Modi's bete noire, BJP's R C Faldu and Congress' Arjun Modhwadia were sealed in today's voting in 87 of the 182 Assembly constituencies.
The voting held amid tight security was peaceful barring a couple of incidents of violence and a few complaints of technical glitches in Electronic Voting Machines(EVM).
"Approximately 67 per cent voting has taken place in the phase one of the state elections," Additional chief electoral officer Sanjiv Kumar said in Ahmedabad.
The second phase will be held on December 17 while the counting of votes will be taken up on December 20.
Today's polling covered 48 in seven districts of Saurashtra region, 35 seats in seven districts of south Gujarat and four seats in Ahmedabad district.
A high voter turnout in Saurashtra and South Gujarat is being considered significant by the political observers.
The Saurashtra region, which is home to the powerful Patel community, could pose a tough challenge to Modi with Keshubhai Patel, who quit the BJP to form GPP, leading the charge. Modi succeeded Patel in 2001 as Chief Minister before he led BJP to thumping victories in 2002 and 2007.
Today's voter turnout is the highest in the elections held so far in Gujarat.
The highest polling recorded earlier was 63.70 per in 1967 elections. In 2007, the voter turnout was 59.77 per cent.
Even in 2002, when Gujarat was riding on the pro-BJP wave, 61.55 per cent voting was recorded.
A total of 846 candidates are in the fray for the first phase. BJP has fielded candidates for all the 87 seats while Congress is contesting 84 and GPP for 83 seats.
Record 67 per cent turnout in 1st phase in Gujarat elections:
A total of 48 seats in Surendranagar, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Porbandar, Jamnagar, Amreli and Bhavngar are considered crucial as political observers are keenly watching how the Keshubhai Patel factor plays out in the region.
People came out in large numbers since morning to cast their vote. Within three hours, the voter turnout was 18 per cent and by 1 pm it was 38 per cent. The figure went up to 53 per cent by 3 pm.
"Unprecedented rush in voting was witnessed across the four constituencies in Ahmedabad district, a stark difference from the previous assembly elections, when voting during the morning hours had remained generally dull," Chief district election officer Vijay Nehra told media persons a few hours after polling commenced.
At Shree Sanskar Vidyalaya, a polling station on the Ahmedabad-Viramgam highway that falls under Sanand assembly seat, more than 50 voters above 80 years, cast their votes in the first hour itself.
One Bhailal Patel (64), who is bedridden for the past 12 years, cast his vote and said, "I wanted to cast my vote as I have never missed voting since I attained voting age."
He was brought to the polling station by son Kaushikbhai.
In Rajkot, during the fag-end of voting, police resorted to lathicharge to disperse supporters of Congress and BJP candidates who clashed with each other.
A minor fight erupted between the supporters of Kashyap Shukla, BJP candidate, and Indranil Rajyaguru of Congress near Rajkot Dairy on Bhavnagar Road, police said.
There were reports from some polling booths in Viramgam constituency, Sanand and Surat of malfunctioning of EVMs. Many people also complained of absence of their names from the electoral rolls.