Ahmedabad: Over 30 per cent voter turnout was recorded today in 89 seats in the first phase of assembly polls in Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress' heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi are locked in a bitter, high-stakes political duel after a 22-year reign of the BJP.
There were reports of technical glitches in electronic voting machines (EVMs) in Surat and some other centres, but the polling process resumed after the machines were replaced, Election Commission officials said.
Chief Election Officer B B Swain said an inquiry was ordered after Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia complained of possible EVM tampering at three polling booths in a Muslim- dominated area in Porbandar. Modhwadia claimed that some machines were found to be connecting to external devices via bluetooth.
977 candidates were in the fray in the 89 seats of Saurashtra and South Gujarat, of which 63 were won by BJP and 26 by the Congress in the 2012 Assembly polls. A total turn out of 71.32 per cent was recorded in the last election to the 182-member Assembly.
According to the data released by the Election Commission, 30.31 per cent voters exercised their franchise between 8 am and 12 noon today. The voting will end at 5 pm.
The highest turnout of 38.07 per cent was recorded in the tribal-dominated district of Tapi, while Narmada, another tribal-dominated district in south Gujarat, recorded the lowest turnout of 25.67 per cent.
Swain said that though voting would end at 5 pm, those standing in queue outside polling booths before the process ends, would be given a chance to cast their votes.
"We have received complaints of faulty EVMs from some places and all such machines have been replaced with the spare ones kept at the polling stations," he said.
As the polling process began at 8 am, people stepped out of their houses braving the cold weather and queued up to cast votes at polling stations.
With the marriage season on, brides and grooms, clad in wedding finery, came to polling booths along with their relatives to exercise their franchise. Many such voters were seen in Bharuch, Bhabvnagar, Gondal and Surat.
A 115-year-old woman from Upleta town of Rajkot, Aajiben Chandravadia, also voted today.
Several important leaders and candidates, including Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, his opponent on Rajkot-West seat Indranil Rajyaguru, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, Gujarat BJP chief Jitu Vaghani were among the early voters. Cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara also cast his vote in Rajkot.
Prominent candidates in today's battle include Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who is contesting from Rajkot (West), Congress' Shaktisinh Gohil (Mandvi) and Paresh Dhanani (Amreli).
The election is a crucial for the Congress and the BJP before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and is seen as a prestige battle for Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, and a litmus test for the leadership of soon- to-be Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
Emotive issues of religion and caste competed with that of development and the attacks by the two parties often turned personal as leaders indulged in name-calling.
The Congress, in political wilderness in Gujarat for nearly 22 years, is desperate to break the jinx. It has raised questions on BJP's Gujarat "development model", demonetisation and GST.
The BJP is banking on its performance and Modi's popularity to counter any anti-incumbency or impact of the Patidar quota stir. Modi has attacked the Congress over the issue of dynastic politics and corruption and invoked "Gujarati pride' in his campaign speeches.
While Modi addressed about 15 rallies, Gandhi spent more than seven days in Saurashtra and south Gujarat, addressing a number of meetings and emerging as the Congress pivot to take on the prime minister on his home turf.