Ahmedabad: Amid widespread complaints of deletion of names from voters’ lists, polling took place on Sunday for the first phase of the two-tiered elections to local self-government bodies in Gujarat, with around 47 percent of the electorate turning out to cast their ballot.
Voting began on a lazy note at 8 a.m. at around 13,000 polling stations in the state.
Secured by police and paramilitary personnel, the turnout limped to just over 15 percent by afternoon, leaving political parties worried about their prospects.
Polling, however, picked up during the last three hours to hover around an average 47 percent — 4 percent higher than the 43.8 percent in the 2010 municipal elections.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state controls six of the eight municipal corporations — Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar — that went to the polls. The terms of Gandhinagar and Junagadh are yet to end.
Rajkot city topped with a maximum of 50 percent turnout, followed by Bhavnagar with 49 and Jamnagar with 47 — all three cities fall in the Saurashtra region that has a sizeable population of the Patel community which is on a warpath with the Anandiben Patel government over their demand for reservation.
The state’s commercial capital Ahmedabad and cultural hub Vadodara too saw around 47 percent voter turnout each.
Surat, that cuts and polishes nearly 80 percent of the diamonds exported from the country, scored the lowest turnout of 44 percent.
Though no untoward incident or poll-related violence was reported from anywhere, the state election commission (SEC) received a large number of complaints of deletion of names from voters’ lists from all the cities.
Official sources said every city must have received an average of three major complaints about absence of and deletion of voters’ names from electoral lists.
The number of missing voters ranged anywhere from 500 to a staggering 2,000 from booths at a number of wards.
Allegations poured in from opposition parties and independent candidates that this was more rampant in areas with dominance of the Patel community.
Congress and Patel agitation leaders said the BJP was scared that the community, which has always remained with the party through the decades, was deserting it this time after the pro-reservation agitation.
They alleged from media outlets and public platforms that there was “conspiracy” to prevent a large number of Patels from voting.
Varun Patel, a spokesperson of the Sardar Patel Group which along with Hardik Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) is leading the pro-quota agitation, said: “In Patel-dominated pockets like Ghatlodia, Bapunagar, Lambha and many others in Ahmedabad, names of Patel voters are missing or deleted from the list.
“This is a conspiracy to deprive the Patidar community of a chance to vote,” he said.
The BJP countered by saying that the opposition had become panicky.
The experiment of e-voting for the first time in this election, however, could not meet with much success with last-minute glitches in the server of the state election commission because of which those who had registered for online voting, including former chief minister and BJP veteran Keshubhai Patel were compelled to go to the polling centre to vote.
“All the while, we are making tall claims of ‘Digital India’, where is it?” asked an angry Keshubhai Patel, known to be a strong bete noire of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Gujarat days.
“I had to cancel several appointments to physically coming here to vote,” Keshubhai Patel, 89, told reporters in Gandhinagar.
Polling largely went off peacefully, except an incident where it was suspended for nearly 20 minutes at a polling station in Vadodara after technical glitches in an electronic voting machine.
In another incident, a middle-aged man fainted ahead of polling at a booth in Ahmedabad.
Over 95 lakh people were eligible to vote in the first phase for 572 seats in 143 municipal wards.
There were 1,856 candidates in the fray, while for the first time in Gujarat, as many as 50 percent of the seats were reserved for women candidates.
The second phase of balloting would be held on November 29 to elect 317 municipalities, tehsil panchayats and district panchayats, covering a motley mix of urban and rural voters. Counting would take place on December 2.
BJP patriarch L.K. Advani cast his vote at a polling station in Ahmedabad city’s Khanpur area around 9 a.m. Chief Minister Anandiben Patel voted in the newly-developed Shilaj area of the city, while BJP’s national president Amit Shah also cast his ballot.
Anandiben Patel exuded confidence about the BJP’s victory, and Advani supported her contention.
Asked if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s performance as the prime minister could have an impact on the local body polls, after the BJP’s debacle in the Bihar assembly elections, Advani said: “It is too much to expect from a new government in a short duration, particularly when its direction is correct.” Advani predicted a good result for the BJP in Gujarat.