Campaigning ends for first phase Gujarat polls

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Ahmedabad, Dec 9 (UNI) Campaigning for the first phase of elections to the Gujarat Assembly, which saw fiery verbal volleys between Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Chief Minister Narendra Modi, drew to a close this evening.

Of the total 182 seats, 87 constituencies in Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat, will go to polls on December 11.

Saurashtra accounts for 52 seats, Kutch six, and south Gujarat 29 seats.

While the BJP is contesting in all the seats, the Congress is in the fray in 82, leaving five to its allies.

Electioneering which started on a dull note mostly on development issues got spiced up after Ms Gandhi referred to the BJP as "merchants of death" remark. A bitter exchange of words followed with the Chief Minister, raising the Sohrabuddin encounter case.

He however later denied that he did not justify the killing as was reported widely in the media, when slapped with a showcause notice from the Election Commission.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did his bit of canvassing in Surat and Saurashtra to boost his Congress party's chances at the hustings.

Star campaigners for the BJP included L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitly, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Smriti Irani, Venkaiah Naidu, and that of the Congress were Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Renuka Chaudhury.

If the Congress coined ''Chak De'' Congress, BJP came up with ''Jeetega Gujarat'' to counter it.

Among the key contestants whose fate will be locked in the Tuesday polling, are Finance Minister Vajubhai Vala (Rajkot II), Water Resources Minister Narottam Patel (Chorasi), Urban Development Minister I K Jadeja (Dhrangadhra), Leader of Opposition Arjun Modhvadiya (Porbander), and Minister of Finance for State Saurabh Dalal from Botad (Bhavnagar).

The usually high-pitch electioneering was not too evident this time. Hardly any hoardings, billboards, banners, flags, buntings or mega-size cutouts dotted the cities, mainly in response to the restrictions placed by the EC.

As many as 1,78,77,771 people are eligible to decide the fate of 669 candidates in the fray for these seats. There are a total of 53 women contestants.

Eds: pl pick up suitably from earlier series.

UNI

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