Ahmedabad, Dec 11: Polling for the first phase of Gujarat Assembly elections is being held today amid tight security. Voting is being held in 87 constituencies in the 182-member Assembly in the first phase. Of these constituencies, 58 are located in the Saurashtra and the Kutch regions, and 29 in South Gujarat.
Around 1,78,77,771 voters (93,14,640 males and 85,63,131 females) will decide the fate of 669 candidates, including 53 women in the fray.
Elaborate arrangements have been made to ensure that the elections are held in a free and fair manner.
The Election Commission has set up 19,924 polling stations for voting and as many number of electronic voting machines has been put to use. Polls in Saurashtra will be an acid test for Chief Minister Narendra Modi, though the region has been traditionally the BJP stronghold.
The BJP's fortunes in the Saurashtra region can be altered due to the absence of BJP stalwart Keshubhai Patel from campaigning. All eyes are set on the elections in Rajkot District, where 11 constituencies are going to polls.
The Election Commission is not taking any chances and has made heavy deployment of security personnel in the region. "The police deployment is very strong, the personnel of the Central Paramilitary Forces and Border Security Forces have also been deployed," said B.B.Diwedi, the election officer.
Micro-observers have also been deputed. "This time the Election Commission is maintaining strict vigil. A special post of micro-observer has been created in which Central government officials have been placed on duty, who will directly work under the Election Observer. He will inform the Election Commission and give the report to the Observer about the elections," said Diwedi.
The security forces have conducted a flag-march in Rajkot District and other sensitive areas in the Saurashtra region to instil confidence among the voters. The BJP has fielded candidates for all the 87 constituencies while the Congress is fighting in 82 seats. The BSP has put up 78 candidates, NCP four, Communist Party of India one and CPI (M) one.
The poll campaign in Gujarat witnessed acrimonious debates with Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi dubbing Narendra Modi-led State government as "Merchants of Death" and Modi trying to woo voters with a pronounced pro-Hindu stance to the extent of justifying the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in the 2005 fake encounter.
The BJP managed to win 127 seats, while the Congress party was able to win only 51 seats in the 2002 Gujarat Assembly polls. The Janata Dal (United) and independents won two seats each.
The BJP had won 16 seats in South Gujarat in 2002, while Congress had got 11 seats and two seats went to JD (U).
The BJP had won 39 seats in Saurashtra and Kutch regions in 2002, while the Congress has won 18 and one seat had gone to an independent candidate.
The second phase of polling for the remaining seats will be held on December 16, while the counting for votes will take place on December 23.