Ahmedabad, Dec 11: Polling for the first phase of elections to the Gujarat Assembly in the 87 Assembly constituencies spread over 14 districts of Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat, began this morning.
The polling process, which began at 0800 hrs, will come to a close at 1700 hrs.
Over 17.9 million voters, including 8.56 million women voters, would decide the fate of 669 candidates in this phase. Electronic voting machines are being used at all the 19,924 polling stations, set up across these constituencies. Of these, 4,834 booths have been identified as senstive and 1,306 as hyper-sensitive.
Tight security arrangements are in place to ensure smooth conduct of polls. Over 52,000 central paramilitary forces have been deployed at the booths. About 1.20 lakh government employees have been posted to conduct the election.
A band of 3,397 Central government employees working in Gujarat, have been appointed as micro-observers. They will be posted at notified booths to monitor the poll process.
The Election Commission yesterday evening removed Bhavnagar SP S K Dave over deployment of central forces, who are given the task of ensuring that no untoward incidents take place during the polling.
Prominent among those whose political fortunes will be decided today are state Ministers Vajubhai Vala (Rajkot II), Water Resources Minister Narottam Patel (Chorasi), Urban Development Minister I K Jadeja (Dhrangadhra), Leader of Opposition Arjun Modhvadiya (Porbandar), and Minister of Finance for State Saurabh Dalal from Botad (Bhavnagar).
This time the EVMs have been enabled with Braille for the benefit of the visually impaired.
The rest 92 Assembly constituencies will go to polls on December 16.
Stakes are high for both the Congress and the BJP as reverberations of the outcome of the fiercely fought elections to the 182-member House, will be felt even at the national level.
While the BJP is contesting all the 87 seats in the first phase, the Congress has fielded 82 candidates, leaving the rest five to its allies. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a new player in Gujarat, is contesting 78 seats. There are a total of 53 women contestants.
While Saurashtra accounts for 52 seats, there are six in Kutch and 29 in South Gujarat.
Electioneering which started mostly on development issues later acquired a communal twist after Congress president Sonia Gandhi referred to the BJP as ''merchants of death''. A bitter exchange of words followed with Chief Minister Narendra Modi , allegedly justifying the Sohrabuddin encounter case, though he later denied it.
Both the leaders were later slapped with Election Commission notices.
The first phase contest will infact have major impact on the composition of the new Assembly.
The BJP's prospects appear shaky in the region as dissident activity gathered momentum with the party veterans Keshubhai Patel in Saurashtra and Kanshiram Rana in Surat intensifying the rebellion.
Several rebels have joined the Congress and seven of them contesting as its candidates, prominent among them being Dhiru Gajera from Surat.