Ahmedabad, Dec 15: The hour of truth has finally arrived for arch political rivals-- the Congress and the BJP-- as Gujarat readies for its second and final phase of polling to the 182-member Assembly on Dec 16. A total of 574 companies of Central forces have been deployed in the 95 Assembly constituencies, spread over eleven districts, to ensure peaceful polling.
About 1.23 lakh government employees have been posted to man the 20,544 polling booths set up across these constituencies. A 1.87 million-strong electorate will be eligible to decide the fate of the 559 candidates who are in the fray. The BJP is contesting all the 95 seats, while the Congress has put up 92 candidates, leaving the rest to its allies. The BSP has posted 88 candidates, NCP five and the CPI-M four.
A big chunk of the candidates, numbering 314, are contesting either as Independents or as representatives of smaller political outfits. Rakhial and Gandhinagar with 14 candidates have the maximum number of candidates in the fray, and Matar will witness a straight contest between Congressman Narhari Amin and Mr Devusinh Thakor, a Congress rebel, who is contesting on a BJP ticket.
The campaigning, which initially started on the development plank, acquired a communal tinge with both the BJP and the Congress indulging in fiery exchange of allegations. It also saw senior political leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Digvijay Singh and Narendra Modi being slapped with a flurry of Election Commission notices for their remarks on Sohrabuddin Sheikh's encounter and post-Godhra incidents.
Despite a contempt notice from the apex court, Mr Modi continued his communal banter, raking up names of terror suspect Sohrabuddin and Afzal Guru.
While he blamed the UPA government for delaying the execution of Afzal Guru, convicted in the Parliament attack case, he played to the galleries with his suggestion to Congress leaders to put a 'chaddar' on Sohrabuddin's grave.
But the Congress was also aggressive in its retorts. It pointed to the NDA government's ''inept'' handling of the Kandahar hostage crisis, the Kargil episode and the various terrorist attacks that took place during the period, to attack the BJP.
As it progressed, the electioneering almost stooped to mudslinging.
Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not spared. In a mocking manner, at a rally Mr Modi said, ''We have a Prime Minister in the country. Everbody knows UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi but we all must remember that Dr Singh is our Prime Minister,'' he said, regaling the people with such taunts.
The BJP had swept the polls at the last hustings in both North and Central Gujarat, which were most affected by the post-Godhra communal flare-up. Of the 46 seats in North Gujarat, 32 had been won by the BJP and 14 by the Congress, in Central Gujarat's 48 seats, 41 were won by the BJP and only seven by the Congress.
Among the key figures, whose fate will be decided tomorrow, are Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is pitted against Union Minister Dinsha Patel, state Ministers Ashok Bhatt, Kaushik Patel, Amit Shah, and Anandiben Patel and former Deputy Chief Minister Narhari Amin of the Congress.
The first phase polling had passed off peacefully and repoll had been ordered in three booths in Surat and Junagadh, mainly for technical reasons.