Over 40 pc voter turnout in Gujarat till afternoon

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Ahmedabad, Dec 16: Over 40 percent voter turnout of a 18.7 million electorate was witnessed till this afternoon in the second and final phase polling for the Assembly elections in 95 constituencies of North and Central Gujarat.

Polling was peaceful, though stray incidents of skirmishes between rival party workers were reported. Two election officials including a presiding officer were shifted from Ellisbridge for violating the Election Commission procedures. Due to cold weather conditions, the polling, especially in North Gujarat was slow but picked up pace as the day progressed. However, hundreds of voters were agitated to discover that their names were missing from the voters' list, at several places including Maninagar constituency, where Chief Minister Narendra Modi is seeking re-election.

Over 3500 voters including 1300 residents of Rambha society, one of the residential complexes of the area, were disappointed to find their names missing from the list.

Prominent among those who cast their vote in the morning were senior BJP leader L K Advani at Shahpur, Union Textiles Minister Shankersinh Vaghela at Vasan Mahadev near Gandhinagar, Mr Modi at Ranip and his opponent Union Minister Dinsha Patel at Nadiad.

A confident Modi, after casting his vote, said, ''It will be a historic win for the BJP. We have the support of the people.'' Mr Advani predicted that mid-term elections were imminent as there was a wave in favour of the BJP, sweeping the country.

However, Mr Vaghela said the heavy turnout of voters in Gujarat showed that people want a change of guard.''People are unhappy and that is why they are turning up in large numbers to vote for change.''

Mediapersons, covering the election process, were roughed up at several places, especially at Ranip, where Mr Modi came to cast his ballot. In Amraiwadi Khokra, part of Maninagar, there was a clash between Congress and BJP workers, which led to few of them incurring minor injuries. Several newsmen covering the polls were also roughed here. Several stone-pelting incidents were reported at Ellisbridge.

Early today, BJP's Jetpur candidate Jayanti Rathwa along with 10 of his supporters was arrested in Vindol village after a country-made revolver and liquor bottles were recovered from their possession.

In Patan, the Congress has lodged a complaint along with videographed proof against state Education Minister Anandiben Patel for distributing sarees, two days' prior to polling.

Over 18.7 million voters, including 9.15 million women, are expected to decide the fate of 599 candidates in this phase.

Electronic voting machines are being used at all the 20,544 polling stations, set up across these constituencies.

Elaborate security arrangements are in place to ensure smooth conduct of polls. Around 574 companies of Central para-military forces have been deployed for the purpose.

At the last hustings, the BJP had swept the polls 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 while in Central Gujarat's 48 seats, 41 was won by the BJP and only seven by the Congress.

Among the key figures whose fate will be decided today are Mr Modi, who is pitted against Dinsha Patel, state Ministers Ashok Bhatt, Kaushik Patel, Amit Shah, and Anandiben Patel and former Deputy Chief Minister Narhari Amin of the Congress.

UNI

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