Ahmedabad, Dec 16: Polling for the second and final phase of elections to the Gujarat Assembly in 95 constituencies of Central and North Gujarat, began this morning, amid tight security.
The polling, which began at 0800 hrs, will come to a close at 1700 hrs. 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. In Ahmedabad district alone, about 20,000 police and central forces have been stationed on account of the communal factor and also due to VVIPs' movement.
A total of 1.23 lakh government employees have been posted at the booths. Besides, 4830 micro observers have been stationed at key polling booths to keep a watch on irregularities. Digital cameras too have been installed at all the booths.
This time, the EVMs have been enabled with Braille for the benefit of the visually impaired.
Stakes are high for both the Congress and the BJP as the outcome of these fiercely fought elections will have an impact on national politics.
While the BJP is contesting all the 95 seats, the Congress has fielded 92 candidates. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is contesting 88 seats. There are a total of 31 women contestants.
Of the 11 districts going to polls, Ahmedabad has the highest number of electorate (45.92 lakh), followed by Vadodara with 27.2 lakh while Gandhinagar has the lowest with8.09 lakh.
At the past 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 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, Anandiben Patel and former Deputy Chief Minister Narhari Amin of the Congress.
The campaigning which started mostly on development issues, acquired a communal twist, with both the BJP and the Congress indulging in fiery exchanges of allegations. It also saw senior Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Digvijay Singh and the Gujarat Chief Minister being slapped with a flurry of Election Commission notices for their remarks on Sohrabuddin Sheikh's encounter and post-Godhra incidents.
The first phase polling had passed off peacefully and repoll had been ordered in three booths in Surat and Junagadh, mainly for technical reasons.