Counting of votes in Gujarat begins

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Ahmedabad, Dec 23: Counting of votes polled in the assembly elections in Gujarat began at 0800 hrs this morning, amid tight security.

The Election Commission has set up 41 counting centres at 37 places in the state, at least one each at all districts headquarter. Preliminary trends are expected to be available around 0900 hrs and the results of all the 182 constituencies will be available by the evening. The main contest was between the BJP and the Congress.

A total of 1,268 candidates were in the fray in the state, which went to the polls in two phases. In the first phase, polling was held in 87 constituencies on December 11 while 95 contituencies went to the polls on December 16. Nearly 60 per cent of the voters exercised their franchise in both phases.

The Election Commission has directed all district election officers, returning officers and observers in Gujarat to ensure ''fool-proof'' security at the counting venues and not allow any unauthorised person to enter the premises.

Special precaution has been taken by the administration to ensure that no untoward incident took place during post-victory celebrations by winning candidates.

The BJP contested all the 182 seats while the Congress fielded candidates in 172 constituencies. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) contested 166 seats.

The outcome of the elections is critical for the political career of BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who campaigned vigorously for his party.

No state election in the past has attracted as much nation-wide attention as the polls to the Gujarat Assembly, mainly due to the larger-than-life image Mr Modi has acquired.

Carrying the entire burden of campaigning for the BJP on his shoulders, the Chief Minister criss-crossed the state to garner support for the saffron party. For the Congress party, in the absence of any tall Gujarati leader to take on Mr Modi, the star campaigners were Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Modi began his campaign by seeking votes on the plank of development. However, he changed gears and returned to his favourite 'Hindutva' card when Ms Gandhi, in one of her speeches, said those running the state were ''the merchants of fear and death.'' The Chief Minister has put everything at stake as a victory in the elections will make him an undisputed 'messiah' of the BJP while a defeat at the hands of a resurgent Congress could spell disaster for his turbulent political career.

Exit polls by various television news channels have projected a third-time victory for the BJP, though they are unanimous in concluding that the saffron party's strength will go down considerably in the state assembly.

UNI

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