Polling started on a brisk note in most of Gujarat's 26 Lok Sabha seats Wednesday with long queues witnessed at some places even before the polling stations opened.
According to state election officials, an average of 8-10 percent voting has been recorded in the first two hours since polling started 7 a.m., with large turnout in Rajkot, Sabarkantha, Anand, Vadodara, Ahmedabad and Bardoli. A total of 334 candidates, including many bigwigs, are in the fray.
Among the candidates in the fray are Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from Vadodara and senior BJP leader L.K. Advani from Gandhinagar. In Vadodara, Modi is pitted against Congress's strongman and AICC general secretary as well as a prominent Dalit leader Madhusudan Mistry. Another important contestant is Modi's bete-noire - Shankarsinh Vaghela, a former state chief minister and also union minister - who is pitted against BJP senior legislator Dipsinh Rathod in the Sabarkantha seat.
Congress' heavyweight, union Minister for Mines at the centre Dinshaw Patel has locked horns with sitting BJP legislator D. Chauhan in Kheda constituency. An MP from Gujarat since 1975, Patel who is known for his clean image and administrative prowess is being projected as a future state chief minister. Union Minister Bharat M. Solanki, son of the former controversial Gujarat chief minister and central minister Madhavsinh Solanki is pitted against BJP's Dilip Patel from the Anand constituency.
Another former chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary's son, central minister Tushar A. Chaudhary is contesting against BJP's Prabhu Vasava. Vasava was a former Congress legislator who quit some time ago to join the BJP which rewarded him with a Lok Sabha ticket. BJP sprang a surprise when it nominated Bollywood character actor - best known for his comedy roles - to fight against Congress strongman and former Ahmedabad mayor Himmatsinh Patel from the prestigious Ahmedabad East seat. As in the past two Lok Sabha elections, this will be largely a straight fight between Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress in all the constituencies.
While BJP is fighting to retain and improve upon its current (2009) position of 17 seats, the Congress is hoping to push BJP behind and up its tally from present nine to 15. In 2004, BJP won 14 seats and the Congress 12. In the 2009 election, barring candidates from the BJP and the Congress, all other 305 candidates - barring one from a regional party - forfeited their election security deposits. The situation was similar in 2004. Four seats are reserved for SCs and two for STs. An electorate of 3.99 crore, which comprises roughly 10 percent Muslims, are eligible to cast their votes at 45,380 polling stations, with tight security arrangements all over the state.