PM caps efforts by taking seaplane to Mehsana.
Curtains came down on Tuesday on the month-long high-voltage Gujarat poll campaign, which often spiralled into a vicious war of words between the lead contenders — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a somewhat resurgent Congress in the state.
As the cacophony over the second phase of polls ended, newly-declared Congress president Rahul Gandhi capped his temple visits by sporting a 'Rudraksha' and Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a seaplane to reach his hometown Mehsana, bringing the spotlight back on his Gujarat Vikas plank. Polling for 93 seats in central and north Gujarat will be held on Thursday.
Issues such as Ram Temple in Ayodhya and Rahul Gandhi's religious origin after his entry in to the Somnath Temple, kept the political pot boiling, overshadowing the debate over development. The last leg of the campaign saw the PM alleging Pakistan's involvement in Gujarat polls and a sharp rebuttal by former PM Manmohan Singh. The trends, in fact, left both parties baffled even as they publicly claimed victory.
As per indications, the state is all set to witness its most keenly contested polls in the last two decades. While no election rallies or public meetings will now be allowed,candidates can carry out door-to-door campaigning.
While Modi, who served as Gujarat chief minister for 13 years, was the party's poster boy even for this election, Rahul spent over 20 days in the state to end his party's 22-year losing streak.
The BJP and the Congress had also planned roadshows in Ahmedabad, featuring Modi and Rahul, respectively, in a last attempt to win over the voters but the plans had to be dropped as they couldn't secure police permission.
The BJP responded by getting a seaplane to take off from the Sabarmati river along with Modi. The plane landed on the Dharoi lake before going to the Ambaji temple in north Gujarat. At the same time, undeterred by BJP's criticism, Gandhi visited the city's Jagannath temple to offer prayers.
The ongoing Gujarat elections are being seen as a huge test for Modi ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. An adverse or poor result in his home state could be a huge setback for him. Considering the high stakes involved, it wasn't surprising that the election battle witnessed high-pitched campaigning from both sides.
BJP's attack on Congress mainly revolved around injustices to Gujarat and to Sardar Patel, while Congress' criticism of BJP was mostly over issues such as note ban, GST, farmers' distress, among others.
A key component of the campaign was the emergence of the Patidar reservation stir leader Hardik Patel, whose rallies attracted huge crowds. But whether that will translate into votes for Congress is yet to be seen. Hardik, who declared support for the Congress, has vowed to inflict heavy losses on BJP.
Meanwhile, election authorities said as many as 2.23 crore voters were eligible to vote in the second phase. "All preparations have been completed. Polling will take place in 25,558 booths. Over 1.75 lakh personnel will be on duty," state's Chief Electoral Officer BB Swain said.
There are 851 candidates in the fray in the second phase, including deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, ministers Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Pradipsinh Jadeja, leader of Opposition Mohansinh Rathwa, and senior Congress leader Siddharth Patel.
Journalist and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani, who is contesting as an Independent from the Vadgam SC seat, but with Congress support, is also in the fray. OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, fighting on a Congress ticket from Radhanpur, is another prominent face.
The 93 seats that go to polls in the second phase are in Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Patan, Aravalli, Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Mahisagar, Kheda, Anand, Vadodara, Panchmahals, Dahod, and Chhota Udepur.