All eyes on Gujarat as counting begins
In Himachal, both BJP and Congress claim victory dismissing exit poll results, which predict saffron all the way

Counting of votes will be held on Monday for the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly polls. Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state is being seen as a prestige battle for him and new Congress president Rahul Gandhi. While the BJP is seeking a sixth straight term in office, the Congress is aiming to stage a comeback in power after being in the opposition for over two decades. The results are expected to have a bearing on the 2019 parliamentary polls also as Modi had come to power in 2014, based on the Gujarat ‘model of development’.

In the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls, both ruling Congress and opposition BJP are claiming victory. While the Congress dismissed the exit poll results, which predicted a BJP victory, the saffron party expressed confidence that their performance would better projections.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who returned to Shimla after 18 days, dismissed the exit poll results, saying he could well read the mood of the people of the state and the actual results would be opposite to the exit poll projections. “I am confident that mission repeat would be achieved and tall claims made by the BJP would be proved wrong,” he told reporters. Singh said he visited every nook and corner of the state during the election campaign and has no doubt the Congress was in a strong position. “The Congress would certainly for the government.”

Himachal has a tradition of change in government after every elections and going by the trend, this time it is the turn of the BJP which is upbeat after exit poll results. Former chief minister and senior BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal was highly optimistic and said the results would be same as projected in the exit polls. Dhumal said the Congress party was upset with the exit polls and was making vague statements. “In fact, the BJP would win more seats than projected in exit-polls,” he said. Dhumal was declared the chief ministerial face of the BJP towards the end of the campaign. The hill state witnessed a record 75.28 per cent turnout in voting. Corruption was the focus of the BJP campaign in Himachal with the party training its guns at Chief Minister Singh, while the Congress hit out at the BJP over issues of GST and demonetisation.

In Gujarat, the two main political parties indulged in an acrimonious campaign with no-holds-barred attacks on each other. During the campaign, Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah trained their guns on the Congress on issues like Ram Temple, alleged Pakistani interference in the Gujarat polls and (suspended Congress leader) Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks. Gandhi persistently attacked Modi and the BJP for “not talking about the future of Gujarat” and skipping key issues being faced by the people of the state. The Congress also stitched about a broad coalition with prominent Patidar, OBC, and Dalit leaders — Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jigesh Mevani — in its bid to unseat the BJP in power for over two decades.

The influential Patidar community, which accounts for around 12 per cent of the state’s population, could prove to be the ‘X factor’ in the polls in which Patel pledged support to the Congress and appealed to people to “uproot the BJP” this time

The much-awaited results of the keenly fought elections will be announced on Monday when the counting of votes will be held at 37 centres across the state’s 33 districts, amidst tight security. An average 68.41 per cent polling was recorded in the two-phase Assembly elections in Gujarat. According to the final figures released by the Election Commission, the voter turnout in the second phase of balloting on December 14, for 93 seats of North and Central Gujarat, stood at 69.99 per cent.

In the first phase of polls held on December 9 for 89 seats in Saurasthra, Kutch and South Gujarat, 66.75 per cent voting was recorded. The total voter turnout this time has seen a dip of 2.91 per cent, as compared to the 2012 polls when 71.32 per cent polling was registered. In terms of numbers, of the total 4.35 crore registered voters, 2.97 crore exercised their right to franchise in the elections held on December 9 and 14.

According to the EC data, the tribal-dominated Narmada district witnessed the highest voter turnout of 79.15 per cent, while Devbhumi-Dwarka of Saurashtra region recorded the lowest at 59.39 per cent. The districts which recorded a high turnout are — Tapi (78.56 per cent), Banaskantha (75.15) and Sabarkantha (74.97). The districts which saw a low turnout are — Amreli (61.29), Bhavnagar (61.56) and Porbandar (61.86). Out of the total 33 districts, 15 recorded over 70 per cent polling, while 17 others clocked between 60 per cent and 70 per cent. Only Devbhumi Dwarka district registered polling below 60 per cent.