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Gujarat records 60 per cent turnout in Phase 1 covering 83 Assembly seats; Congress alleges booth capturing, bogus voting

AHMEDABAD: A moderate voter turnout of 60.23 per cent was recorded in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections covering 89 seats across 19 districts of Saurashtra-Kutch and southern regions of the state on Thursday with the polling ending on by and large peaceful note, officials said.

The electoral fate of 788 candidates who were in the fray in the first phase was locked in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

While the final voting figure was awaited, the average turnout stood provisionally at 60.23 per cent, the Election Commission (EC) said. The voter turnout was less than 66.75 per cent recorded in the first phase of the 2017 Assembly polls.

Barring a few untoward incidents and reports of technical glitch in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) at some places, the voting process, which commenced at 8 am, was largely peaceful, Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer P Bharathi said.

An average 60.23 per cent voter turnout was recorded and the final figure was still being collated, the EC said.

As per the provisional figure, Narmada district recorded the highest voter turnout at 73.02 per cent followed by Tapi district at 72.32 per cent.

As many as eight districts recorded more than 60 per cent voting. Surat registered 60.17 per cent turnout and Rajkot 57.69 per cent, according to EC data.

In the 2017 Assembly elections, a voter turnout of 66.75 per cent was recorded in the first phase (covering 83 seats), while the final figure after the end of second and last phase of polling stood at 68.41 per cent.

While voting was underway in parts of the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed rallies in support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at Kalol in Panchmahal district and Sankheda in Chhota Udepur, where polling will be held in the second phase on December 5 covering the remaining 93 seats in the 182-member Assembly.

The office of the Chief Election Officer (CEO) said voters of three villages – Dhrafa in Jamnagar district, Samot in Narmada district and Kesar in Bharuch district – completely boycotted the election for different reasons.

During the voting, 89 ballot units, 82 control units and 238 Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) were replaced in 19 districts. A total 26,269 ballot units, 25,430 control units and 25,430 VVPATs were operational, it said.

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail is an independent system attached with EVMs that allows electors to verify that their votes are cast as intended. CEO Bharathi said there were two complaints of violence during voting in Jamangar and Dang district which are being looked into.

A total of 104 complaints were received at the office of the CEO, including six regarding EVMs, two of bogus voting, 30 related to law and order issues, 36 regarding violation of the model code of conduct (MCC) and 30 on issues like slow voting, bogus voting and power cuts, it said in a release.

At Dhrafa village of Jamnagar district, where polling was boycotted, electors were apparently upset over polling officers not making separate arrangements for men and women. In Kesar village of Bharuch district, villagers boycotted the election due to lack of basic facilities, said the release.

Samot village in Narmada district, which has 1,625 voters, boycotted the election over the issue of regularisation of farmland, it said.

In Junagadh district, a ruckus broke out after police tried to stop a Congress leader who walked towards a polling station carrying a gas cylinder on his shoulders to protest against the rising prices of essential commodities.

The EC tweeted a picture of a 104-year-old man, Ramjibhai, who it said, ”participated in the festival of democracy by voting at the polling station instead of opting for a postal ballot.” The opposition Congress submitted six different complaints, one of them related to ”booth capturing” in Surendranagar district, to election authorities after the first phase of voting on 89 Assembly seats.

In one of the complaints, the Congress alleged a polling booth situated in Samla village falling under the Limbdi Assembly seat of Surendranagar district was captured by some anti-social elements.

However, Surendranagar collector KC Sampat, who is also the district election officer, said a probe revealed no such incident took place and the booth in question was being monitored at the district level through a live webcast.

Other complaints included bogus voting by anti-social elements on some booths in Botad district, deliberately slowing down polling process by officials in Jamnagar and authorities allowing party symbols inside a booth in the Palsana area of Surat city.

A complaint was also submitted to the office of the Gujarat CEO about television channels running interviews of voters coming out of booths, which could influence people who will exercise their franchise in seats going to polls on December 5 in the second phase, said Gujarat Congress spokesperson Hiren Banker.

”The Congress has also complained that live telecast of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies (organised by BJP as part of campaigning for 2nd phase) in different parts of Gujarat also violated the Model Code of Conduct because voting was going when the rallies were being aired,” said Banker.

Additional CEO of Gujarat Kuldeep Arya, however, clarified that telecast of the PM’s rallies organised in other parts of the state (not covered by the first phase polling) as well as airing of interviews of voters do not violate any rule.

Former Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, state BJP president C R Paatil, Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani, BJP candidate from Jamnagar (North) Rivaba Jadeja, former Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani of the Congress, state Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) president Gopal Italia were among early voters.

While Rivaba Jadeja voted in Rajkot, her husband, cricketer Ravindra Jadeja, exercised his franchise in Jamnagar.

People participated enthusiastically in voting and some did not miss a chance to stand out or make a statement. Congress leader Paresh Dhanani cycled his way to a polling station with a gas cylinder tied on the back.

He was not alone. There were a few more, including an AAP candidate, who did the same to make a point against inflation.

There was a voter in Rajkot who walked to a polling station with his cow and a calf to protest against the government’s ”inaction” in preventing death of cattle due to the lumpy skin disease.

A brother-sister duo in Surat celebrated their first-time voting after turning 18 by going to a polling station on horses.

The counting of votes cast in both phases will take place on December 8.

Source: Press Trust of India

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