This Article is From Dec 13, 2012

Record turnout of 68% in first phase of Gujarat polls; Saurashtra could test Narendra Modi

Record turnout of 68% in first phase of Gujarat polls; Saurashtra could test Narendra Modi
Ahmedabad: At a rally this afternoon, BJP leader Narendra Modi said he had been told that there was a record voter turnout in Gujarat today.

He was right. 68% turnout, the Election Commission declared in the evening, significantly higher than 2007 for the two regions that voted today - South Gujarat and Saurashtra. The turnout for the entire state in 2007 was 59%; this time, Gujarat is voting in two phases.

Though Mr Modi's return for a third term as chief minister is a given, what could puncture his victory is a diminished hold over Saurashtra. Of the 87 seats that were decided today, 52 lie in this region. Mr Modi won a whopping 38 of them in 2007, an act that will be tough to follow.

The Patels, a powerful and rich community, make up 20% of the population in Saurashtra; on account of their prosperity, their influence exceeds their strength.

And this time around, their leader, 84-year-old Keshubhai Patel, a former chief minister, has split with the BJP. His newly-formed Gujarat Parivartan Party is contesting all the seats in Saurashtra.

The Patels are upset about their leader being marginalised by Mr Modi. Their home has also been exempt from the development that has become synonymous with the state.

In 2007, at a polling booth in Rajkot, hundreds of Patel voters had gathered, hoping that Keshubhai would lead a revolt and urge them to vote against Mr Modi and the BJP. He didn't show up to vote, disappointing supporters.

Keshubhai sees that wave against Mr Modi delivering results in his favour this time around.

"We are sure of a victory even after the first phase of voting... the BJP will be thrown out of power," said Keshubhai.

But Vaju Vala, who has won his constituency in Saurashtra six times, and is the Finance Minister, believes that Mr Modi's accomplishments and the development he is credited with will resonate in this part of the state too.

"He has the track record. He has done work for the youth, women, industry, the poor, farmers..all sections have been taken along"

The high voter turnout in parts of South Gujarat region which has significant tribal and Muslim populations is being interpreted by the opposition Congress as good news. Last time, Mr Modi lost 11 seats to the Congress here. The party hopes to improve its showing.