New Delhi: The fate of 337 candidates in Himachal Pradesh, including Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh of the Congress and his predecessor Prem Kumar Dhumal of the BJP will be known today as counting of votes is taken up in Himachal Pradesh where traditional rivals BJP and Congress have contested all 68 seats. The hill state witnessed a record 75.28 per cent turnout and exit polls have predicted a big BJP victory. Adequate security arrangements have been made for counting which would start simultaneously in all 68 constituencies at 42 counting centres. Counting of votes will begin at 8 am.
Corruption was the main focus of the BJP campaign in Himachal Pradesh with the party training its guns at Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, while the Congress hit out at the BJP over the issue of the Goods and Services Tax or GST and demonetisation, which they claim have ruined the economy.
In Gujarat too, the counting of votes will begin at 8 am today. Gujarat, where the BJP has been in power for 22 years, is considered a prestige battle for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Gujarat is his home state. On the other hand, Gujarat elections are being seen as a litmus test for new Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who campaigned aggressively in the weeks running up to the election. While the BJP is seeking a sixth straight term in office, the Congress is aiming to stage a comeback after being in the opposition for over two decades. So significant is the Gujarat election, that the result is expected to have a bearing on the 2019 national elections too. Prime Minister Modi had come to power in 2014 based on the "Gujarat model of development".
Among other parties, in Himachal Pradesh, the BSP contested 42 seats followed by the CPI(M) 14, the Swabhiman party and the Lok Gathbandhan Party six each and the CPI-3. Out of 67 sitting legislators, 60 MLAs, nine cabinet ministers, Himachal Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukkhu, state BJP chief, Satpal Singh Satti, Deputy Speaker, Jagat Singh Negi and eight Chief Parliamentary Secretaries contested the polls along with a dozen former ministers. 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 forecasts.
There are 25 Congress, 28 BJP and four independent MLAs in the outgoing assembly in Himachal Pradesh, while one seat was lying vacant after death of former minister Karan Singh from Banjar. Sitting Rajya Sabha member Viplov Thakur of the Congress, former Lok Sabha members, Chander Kumar (Congress) and Dr Rajan Shushant (Independent) and former Rajya Sabha member Kripal Parmar of the BJP are also among key contestants in the hill state.
In Gujarat, the counting of votes will be held at 37 centres across the state's 33 districts, amidst tight security. Voting was held after an acrimonious campaign, where both the main political parties indulged in no-holds-barred attacks on each others. Prime Minister Modi led the campaign for the BJP, while Rahul Gandhi was the pivot of the Congress' campaign strategy. During the campaign, PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah trained guns on the Congress on issues like Ram Temple. PM Modi also alleged Pakistani interference in the Gujarat polls.
Mr Gandhi persistently attacked PM 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 social 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. Hardik Patel led a long agitation of his community for reservation, while Mr Thakor led a counter protest against inclusion of Patidars in the OBC reservation list. Mr Mevani raised his voice against alleged Dalit atrocities.
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 Mr Patel pledged support to the Congress and appealed to people to "uproot the BJP" this time.
As the campaign was nearing its end, "Vikas" (development) took a back seat, and caste and religious issues received prominence.
The two main rival parties also tried to counter each other on social media, as the Congress and its supporters launched the campaign "Vikas Gando Thayo Che" (development has gone crazy), while the BJP launched a counter drive of "I am development, I am Gujarat".
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 ballot 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.
While the BJP is confident of winning the elections in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh with a comfortable majority, the Congress has rejected the exit-polls and claimed that it was all set to win in both states.
With inputs from PTI