Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: PM Narendra Modi to address a key rally in Surat
Ahmedabad: Campaigning ends today for the first phase of the Gujarat assembly elections, with voting to be held on Saturday in 89 of the state's 182 constituencies. The rest will vote next Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a rally in key Surat, while BJP chief Amit Shah will campaign in Saurashtra. A poll of opinion polls, which aggregates three surveys, shows the BJP winning Gujarat again but by a smaller margin than last time.
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Surat, the diamond and textile hub in south Gujarat, is seen as vital as it not only has a big population of traders, but also of the powerful Patels or Patidars, who have migrated from Saurashtra. How Surat votes can influence Saurashtra, experts say.
Saurashtra and Kutch have the maximum number of constituencies that vote in the first phase on Saturday and are seen as crucial. The party that wins the most seats in these regions will be seen to have a head start. Saurashtra, located on the Arabian Sea coast, covers 11 districts of the state.
Of the 58 seats in Saurashtra and Kutch, the BJP had won 35 in the 2012 Assembly polls and the Congress had won 20. Of the 35 seats spread across the seven districts of south Gujarat, the BJP had won 28 and the Congress six last time.
PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi, who is set be Congress chief, have led their parties in aggressive campaigns in Saurashtra and south Gujarat which were often bitter and personal. PM Modi has pitched the Gujarat election as a contest between "vikaswaad (developement) and vanshwaad (dynasty).
In the last stages of the campaign, the Ram temple issue is at the fore with PM Modi attacking Congress leader Kapil Sibal yesterday for his petition to the Supreme Court to defer hearing on the Ranmjanmabhoomi- Babri Masjid dispute to after the 2019 elections.
The Prime Minister has accused the Congress of linking the Ram temple to elections, while BJP chief Amit Shah said the BJP hopes for a quick resolution to the case and said "a grand Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya."
With the crucial Gujarat voting just days away, a wary Congress has distanced itself from Kapil Sibal's comments in court, stating that he made those in his personal capacity as a lawyer.
Rahul Gandhi has not spoken yet on the Ram temple row. He has been accused by the BJP of making frequent visits to temples during his Gujarat campaign only to woo Hindu voters.
Mr Gandhi has campaigned aggressively in Gujarat and has tied up with young caste leaders in his attempt to wrest the state from the BJP, which has been in power for the last 22 years. Ahead of the 2019 national election, Mr Gandhi hopes to begin reversing the trend of his party losing state elections with Gujarat.
An aggregate of three opinion polls shows that the BJP could get 105-106 seats in Gujarat, well over the half way mark of 92 seats needed to form government. The aggregate of polls shows the Congress getting 73-74 seats. The BJP had won 115 seats in 2012 and the Congress had won 60.