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Dec 17, 2012 at 08:10am IST

Gujarat elections: Final phase of voting today; BJP, Congress confident of victory

Ahmedabad: Gujarat is set for the second and final round of polling on Monday. The Bharatiya Janata Party has left no stones unturned as it remains apprehensive of a possible dent in its bastion of Saurashtra, courtesy rebel Keshubhai Patel's new party, the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). The first phase of voting saw a record 70.75 per cent turnout, with the Congress confident that the high turnout meant a certain "regime-change".

In the second phase, the following go to polls:

Maninagar: Chief Minister Narendra Modi's constituency will see suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt's wife Shweta Bhatt challenging his might on a Congress ticket.

Naranpura: The constituency will see chargesheeted-former Gujrat home minister Amit Shah take on Congress's Jitubhai Patel.

Kapadwanj: will see Congress strongman Shankersinh Vaghela battle it out against BJP's Kanubhai Dabhi.

Akota: Saurabh Patel of the BJP will take on Lalit Patel of the Congress.

Ghatlodia: will see Anandiben Patel of the BJP against Rameshbhai Dudhwala of the Congress.

Sidhpur: will see Jay Narayan Vyas of the BJP against Balvantsinh Rajput of the Congress.

An estimated 19.8 million voters are eligible to take part in the nine-hour balloting in 95 of the 182 constituencies. The regions going to the polls include Kutch, north Gujarat and central Gujarat. "More than 70 per cent will vote in this phase too," asserted BJP Rajya Sabha member Natuji Thakor. "North Gujarat is Narendrabhai's (Modi) area. He is the son of the soil. People will vote overwhelmingly for him and the BJP." He added: "We are expecting more votes in central Gujarat than last time."

Senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil was equally confident. "I think we will see a heavy turnout in this phase as well," Gohil told IANS. "People will vote in favour of the Congress, given the anti-incumbency." The BJP is contesting all 95 seats, the Congress 92 and the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) of former BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel 84. Also in the fray are 84 candidates of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and 284 Independents. A total of 49 women candidates are also in the fray. There are 10.3 million male and 9.5 million female voters.

Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district has the maximum number of 18 candidates while Fatepura in Dahod district has just three - the least number. Abdasa is the largest assembly constituency (area wise) with 6,278 sq km territory and Ghatlodia has the most number of voters (285,998).

The Election Commission (EC) said 23,318 electronic voting machines will be used in as many polling stations, with 10,126 of them dubbed "critical" - an official euphemism to mean they could witness disturbances or violence.

The votes cast in Gujarat - along with those of Himachal Pradesh - will be counted on December 20.

If the BJP wins, Modi - whose image towers over that of the party and who has been chief minister since 2001 - could start playing a larger national role both in the BJP and pan-India politics. A defeat for the BJP could, however, puncture Modi's larger political ambitions and prove a great morale booster for the Congress ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

With additional information from IANS