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Dec 11, 2012 at 06:39pm IST

Gujarat set to vote, Rahul targets Modi as BJP faces tough test in Saurashtra

Ahmedabad: The campaigning for the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections 2012 ended on Tuesday with Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi hitting out at each other. While the past few days saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi raising the war cry for the Congress in the state, the last day of the campaigning saw the Congress General Secretary setting foot on the battleground to punch holes in Modi's claims of development.

Rahul, while addressing three rallies, attacked Modi claiming that the 'aam aadmi' was not heard under his government. "The Gujarat CM only listens to himself. He has his dreams and thinks only about them," he said, while praising the Right To Information Act, which was introduced by the ruling UPA. "The RTI brought out the hidden faces. Whoever hid, came out. The ones who were hidden in Gujarat too came out," claimed Rahul.

Modi, on the other hand, campaigned aggressively, attempting to turn the battle into a personality clash, which the Congress, attempting to play it safe, carefully avoided. The Congress strategy was to avoid giving Modi an emotive issue. The party, taking lessons from the 2007 election debacle, did not give Modi any chance.

The first phase of the electoral battle will take place on December 13 in 87 seats across 15 districts belonging to Saurashtra, South Gujarat and four tehsils of western Ahmedabad. The total candidates in fray are 846 including 46 women. While the BJP has fielded candidates in all the 87 constituencies, the Congress is contesting in 84 and Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) in 83 seats.

Battle for Gujarat - the results in 2007

Out of the total 182 seats, BJP garnered 117, the Congress secured 59 and other parties got 6 seats. In phase one, the regions of Saurashtra and South Gujarat go to polls, both of which have been BJP strongholds.

Saurashtra: - 52 seats; BJP got 38, Congress 13, while others got 1 in 2007.

The key factors in Saurashtra will be: Will the Leuva Patel community that dominates Saurashtra and is led by Modi critic and former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel impact the BJP's vote bank? Will the community's vote consolidate against Modi? Can cotton crop failure result in anti-incumbency? Will Modi's promise of a Narmada canal for the region satisfy the farmers? Will the independents, backed by the Congress and Keshubhai's Gujarat Parivartan Party prove spoilers?

Keshubhai's party is the strongest in Saurashtra where it has the backing of the influential Leuva Patels. Leuva Patel leader Naresh Patel has come out in support of Keshubhai, which could have a major impact on the results.

South Gujarat: - 29 seats; The BJP got 18, Congress 10 and others secured 1 seat in 2007.

The key questions in South Gujarat are: Will the BJP hold on to the tribal vote? Will the increase in the urban seats in the region benefit Modi? Will the Koli Patels and the fishermen's votes go in favour of Modi? Will the labour from Saurashtra in the diamond industry here vote for Keshubhai's GPP? Can the Congress make inroads with the help of the rebels?

Sources say that the Koli Patels have supported the BJP in 2002 and 2007 but now Keshubhai Patel is getting the support from the influential Leuva Patels. Leuva Patel leader Naresh Patel has come out in support of Keshubhai Patel - This could have a major impact on the vote split.

The Patels and Kolis, who dominate several coastal constituencies, have supported the BJP in 2002 and 2007 but now Keshubhai Patel is getting the support from the Leuva Patels. The diamond industry in and around Surat is dominated by the Leuva Patels and Modi could be in for a rude jolt if the community decides to go with Keshubhai's GPP.

The key contests in phase one:

Porbander: Arjun Modhwadia (Congress) vs Babu Bokhiria (BJP)

Gondal: Gordhan Zadafia (GPP) vs Jayrajsinh Jadeja (BJP)

Visavdar: Keshubhai Patel (GPP) vs Kanubhai Bhalala (BJP)

Bhavnagar (Rural): Purshottam Solanki (BJP) vs Shaktisinh Gohil (Congress)

Dhoraji: Vitthal Radadiya (Congress) vs Haribhai Patel (BJP)