Ahmedabad: With the early trends in all 182 seats of Gujarat Assembly coming in, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was seen inching towards an all-time high record of 149 seats.
As per the latest trends, the party was leading in 149 seats, the number of seats the Congress had won in the 1985 election under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki, in what remains a record till date.
The BJP was all set for a sweeping victory for the eighth term in a state where it has not lost an election since 1995.
The Congress was ahead in 19 seats and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 9, according to the first trends of all the seats in the state Assembly as reported by the Election Commission.
The others were leading in five seats, including a candidate of the Samajwadi Party in Kutiyana seat of Porbandar district and four independents in Dhanera, Vaghodia, Santrampur and Deesa.
After registering initial gains, Congress and AAP slipped while the BJP continued to improve its tally to reach the tally of 149.
A number of sitting BJP MLAs were among those leading in the initial trends. Party leaders like Jitu Vaghani, Purnesh Modi, Kanubhai Desai and Hardik Patel were among those ahead of their rivals.
AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Isudan Gadhvi was leading in Khambhalia. The party’s candidates were also leading in Jamjodhpur, Dediapada, Dhari, Vyara, Botad, Bhiloda, Gariadhar and Limbayat.
AAP state chief Gopal Italia was trailing in Katargam seat and Alpesh Kathiriya was trailing in Varachha Road seat, both in Surat.
The BJP has so far received 53.62 per cent vote share, Congress 26.57 per cent and AAP 12.80 per cent.
The results of the two-phase elections, held earlier this month, will be watched more for the performance of the Congress and the new poll-entrant AAP, which seem to be locked in a battle to grab the status of the main opposition party in the state.
While the Congress was not expected to replicate its creditable performance of the last Assembly elections in 2017, a good showing by the AAP would have helped its leader Arvind Kejriwal cement his place as a key challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the parliamentary elections due in 2024.
The Modi government is struggling with issues like rising inflation, slowing growth and joblessness, but economic troubles are unlikely to dent the BJP’s popularity in Gujarat which has been a bastion of the party for decades and where Modi was the chief minister from 2001 to 2014.
Gujarat has 182 Assembly seats and the majority mark is 92. Exit polls have predicted the BJP will comfortably win a seventh straight term — an outcome that will equal the Left Front’s feat in West Bengal.
For the Congress, its role as the main challenger to the BJP is at stake.
Thursday’s results will reveal if the party’s silent campaign has cut ice with people.
The party’s campaign, mostly shouldered by local leaders, has leaned on door-to-door canvassing for votes as its leader Rahul Gandhi, who had aggressively campaigned in the 2017 elections, chose to stay away to focus on the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
For the AAP, which carried out a high-decibel campaign, the elections in Gujarat are an opportunity to establish itself as a pan-national party and a challenger to BJP at the national level. Emboldened by the victory in the Delhi municipal elections, the AAP hopes its politics of welfarism will be accepted by the people in Gujarat.
That said, the BJP has had to battle anti-incumbency after being in power for 25 years. It is banking on Modi’s charisma and appeal to contain anti-incumbency. Modi addressed as many as 30 election rallies.
Unemployment, price rise, water not reaching certain pockets of the state, land acquisition for big projects and farmers not getting proper compensation for crop damage due to excess rains were among key issues of the campaign this time.
The voter turnout this time dropped 4 per cent compared to 2017, signalling fatigue and possible disillusionment among some supporters of BJP.
While the contest in Gujarat has traditionally been between the BJP and Congress, it turned three-cornered this time with the entry of the AAP.
Altogether 182 counting observers and as many election officers along with 494 assistant election officers will be on duty for the entire counting process, the official said.
A three-tier security system has been ensured at all the counting centres with local police and personnel of State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) and Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), the CEO said.
The fate of Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s chief ministerial candidate Isudan Gadhvi, youth leaders Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor, among a total 1,621 candidates will be decided on Thursday.
A total of 70 political parties and 624 independents were in the fray.
Apart from the main rivals BJP, Congress and AAP, 101 candidates from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and 26 from Bharatiya Tribal party (BTP) also contested.
In the 2017 Assembly polls, BJP won 99 seats and Congress 77 seats, while two seats went to BTP, one to NCP, and three to independents.
Ahead of this month’s elections, the BJP’s number in the House stood at 110 and Congress at 60 after 20 MLAs who won on Congress seats switched over to the BJP in the last five years, three of them quitting just ahead of the elections.