| Voters wait to cast their ballots in Ahmedabad. (Reuters)
Dec. 12: Stray incidents failed to dampen Gujarat’s voters as about 61 per cent turned out to exercise their franchise in what officials in Gandhinagar described as one of the “most peaceful” in the history of the state.
According to revised figures released by the state Election Commission late in the night, 61.52 per cent cast their ballot.
Deputy election commissioner A.N. Jha told reporters in Delhi that the polls were “by and large peaceful”. However, as a precautionary measure, authorities clamped indefinite curfew in Jambusar in Bharuch district after polling was over following a clash, while repoll was ordered in four booths — in Dholka, in Ahmedabad district, Patan and Anand — following complaints of bogus voting.
In Morvi, in Rajkot, the carelessness of two presiding officers led to 141 votes not being recorded. Two presiding officers were changed in Godhra, in Panchmahal district, as they were found favouring “a particular political party”. An incident of stabbing was reported from Narsanda, a village in Nadiad in Kheda district.
The trouble in Jambusar erupted after some people teased a Muslim woman in front of a booth. Angry youths of the minority community set fire to two shops, forcing police to lob teargas shells and open fire. A crude bomb was found in a school in Jetpur in Saurashtra. A CRPF jawan detected the bomb, which was defused.
In Nadiad, 60 per cent queued up to cast their ballot. An estimated 55 to 65 per cent voted in Saurashtra, considered a BJP bastion. Heavy polling was reported from the tribal belts of Vadodara, Panchmahal and Dahod as well as from Mehsana district.
Reports from Ahmedabad spoke of moderate to heavy polling in Mehsana, Maninagar and Naroda-Patia. Muslims voted with vengeance in the minority-dominated areas of Kalupur, Jamalpur, Bapunagar and Naroda-Patia. In the first two hours, 25 per cent voters had cast their ballot. In a couple of booths, more than 80 per cent votes had been cast by 10, something unprecedented in Gujarat’s electoral history.
Police used mild force at Rambagh in Maninagar, from where caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi is contesting, to disperse a large group of people protesting against their exclusion from the electoral rolls.
Modi refused to react to the omission of the names of some of his supporters, saying the matter has been brought to the notice of the Election Commission, which had published the rolls twice to eliminate mistakes. Realising that the commission was not at fault, Modi did not criticise chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and pulled up Amitab Sinha, the media cell in-charge, for attacking the commission.
But Vishwa Hindu Parishad international general secretary Praveen Togadia, who also found his name struck off the rolls, targeted Lyngdoh. “This is definitely a conspiracy against Hindu society by Lyngdoh, who has taken all care to include even displaced Muslims in the list,” Togadia said. However, a large number of Muslims have also complained that their names were missing from the rolls.
Lyngdoh later dismissed the state BJP’s charge that the commission was “biased” in its approach. “It is their point of view. I am not interested,” he said. Asked about the deletion of names and whether the BJP was attaching motives, he said: “It is their own government employees who have conducted the elections. I have got nothing to say.”
The controversy took a turn later in the night after the state election authorities claimed that the VHP leader’s name was on the list in his old address. State chief electoral officer Gurucharan Singh said “Togadia’s name exists in the voters list as per his old residential address”.
Togadia, when contacted, countered the commission’s stand, saying that “since the last 10 years, I have shifted to Memnagar from my earlier residence of Bapunagar and voted thrice from my new residential area”.
Togadia said he would take up the issue with the election authorities tomorrow.