Counting of votes started this morning for the high-stakes Gujarat Assembly polls, considered a prestige battle for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state and a litmus test for new Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a sixth straight term in office, the Congress is aiming to stage a comeback to power after being in the opposition for over two decades.
The counting of votes will be held at 37 centres across the state's 33 districts, amidst tight security. For the 182 seats up for grabs, a total of 1,828 candidates contested the elections which were held in two phases on 9 and 14 December. The voting was held following an acrimonious campaign where both the main political parties indulged in no-holds-barred attacks on each others.
The main contestants from the BJP are Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani (Rajkot West), Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel (Mehsana) and state BJP unit president Jitu Vaghani (Bhavnagar West). The main contenders from the Congress are Shaktisinh Gohil (Mandvi), Arjun Modhvadia (Porbandar), Siddharth Patel (Dabhoi), and Paresh Dhanai (Amreli).
Other backward class (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor, who joined the Congress ahead of polls is fighting from Radhanpur seat, while Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani is contesting from Vadgam.
An average 68.41 per cent polling was recorded in the polls. The total voter turnout this time saw a dip of 2.91 per cent, as compared to the 2012 polls when 71.32 per cent polling was registered.
In the 2012 polls, the BJP had won 115 seats and the Congress 61 seats, while others and independents had bagged six seats.
The counting of votes for Himachal Pradesh is also ongoing.
Gujarat is turning into a close contest. Congress is leading in the Saurashtra-Kutch district, while the BJP is holding its own in south Gujarat.
Meanwhile, in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP is enjoying a lead over Congress. Out of the leads available for 35 seats, BJP is leading in 85. Total number of seats in Himachal assembly is 68.
Leads were available for 178 seats out of the total 182 in Gujarat. Of these, the BJP was leading in 95, with 92 being the majority mark.
Leads from all 182 seats in Gujarat now in. BJP leading in 104, Congress in 77, others in 1. The majority mark is 92.
In Himachal, where the majority mark is 35, BJP is leading in 39 and Congress in 25.
Though early trends showed a close fight between the BJP and the Congress in Modi's home state Gujarat, the saffron party marched ahead of its rival as counting of votes progressed. While the BJP is leading in 105 seats, the Congress is ahead in 74.
The BJP also appeared set to wrest power from the Congress in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh. The prime minister showed a victory sign after he arrived in Parliament to attend the winter session.
As per data from the Election Commission, for the counting done till 12:32 pm, the BJP had a 49.3 per cent vote share in Gujarat while the Congress had a share of 41.4 per cent. That comes down to a difference of almost 8 percentage points.
In 2012, the BJP had a vote share of 47.9 per cent. If current trends hold, it would mean that it has increased its vote share by close to 1.5 percentage points. This would not be significant had the party not been defending over two decades of incumbency. For perspective, in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP won almost 80 per cent of the assembly seats in February this year, its vote share was 40 per cent.
The Congress on the other hand had 38.9 per cent vote share last time. It enjoys a vote share increase of approximately two percentage points this time around.
Gujarat can be divided into the four separate electoral regions. These are Saurashtra, North Gujarat, Central Gujarat, and South Gujarat. Given below is the performance of Congress and BJP in each of the regions.
Total seats: 54
Total seats: 32
Total seats: 61
Total seats: 35
As the above figures show, in Saurashtra and North Gujarat, the Congress enjoys a lead over the BJP. Of the 86 seats in the region, Congress had won or was leading in 48, while the number for BJP was 36.
It was in South Gujarat and Central Gujarat, however, that the BJP was able to reverse the lead in seats, and in fact, reverse it by a margin to cross the majority mark. Of the total 96 seats in the two regions, the BJP won, or was leading in 67 and the Congress only in 25.
Apart from this, what appears to have hurt the Congress also is the lack of credible local leadership. Its former state president, Arjun Modhwadia, lost in his seat in Porbandar, and national spokerperson, Shaktisinh Gohil, too, lost his seat in Kachchh. For Gohil, this result may be particularly disappointing since that is a region where the Congress has done well this time.