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Congress leaders claim EVMs were getting connected via Bluetooth at some booths, EC and BJP reject charge even as EVM snags reported from many booths

The political fortunes of the BJP and the Congress party were sealed in 89 of 182 assembly constituencies as polling ended for these seats on Saturday evening as part of the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections. According to the Election Commission, about 70 per cent voter turnout had been registered till 5 pm though the figure is expected to go up marginally as people who had already joined the queue at polling booths to cast their votes will be allowed to do so.

The day witnessed familiar allegations, leveled largely by Congress leaders and party workers, of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) malfunctioning at various polling booths across the 19 districts that went to polls on Saturday. The Election Commission claimed that malfunctioning EVMs had been replaced. The BJP, however, went on the offensive saying the allegations had become a habit of the Congress party and were an indication of its nervousness about facing yet another defeat in the state that has voted the saffron party to power for 22 consecutive years.

The Congress also alleged that EVMs at certain booths in the Porbandar constituency were connected to Bluetooth devices. Senior Gujarat Congress leader and the party’s candidate from Porbandar, Arjun Modhvadia submitted screen shots from his mobile device to the EC which he claimed showed that the EVMs were connected to bluetooth devices. A team of EC officials who visited some of the polling booths following Modhvadia’s complaint, however, rubbished the charge.

Amid recurring reports of EVM tampering – the most recent ones coming from Uttar Pradesh which witnessed civic polls few weeks back – the Election Commission has also deployed Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines at every polling booth in the state to enable voters to check whether the vote cast by them was registered to the candidate of their choice. The VVPAT, EC officials believe, will help curb frequent complaints by voters of their votes being cast in favour of the BJP irrespective of the candidate that they vote for.

The 19 districts that went to polls on Saturday were concentrated in the Kutch, Saurashtra and South Gujarat regions of the state. A total of 977 candidates are contesting the polls in the first phase of Gujarat elections. Some of the high profile candidates in this phase include Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, his rival from the Congress Indranil Rajyaguru, Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani, Congress leaders Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhvadia and Paresh Dhanani.

The Congress, whose campaign in the state is being led by party vice president Rahul Gandhi, is hoping to end its 22-year-long exile from power in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. The Grand Old Party has been riding of the popularity and mass following of a trio of youth leaders – Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti chief Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor (who has is contesting the polls on a Congress ticket) – and hopes that this triumvirate will help the Congress regain its lost political ground in the state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who before assuming the office of the country’s top executive in May 2014 served as the Gujarat chief minister for 12 years, is leading his party’s campaign in the state at a time when the BJP is perceived to be facing its toughest electoral battle in Gujarat in the face of massive protests by nearly all sections of the electorate – Patidars, Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, traders. The BJP has however claimed that these protests will not affect its continuing victory march and that the party will win at least 150 seats in the state.

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