Counting for crucial Indian state assembly polls begins

STORY: Counting of assembly election votes began in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in north and western India respectively, on Thursday (December 20).

Counting centres in Ahmedabad, Surat and other cities across the state were abuzz with activity, as counting machines were tallied to determine the winning candidates.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), incumbent in Gujarat, was upbeat about its chances and confident of a big victory.

“The BJP is so powerful in this state, and Narendra Modi is so popular, that no factor will work in front of these two. We will definitely secure a two-thirds majority,” said BJP leader Amit Shah.

The hill province of Himachal Pradesh also saw similar activity, with officials queuing into counting centres in state capital Shimla among other towns amid tight security.

Pundits, however, have predicted a closer race for power in the northern state, though incumbent chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is optimistic about his chances.

“There is a saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Initial surveys pegged our seats at 23 and 40 for the Congress, which came down to 34-31 and finally to 32-32. Let us see what happens today,” Dhumal said in the town of Hamirpur.

Looking back at the conduct of the polls, Chief Election Commissioner Veeravalli Sundaram Sampath said that revisions of the electoral roll had added over two million new voters in Gujarat, and that there had been a marked increase in voter turnout, especially women.

“We organized a special revision of the electoral roll close to the polls in the months of September and October. As much as over 21 lakh (2.1 million) new voters were enrolled. A very healthy feature about this is, the number of women voters is a shade better than men, which is also reflected ultimately by the increased participation of women in voting,” Sampath said.

Narendra Modi looked set to win a fourth successive term as the chief minister of Gujarat on Thursday, a victory that could launch the prime ministerial ambitions of one of the country’s most popular but controversial leaders.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was leading in 116 out of 182 seats, against 61 seats for the Congress party, which heads India’s national government, according to the Election Commission website.

Based on the data, Indian television channels said Modi looked set to win. The BJP won 117 seats in 2007 and analysts say Modi needs a convincing victory to present himself as the presumptive BJP candidate for prime minister in national elections due by 2014.

India’s ruling Congress party looked resigned to the prospect of defeat in Gujarat, with party leader Jagdambika Pal saying that not projecting a Chief Ministerial candidate had worked against the Congress.

“In the future, the Congress must project a chief ministerial candidate, because the BJP had made clear that Modi was their candidate for chief minister and also for Prime Minister (in 2014). The Congress uses a different strategy, and because we did not provide an alternative, our it benefited our opponents,” Pal said.

He said, however, that the Congress under Vir Bhadra Singh’s leadership would triumph in Himachal Pradesh.

“People can see an alternative in Himachal Pradesh, and therefore we will have a Congress government there. Many allegations were levelled at Vir Bhadra Singh, but the people did not believe those allegations,” Pal said.

Voting in Himachal Pradesh took place in early November, while Gujarat voted in two phases on December 13 and 17 respectively.