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AHMEDABAD/SHIMLA: Counting of votes will be held today for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls, considered a prestige battle for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state Gujarat and a litmus test for new Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
In Gujarat, while the BJP is seeking a sixth straight term in office, the Congress is aiming to stage a comeback in power after being in the opposition for over two decades.
The much-awaited results of the keenly fought elections will be announced today when the counting of votes will be held at 37 centres across the state's 33 districts, amidst tight security.
The voting was held in both states, following an acrimonious campaign, where both the main political parties indulged in no-holds-barred attacks on each others.
Modi led the campaign for the BJP, while Rahul Gandhi was the pivot of the Congress' electioneering.
During the campaign, Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah trained guns on the Congress on issues like Ram Temple, alleged Pakistani interference in the Gujarat polls and (suspended Congress leader) Mani Shankar Aiyar's remarks.
Gandhi persistently attacked Modi and the BJP for "not talking about the future of Gujarat" and skipping key issues being faced by the people of the state.
The Congress also stitched about a broad social coalition with prominent Patidar, OBC, and Dalit leaders - Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jigesh Mevani - in its bid to unseat the BJP in power for over two decades.
Patel led a long agitation of his community for reservation, while Thakor led an counter protest against inclusion of Patidars in the OBC reservation list. Mevani raised his voice against Dalit atrocities.
The influential Patidar community, which accounts for around 12 per cent of the state's population, could prove to be the 'X factor' in the polls in which Patel pledged support to the Congress and appealed to people to "uproot the BJP" this time.
As the campaign was nearing its end, "Vikas" (development) took a back seat, and caste and religious issues received prominence.
The two main rival parties also tried to counter each other on social media, as the Congress and its supporters launched the campaign "Vikas Gando Thayo Che" (development has gone crazy), while the BJP launched a counter drive of "I am development, I am Gujarat".
An average 68.41 per cent polling was recorded in the two-phase Assembly elections in Gujarat.
The total voter turnout this time has seen a dip of 2.91 per cent, as compared to the 2012 polls when 71.32 per cent polling was registered.
Meanwhile, the fate of 337 candidates including Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and his predecessor Prem Kumar Dhumal will be known today as counting of votes is taken up in Himachal Pradesh where traditional rivals BJP and Congress have contested all 68 seats The hill state witnessed a record 75.28 per cent turnout and pollsters have predicted a BJP victory.
Corruption was the main focus of the BJP campaign with the party training its guns at Chief Minister Singh, while the Congress hit out at the BJP over the issue of GST and demonetisation.
The BSP contested 42 seats followed by the CPI(M) 14, the Swabhiman party and the Lok Gathbandhan Party six each and the CPI-3.
Out of 67 sitting MLAs, 60 MLAS, nine cabinet ministers, HPCC president Sukhvinder Singh Sukkhu, state BJP chief, Satpal Singh Satti, Deputy Speaker, Jagat Singh Negi and eight Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPS) contested the poll along with a dozen former ministers.
Himachal has a tradition of change in government after every elections and going by the trend, this time it is the turn of the BJP which is upbeat after exit poll results.
There are 25 Congress, 28 BJP and four independent MLAs in the outgoing house while one seat was lying vacant after death of former minister Karan Singh from Banjar.
Sitting Rajya Sabha member Viplov Thakur(Congress), former Lok Sabha members, Chander Kumar(Congress and Dr Rajan Shushant (Independent) and former Rajya Sabha member Kripal Parmar(BJP) are also among key contestants.
While the BJP is confident of winning the polls with a comfortable majority, the Congress has rejected the exit-polls and claimed that it was all set to repeat.
The BJP ousted the Congress in 1990 and the Congress avenged defeat in 1993. The BJP formed the government with the help of Himachal Vikas Congress in 1998 and the Congress was back in power in 2003. The BJP made a comeback in 2007.