Heavy voting and Patel hand are pointers, but no one is placing bets yet

Keshubhai Patel

Between 1 pm and 3 pm, the whole of Saurashtra switches off, no matter what. The Saurashtra Siesta is a legend and a tradition, and one which brooks no messing with.

It stands to reason, therefore, that when almost 67 per cent of electors in this part of Gujarat showed up to vote on Thursday, they are likely to have made up their minds on whether an angry 84-year-old man who was the state's first BJP chief minister and who had launched his own party four months ago, was good or bad for them.

In 1995, the election which made Keshubhai Patel chief minister, Visavadar, his seat, saw 69 per cent polling. In 1998, he won Visavadar again with a higher vote share and 10 per cent lower polling percentage. On Thursday, 65 per cent of Visavadar's electorate voted, and GPP candidate Keshubhai will not be the only one looking closely at the result.

The Patels, who have nearly 12 per cent of Gujarat's votes, are known to be an unpredictable votebank swinging towards the powerful. "Patels will not waste their vote," says Rajkot based businessman Naresh Patel who leads the Khodaldham trust to unite Leuva Patels. Ask him about development in Gujarat in the Modi era, and he says, "Which state hasn't developed?"

"Patels are for good governance", he says, adding that Keshubhai's government fits that category.

Keshubhai's party merged with the BJP's second rebel Gordhan Zadaphia's MahaGujarat Janata Party on August 9. Former RSS functionaries like Jagdish Damji Desai of Palitana, who was denied a BJP ticket, joined Keshubhai. Women in his family said before the vote that they would support Bapa, as Keshubhai is called.

Besides Keshubhai, the 87 seats that voted in the first phase will also decide the fate of the big two of the Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia and legislature party leader Shaktisinh Gohil and Gujarat BJP chief R C Faldu and two state ministers facing allegations of corruption, Parshottam Solanki and Dileep Sanghani.

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