Ahmedabad: A vituperative campaign for the first phase of the crucial Gujarat Assembly polls that saw emotive issues of religion and caste competing with that of development as the main rivals, BJP and Congress, launched no-holds-barred attacks on each other ended this evening.
The sparring between the two parties while canvassing for the polls, dubbed as a prestige battle for Prime minister Narendra Modi and a litmus test for the leadership of soon-to-be Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, continued till the very end with Manishankar Aiyar's "neech aadmi" jibe at Modi triggering a controversy.
A total of 89 seats - out of 182 - spanning the Saurashtra and south Gujarat regions, are up for grabs in the first phase with 977 candidates in the fray, including chief minister Vijay Rupani.
Polling will be held on Saturday.
Gujarat chief electoral officer (CEO) B B Swain said around 2.12 crore of the 4.35 crore voters of the state were expected to exercise their franchise on Saturday.
The Election Commission (EC) had earlier announced that Gujarat would be the second state after Goa where the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system would be used, along with electronic voting machines (EVMs), at all the 50,128 polling booths.
Modi and Gandhi had aggressively led their parties' campaigns in Saurashtra and south Gujarat which often turned personal.
The poll narrative kept changing with issues such as the Ayodhya title suit, Gandhi's imminent elevation as the Congress president and his visits to temples being raised by the BJP brass.
The campaign mainly shaped up as a duel between Modi and Gandhi, with the latter emerging as the Congress' pivot to take on the might of the prime minister on his home turf.
While the BJP is fighting anti-incumbency and struggling to alter a seemingly negative perception about demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout, the Congress, galvanised by an assertive Gandhi, has mainly targeted the "hollow Gujarat development model" to slam Modi.
Saurashtra and Kutch are crucial for the ruling BJP as these two regions have the highest concentration of seats in the first phase.
Political pundits believe that the party winning the maximum number of seats from Saurashtra and Kutch will be better placed to form the next government in the state.
Saurashtra, located on the Arabian Sea coast, covers 11 districts of the state.
Kutch is the largest district in Gujarat, comprising 10 talukas, 939 villages and six municipalities.