Battlelines between the two powerful sects of the Patidars — Leuva and Kadva Patels — are getting firmer ahead of the 2022 assembly elections in Gujarat, as was evident when two key events of both communities were held simultaneously in the all-important Saurashtra region on Sunday.
If the powerful Leuva Patidars’ Khodaldham Temple Trust chairman Naresh Patel, who in all likelihood is likely to join the Congress, held parleys with OBC Koli Patel leaders in Rajkot district, the Umiyadham Temple Trust of the Kadva Patels held another event in Jamnagar district with Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel being honoured by the community.
It is known that Naresh Patel, an industrialist who had set up the popular Khodaldham Temple at Kagvad in Rajkot, is being wooed by the BJP, the Congress and even the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party for his influence on the Leuva Patels, who form a huge majority in Saurashtra region.
Since his father was a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman and he has held nearly a dozen meetings with the Congress leadership from Gujarat to Delhi in recent months, it is believed Naresh Patel may join the Congress. The BJP, which has already had some meetings with him, seems to have given up on him and is focussing on strengthening the Kadva Patel vote — Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel is a Kadva Patel.
Two political analysts in the Congress party, pleading anonymity, told Vibes of India that during the last elections the ratio of Kadvas voting BJP against the Congress was 80 to 20 and Leuvas was 60 for Congress and 40 BJP.
“If Naresh Patel joins the Congress, the consolidation of Leuvas towards us can turn the tables in our favour, though this would also mean the firming of the Kadvas in favour of the BJP even more strongly,” one of these analysts said.
At a significant event in Khodaldham, Raju Solanki, chief of the Madhanta Trust, a community organization of the OBC Koli Patels, held a long meeting with Naresh Patel after offering prayers at the Khodaldham temple. Emerging from the meeting, Solanki said, “Naresh Patel has not made up his mind which party he will join. We will in any case support whatever party he goes to. We are concerned about our community’s welfare.”
If OBC Kolis – though a fragmented lot with several sub-castes – go with their leader of Madhanta Trust Raju Solanki and they join hands with Naresh Patel, as has already been announced, and if the latter shakes hands with the Congress, they become a formidable combination in Gujarat. OBC Koli Patels are spread across Saurashtra and Central Gujarat and form an estimated 24% of Gujarat’s population.
Raju Solanki apparently had gone to offer prayers at the Khodaldham Temple but his meeting with Naresh Patel continued for several hours with other local leaders being present there.
A parallel event was held to celebrate the silver jubilee of the Umiyadham Mata Temple Trust – Umiya mata is the deity of the Kadva Patels in Gujarat – as well as to inaugurate the newly-constructed Umiyadham at Sidsar in Jamjodhpur taluka (tehsil) of Jamnagar district.
Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, a Kadva Patidar, another Patidar minister Brijesh Merja, MP Mohan Kundaria and other prominent BJP leaders were present at this event.
Interestingly, Naresh Patel was also sent an invite for this event but he was not there.
It is clear now that the Leuvas and Kadvas (Patels) may vote across both the key rival parties, the BJP and the Congress, in the coming elections in Gujarat, time will tell where will the Patels who constitute some 14% of the State’s electorate go to.
Naresh Patel, at the end of the day, remains the man to be watched. The rumour mill has it that Naresh Patel is master poll strategist Prashant Kishore’s choice as the Gujarat Congress’ chief ministerial candidate, should the former take up the Congress strategy assignment for the State or join the party, as is being speculated. Naresh Patel apparently sees this as his huge opportunity to plunge into politics straightaway as a CM candidate, though he has kept his cards close to his chest so far and said he would announce his decision appropriately after April 15.