With the imminent announcement of the Gujarat Assembly election dates, every move of all political parties aims to maximise their gains. In this backdrop, the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chairman and two other members of the Khodaldham Temple Trust has raised eyebrows.
The temple is located in Kagvad in Rajkot district. It is a symbol of pride, especially for the powerful Leuva Patel community, who attach utmost devotion and importance to the temple dedicated to its patron deity Khodal.
Recently, the Khodaldham Trust chairman, Naresh Patel, and two other officials, Ramesh Tilala and Dinesh Kumbhani, met Modi for 45 minutes. Ostensibly, the reason given for the meeting was to invite Modi for an event to be held at the temple.
It is important to note that 22 Assembly constituencies in Saurashtra are dominated by the Patels. One of the reasons for Bhupendra Patel taking over from Vijay Rupani as chief minister was to send out a message to the Patidars that they are a much-valued community.
The BJP’s performance in the 2017 Assembly elections in Gujarat, where it was stopped at 99 seats and lost 16 seats to the Congress, was attributed to the anger of the Patidar community against the party. Now with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) entering the fray in Gujarat, the BJP is pulling out all stops to woo back the Patel community.
The BJP has reasons to worry. As late as last year, the Patels in Surat had voted for AAP in the local body elections – the region considered as the second stronghold of the Saurashtra Patidars. Their population in the state stands at around 15%, but such is their clout, especially economically, that no party can afford to displease them.
Hence, the meeting between Modi – who allotted 45 minutes to the Khodaldham Trust chairman and his two aides – assumes significance.