With some nine months to go for the Gujarat 2022 elections, the political circles in the State are discussing only one name: Naresh Patel. While he has given broad indications of his political ambitions for long, political parties in Gujarat are debating which way he would go.
The Congress has had seven meetings with him, starting with former Gujarat chief Bharatsinh Solanki to the present president Jagdish Thakor while working Congress chief Hardik Patel has written a heartfelt letter to him to embrace the party.
Naresh Patel has held at least three meetings with the powerful Gujarat BJP president CR Paatil, while former Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has stated he remains loyal to the BJP. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has not only held parleys with him, but Patel has himself praised the AAP in a meeting last year.
But Naresh Patel, who is the chairman of the influential Khodaldham Trust, a massive organisation of the Leuva Patel sect of the Patidar community that has a huge following in the Saurashtra region, from where the Congress got its maximum seats in the 2017 elections and brought the BJP close to defeat.
A senior Congress leader told Vibes of India, pleading anonymity, that, “At least 60% Leuva Patidars in Saurashtra region are with the Congress and the rest with the BJP. On the other hand, the other key sect Kadva Patidars (to which the present Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel belongs) are completely, you can say 98%, are with the BJP.”
So, who is Naresh Patel? He is the youngest son of Ravjibhai C Patel, an original Congressman, who set up a small brass parts factory in Rajkot district that has now expanded big enough under the leadership of Naresh Patel to manufacturing and supplying bearings to steamers and helicopters across the world.
Studied at the prestigious and only public school of Gujarat, Rajkumar College of Rajkot, and St Mary School of Rajkot, Naresh Patel always felt the need to have an umbrella organisation for the Leuva Patels who had spread the world over but didn’t have a single unifying organisation.
Finally, Naresh Patel set up the sprawling Khodaldham Trust and Temple on 100 acres of land at Kagvad, about 40 km away from Rajkot city. The temple receives on an average 10 lakh devotees every year from across the world. So Naresh Patel is a community leader for the influential Leuva Patels in Gujarat, particularly in the Saurashtra region.
Born on July 11, 1956, Naresh Patel has met all the political parties and continuously claimed to the media that he was yet to decide on his joining politics, and more importantly which party. His latest statement to the media is that he will make up his mind between March 20 and March 30 on which party he would join — if at all.
“There is little doubt Naresh Patel could hugely influence the Leuva Patels in the Saurashtra region. In fact, he had initiated an attempt to end the ages-old animosity between the Leuva and Kadva Patels that could be comparable with the enmities of the Sunnis and Shia’s in 2020,” pointed out a Congress leader.
Patel wanted to join the armed forces, he learnt classical music and was a talented basketball player, but he stashed it all aside to work for the community and strengthening his father’s business. And then he fell in love with a Haryanvi girl Shivangi and married her in 1986. By then, Naresh Patel was also the marketing chief of Patel Brass Works.
By now, the bearings manufactured by Naresh Patel’s firm are being exported to 22 countries as diverse as Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Poland, UK and others. Central PSU Hindustan Aeronautics also buys bearings made by Patel Brass Works and they are used in helicopters.
The biggest gainer could be the Congress party if Naresh Patel joins them and helps strengthen the Leuva Patels vote for the party and the biggest loser would also be the Congress party if he joins the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) since he would split the Congress votes the most.
“We will be the biggest gainer if he joins the AAP, not even with us, since that would easily split the Congress vote in Saurashtra. There can’t be anything obviously better if he joins us, which looks a little difficult given his family’s traditional proximity to the Congress family,” a BJP insider told Vibes of India, on the condition that he is not identified.