Rajkot: With less than a week to go before the first phase of Gujarat Assembly Elections on December 9, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) founder Hardik Patel is hard at work.
The firebrand leader is holding rallies, drawing large crowds at public meetings in places like Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s constituency of Rajkot West, meeting Patel leaders from all over the state and ensuring that the community stays united ahead of the election.
Perhaps, one of the most significant meetings Hardik took in recent times has been the one with Nareshbhai Patel, Chairman of the Shree Khodaldham Trust, in Rajkot.
The Khodaldham Trust is the apex spiritual and religious bodies of Leuva Patels – the numerically stronger subcaste among Gujarat’s Patidars.
Hardik belongs to the Kadva Patel community, which forms only about 30% of Patidars. While he enjoys popularity among youth from both subcastes, he may require the help of Khodaldham Trust to keep the larger community united before polls.
The meeting with Naresh Patel was a success for Hardik. The Shree Khodalgam Trust endorsed the PAAS cause, yet making it clear that they were not for or against any political party. After the 15 minute meeting, Hardik came out and declared that the PAAS had received the ‘blessings’ of the Khodaldham Trust and of Naresh Patel himself.
Paresh Gajera, the President of the Trust, told News18, “It was a good meeting and the trust has decided that we will take a clear stand on this issue. We are not going to either support or oppose any political party. The Trust has always been apolitical and we would like to keep it that way. However, we do agree with Hardik when he says that a large section of Patidars do not get the benefits they deserve. More than half of the community is living in poor conditions, so we have decided to support his cause.”
When asked if that meant supporting Patel’s cause for ‘Anamat’ or reservation, Gajera said, “All we want is that, within the scope of the constitution, anything that is possible should be done for the betterment of the community. It may take the shape of anamat, or it may not. Solutions, though, need to be found.”
The essential difference between Kadva and Leuva Patels, according to one community leader, is that the two worship different patron deities.
Kadvas pray to a deity called Umiya Mata, with their primary pilgrimage at Umiyadham Temple in Surat, while the Leuvas pray to Khodal Mata and owe their allegiance to the Khodaldham Temple in Rajkot. Kadva Patels are majorly concentrated in North Gujarat and some parts of South Gujarat, Leuvas rule the roost in Saurashtra.
In his rallies, Hardik Patel has been trying hard to strike a note with both communities. Rajkot district, the financial center of Saurashtra, is in the middle of Gujarat’s Patidar hinterland and a split in the community is expected to help the BJP.
A wary Hardik, during his rally on Wednesday said, “They (BJP) are trying to divide us into Kadva and Leuva. All they do is divide people. We are one, we are Patidars. Vote against the BJP and prepare for change. If you do not, they will think that we (Patidars) are powerless. Whether it is Patidars or Dalits or Kolis, nobody is happy in Gujarat today.”
Uniting both communities, though, may not be that easy. The main political diverge in Patidars may not be the Kadva-Leuva divide at all.
As one Patidar leader explained, “You see, Kadvas and Leuvas are essentially the same. This time, though, political unity depends not on subcaste but on age. Younger Patels are thronging Hardik’s rallies, turning up in large numbers enthusiastically. The older generation, regardless of Kadva or Leuva, will stick with the BJP. They remember the time of Keshubhai Patel and still hold Anandiben in high esteem. The biggest challenge for Hardik is not the Leuvas but older voters, who think of him as a maverick.”
Some members of the Khodaldham Temple Trust, too, are divided along political lines.
While members Dinesh Chovatiya and Ravibhai Ambaliya are contesting on a Congress ticket from Rajkot South and Jetpur respectively, Gopalbhai Vastapara is contesting on a BJP ticket from Lathi Babra in Amreli district.
Gajera, however, made it clear that Trust members who wanted to contest elections were asked to resign. “Before they filed their nominations for the upcoming Gujarat Assembly polls, we asked them for their resignations. They are welcome to contest but they cannot continue to be a member of the trust during that time,” he said.
The BJP, too, has been reaching out to Patidars.
In the Dhoraji constituency of Rajkot district, there are around 70,000 Patidar voters. While Leuva Patels have a larger presence in Gujarat than their Kadva counterparts, Dhoraji has both subcastes in equal numbers. The battle here is shaping up to be a Kadva vs Leuva fight.
The BJP has fielded Haribhai Patel, a Kadva Patel, against Congress’ Lalit Vasoya, a Leuva Patel.
Meanwhile, in Jetpur, the BJP is hoping that Jayeshbhai Radadiya, son of veteran Patidar leader Vitthalbhai Radadiya, may be able to keep the one lakh Patidar voters with the BJP.
If Hardik Patel is successful in keeping the Patidars united, it will be a cause for concern for the ruling BJP.