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Gujarat polls: ‘Temple politics’ comes to fore in state Assembly elections

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani visited the Khodaldham temple immediately after Gandhi’s visit and held talks with Nareshbhai Patel.
Reported by: PTI Ahmedabad December 05, 2017 16:46 IST
PTI

As Gujarat nears the first phase of Assembly polls, all eyes are set on two temples that epitomise “the pride and power of the Patidar community” and exercise considerable influence among members, political analysts feel.

The Khodaldham Temple in Rajkot district, built by the Leuva sect of Patidars, and the Umiya Dham temple in Mehsana district of North Gujarat, built by the community’s Kadva segment, have gained political importance ahead of the polls.  Built in the last two years, both the temples have become centres of power and pride for the respective groups, sociologist Gaurang Jani said.

The Khodaldham temple’s two trustees - Dinesh Chovatiya and Ravibhai Ambaliya - are contesting the elections on Congress tickets from Rajkot South and Jetpur respectively.  Another trustee Gopalbhai Vastapara is contesting on the BJP’s ticket from Lathi Babra in Amreli district.  

The temples in Gujarat have often been in news for political reasons. Former BJP president L K Advani started his rath yatra, for the construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya in 1990, from the famous Somnath temple.  Temple politics came to the fore again in 2002 when the Sabarmati Express was set on fire, killing Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. It led to riots in other parts of the state.

Nareshbhai Patel, the chairman of The Shree Khodaldham Trust, met Patel quota agitation leader Hardik Patel last week. Hardik later claimed he had succeeded in clearing the doubts in the mind of Nareshbhai Patel.  The trust, however, clarified later that it would remain politically neutral even as it admitted that it agreed with Hardik’s claim that a sizable number of Patidar community members live in poor conditions.

However, a senior political analyst from Rajkot said, “Nareshbhai has never appeared before people, but he allowed his photo with Hardik to be released to media.
 
Khodaldham trust supports Hardik’s demand of quota, but Hardik wants to achieve it by political victory. It clearly means the community is inching towards Hardik.” He also said that Nareshbhai Patel represents Leuva community, which comprises around 70 per cent of Patidars, and he allowed his photo to be released with Hardik, who is Kadva Patel.

“Isn’t it enough to guess in which direction the wind is blowing in Gujarat,” he said.

Hemant Shah, another political analyst, said that the BJP was the symbol of power for Patidars and in the last few years, these two temples—constructed by their own sub-castes—have become important for them.  “Both the temples witnessed the presence of lakhs of Patidar on the day of their inauguration. It was a clear message that Patidars have formed their own power centre outside BJP,” he said.

Notably, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, during his campaign in Gujarat, visited various temples, including these two and met their trustees.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also visited the Khodaldham temple immediately after Gandhi’s visit and held talks with Nareshbhai Patel.

A senior Congress leader, while cautiously accepting that the two temples are likely to play a role in the election, felt it is too tall a claim to say that they would swing the polls.

“The people are already disappointed with BJP and its recent attempts to polarise elections. It is true that these two temples are highly revered by Patidars as they have raised funds for it; it will be a tall claim to say that temples would swing the elections,” the Congress leader, who does not want to be identified, said.

“More importantly, the failed schemes and wrong policies of the state and Union governments are going to play a vital role in this election,” he said.

The BJP appears to have taken the influence of temples more seriously. Following Rupani, the party’s senior leaders have held meetings with the trustees of these two temples and assured them of resolving the problems of the Patidar community.

The Patidars are mainly divided into two sects—Kadva and Leuva—and Patel is the common surname for both.  Though both the sects are part of the community, which accounts about 18 per cent of the state’s population, marital alliances between the two are still rare.  But Hardik Patel has largely succeeded in gaining the support of both the sects, said Jani.

Political observers say that Gujarat’s former chief minister and senior BJP leader Keshubhai Patel first brought the Patidars together and since then they have been largely supporting the saffron party.

In 2012, the Patels felt the need to have their own power centre outside the political party they have been supporting and both the sects separately constructed Khodaldham for Leuva and Umiya Dham for Kadva Patidars, an analyst said.

Among the Patidars, the Leuva Patidars constitute about 70 per cent of the population, while Kadva Patidars are around 30 per cent.

While the Leuva Patidars are mostly concentrated in Saurashtra, Central and South Gujarat the Kadva Patidars are hail mostly from North Gujarat.