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Tuesday 28 January 2020

‘Temple politics’ gains significance in Gujarat elections

Rajkot: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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