AHMEDABAD: Amid speculation about early polls to the Gujarat Assembly — otherwise due later this year — the BJP is positioning itself as the early gainer following fresh hints about Naresh Patel, the Patidar satrap, joining the saffron bandwagon.
Patel is the chairman of Shree Khodaldham Trust (SKT) and wields significant influence over the Patidar community in the crucial Saurashtra region that has 44 seats in the 182-member Assembly. Patel is currently under the watchful eye of the BJP, Congress, and Aam Aadmi Party.
Patel has been seen with BJP leaders at least thrice in recent days. On Wednesday, he and state BJP chief CR Patil shared the dais during the Bhagwat Saptah held in Jamnagar. The two leaders were welcomed together. On May 1, Naresh Patel attended the ‘Pothiyatra’ at the commencement of Bhagwat Saptah in Jamnagar. Many state-level and local BJP leaders were seen sharing a “chariot”.
Asked if he would join BJP, the Patidar leader said he was yet to decide. He also hinted at keeping his door open for the Congress and AAP. BJP sources recalled a meeting of state leaders with PM Modi on April 30 in which Union Home Minister Amit Shah, CM Bhupendra Patel and state party chief CR Patil were present. The focus of talks included Naresh Patel’s entry into the BJP. Sources said post April 30 meeting, Naresh Patel has started appearing with BJP leaders.
Why Patel matters for BJP
Influential Patidar leader Naresh Patel heads Shree Khodaldham Temple Trust. The trust manages the affairs the temple dedicated to the patron deity of the Leuva Patel community. The Patidars form about 11-12 per cent of the population in Gujarat and are an influential caste whose votes can sway results in many constituencies.