Naresh Patel is a man of few words. His word, however, carries a lot of weight in Gujarat’s powerful Leuva Patel community that gave India its first home minister -- Sardar Patel. And Naresh Patel is bitter about chief minister Narendra Modi.
Over the past two weeks there has been much speculation over which way Patel and his community will go this election. Patels, who make up 14% of Gujarat’s electorate, can be decisive in at least 25-30 of the state’s 182 assembly seats and have mostly stood by the BJP since 1995.
So far Patel has evaded commenting on politics, but on Wednesday the 48-year-old Rajkot-based industrialist told Hindustan Times that his community should look to change as Modi had not given it the respect and representation it deserves.
Patel also ruled out any sweeping victory for Modi, as some opinion polls have suggested. “If you are saying 125 seats (for Modi), it’s not there. Not as of now,” he said. “I won’t be surprised if the tally slips below 100.”
Naresh Patel has emerged a leader of the community after mobilising it under the banner of Khodal Dham (Khodal is the mother Goddess of Leuva Patels). He will be weighed with silver at a December 8 community event in Surat.
Modi would have been winning this election with comfort had he not ignored the Leuvas, Patel said. There have been only three Leuva ministers in each term since 2002, before which the community never had less than 8 ministers in the state government, he added.
Although the Leuvas have been voicing their concern for the past two years, it has been heightened after former chief minister Keshubhai Patel quit the BJP in September this year to float his own party — the Gujarat Parivartan Party.
Keshubhai Patel, 84, who once was Modi’s mentor, was upstaged by him in October 2001.
“Keshu Bapa, I would say, was removed. And it was done with utter disrespect to him and his stature. It hurt us immensely. That pain continues to be there,” Patel said, indicating that the Saurashtra leader could be his community's choice in this election.
“Parivartan Srishti Ka Niyam Hai (Change is the law of nature). It brings in competition and good governance,” Patel said.