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BJP banks on Bhagwat confidant to win Modi's hometown

By Jatin Takkar
Last updated on: December 02, 2022 22:53 IST
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Sipping his tea thoughtfully, Rakesh Patel says the support of Patidars is critical to win the Unjha constituency that includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hometown Vadnagar.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election campaign for the Gujarat Assembly elections, in Ahmedabad on December 1, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo

His trader friend Rajat Shah, also a Patidar, echoes him, underscoring the importance of the community.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which lost Unjha last time due to the Patidar quota agitation, has pinned its hopes on Kiritkumar Keshavlal Patel, a Patidar and also an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary considered close to Mohan Bhagwat.

"The BJP lost the elections last time due to the Patidar agitation. But this time, I think, they (Patidars) will support the BJP," said Rajat Shah.

Although the party had fielded another Patidar -- Narayanbhai Patel -- from the seat in 2017, traders opined that the anti-incumbency and his "interference" in mattes of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee in Unjha led to the BJP's defeat after a gap of almost 27 years.

Kiritkumar, who locals attribute to as a "respectable man" admits that that BJP's defeat last time was mainly due to Patidar quota agitation.


However, things have changed this time, he says exuding confidence of his party's win from the seat where the chunk of voters are from the Patidar community.

The Congress has fielded Arvind Amratlal Patel from the seat which goes to polls on December 5.

Congress candidate Ashaben Patel, who was associated with the Patidar agitation, won the seat in 2017.

Later she switched sides and joined the BJP and won the Unjha bypoll in 2019.

However, the seat fell vacant after she passed away last year after suffering from dengue.

As one moves towards Vadnagar, local issues such as high prices of cattle feed and inflation becomes louder.

Grazing his cattle, Ramjibhai, a Vaghri by caste, talks about rising prices of cattle feed, LPG cylinders, and cooking oil.

"All these are impacting us a lot, but Bada Pradhan (referring to Modi as PM) will do something," he says.

Kiritkumar believes that it is an advantage to contest from the constituency that includes PM Modi's hometown.

"I met PM Modi recently at an election rally in Mehsana after a gap of almost 10 years. I do not have any photograph with him. It is an advantage to contest from Modiji's hometown," he said.

The 67-year-old is contesting only the second election of his lifetime, the first he unsuccessfully contested for the senate of north Gujarat University in Patan.

He has been associated with the Sangh for more than three decades, was the state head of Vidya Bharti, the RSS's education wing. He has also worked closely with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

"When Kiritbhai was Vidya Bharati's Gujarat unit head, he worked closely with Mohanji during his general secretary days and enjoys good rapport with him," a senior RSS functionary of Gujarat said.

Kirtibhai is an engineer by qualification, a builder by profession, and has been running schools for poor girls in Unjha.

Kiritbhai, however, downplays his association with Bhagwat, saying that in the Sangh, everyone knows everyone.

"I like to maintain a low profile, and have never been into electoral politics. However, when several party leaders insisted, my name was also forwarded as a probable candidate," Patel said, adding that he is a sleeping partner in business.

Calling voters and BJP workers from BJP's election office in front of the Vadnagar railway, where PM Modi once sold tea during his childhood, Kiritbhai recalls how he came to know about his candidature from his wife.

"I was sitting in my office when my wife called me to inform me that I have been given a BJP ticket from here. Though I was aware my name was among the probables, I was not sure of candidature," he said.

Vadnagar is a matter of prestige for the BJP, and many believe that Kiritbhai's goodwill could make the party's path easier in the polls.

There are more than two lakh electors in Unjha, of which over 70,000 belong to the Patidar Community, 50,000 voters are from the Thakor community and the remaining votes belong to Scheduled Caste, Other Backward Class, Muslim, and other communities.

AAP had also fielded Ramesh Patel from the Unjha seat in the 2017 polls who bagged the eighth spot.

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