The Gujarat YatraCNN-IBN Senior Editor Anubha Bhonsle travels through Gujarat to feel the pulse of the 'aam admi' ahead of the all-important state election.
The so called Patel mobilization was only a phrase I had a heard till I reached Rajkot. I was going to meet Naresh Patel, the quiet, self assured man who had assumed centrestage in Patel politics and who's two mega shows of strength in the last 11 months had both the BJP and the Congress wooing him. His movements were tracked, his meetings with Patidar ministers were initially seen as signs of his closeness towards one side, but on the face of it Naresh Patel has maintained his movement was an apolitical one, he could be with anyone, yet no one.
His closeness to Bapa though is no secret but talk to him about the Congress and he seems as mild mannered.
"When you have the numbers, everyone comes to you", he later told me an interview.
My meeting with him was fixed for 830am. He was keen that his car pilot ours to his residence so that there would be no wasting time. When we finally reached there, the man in his mid forties, an industrialist was ready and waiting. I had seen videos of him on stage as he had mobilised large crowds under the aegis of the Khodaldham trust, a movement that had brought the Leuva Patels together in building a temple for their deity Ma Umiya. A team of Guiness Book of World Records had also gathered at Kagvad in Virpur in Rajkot district earlier this year when the event took place. Later the lady official handed over memento from the Guiness team to Naresh Patel. It was an odd sight but apparently the collection of Leuva Patels had also resulted in a new record for the largest number of people shaking hands together. A record donation, whose number I couldn't confirm had also been collected. A Surat based diamond trader was believed to be the top donor with a donation of 5.5 crores at the foundation ceremony.
In most of his meetings that are related to the work of the Khodaldham Trust I see Naresh Patel dressed in kurta pajama with a Nehru jacket. This morning he was dressed in a pant and shirt. Right after this interview he was heading to his office, the work of the Khodaldham was kept for the latter part of the afternoon. We decided to chat in the courtyard of his house. His wife was going to watch us from the dining table. The marble floored open aired courtyard, with a tree towering over a goddess seemed like a serene setting. Cushions were brought and we sat on the floor where Naresh Patel began telling me, why the mobilisation had to be done under the umbrella of religion.
"Only Ma Umiya and the construction of a temple for her could bring us all together. I used to be horrified seeing how scattered our community was whenever there was an issue to come together. If you expected a thousand people, two hundred would turn up, not anymore."
The Patels or Patidars (landowners) are divided into Leuva and Kadva sub-castes, both rivals. Seen as a strong votebank and a politically influential community, the Patels of Saurashtra-Kutch region may be divided by priorities, but are very pragmatic. Naresh Patel was satisfied that day as his community of Leuva Patels had managed a fair chunk of seats from both parties. The first list was out. "It could be a good showing, we didn't ask any number", he said.
The Patels may have created anxious moments for the Chief Minister Narendra Modi but they aren't still satisfied. The community has another show of strength on the 8th of December in Surat during which chairman Naresh Patel will be weighed in silver.
The event as Patel says is apolitical and religious, its timing barely a week before polling day on December 13 raises questions.
More about Anubha Bhonsle
Anubha Bhonsle is an anchor and Senior Editor of CNN-IBN. She has been a journalist for over 15 years, starting her career with The Indian Express, then moving to be part of Miditech, the Zee Group, subsequently joining New Delhi Television where she was part of the political bureau and an anchor. Anubha joined CNN-IBN at inception, as prime-time anchor and Senior Editor. She is a graduate in Journalism and a post-graduate in social communication. As a Jefferson fellow she researched on America’s political history and the role of gender and race. Anubha and her team have been part of many award-winning projects. Her documentaries on Irom Sharmila and Children of Conflict won appreciation internationally, at the New York Film Festival and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Anubha is a cleanliness freak, loves collecting kettles and admires Pearl Buck. She lives in Delhi with her family.