A day after reaching out to the Patidars in quota agitation hotbed Morbi district, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday sought to strike a religious connect with the politically and economically influential community by visiting Khodaldham, the shrine of Khodiyar — the patron deity of Leuva Patels. The Leuva Patels are the single largest community in Saurashtra, the region which has around 58 Assembly seats.
After touring parts of Surendranagar and Rajkot districts, Rahul reached Khodaldham in Kagvad village, some 60 km from Rajkot, at around 5 pm on the third and last day of his Navsarjan Yatra — a roadshow in Saurashtra region in poll-bound Gujarat.
As Rahul walked from the entry gate of the temple complex to the shrine, slogans of “Jai Sardar”, synonymous with the Patidar quota agitation, and “Congress ave chhe (Congress is on the way)” were raised in a synchronised manner. The slogans were punctuated by shouts of Khodal mata ki jai (hail goddess Khodiyar) as Rahul acknowledged the crowd with folded hands and a broad smile.
He was welcomed by Naresh Patel and Paresh Gajera, chairman and president, respectively, of Shree Khodaldham Trust (SKT), the religious organisation of the Leuava Patels.
Gajera briefed Rahul about the temple project which was completed early this year.
After paying obeisance to the patron deity, Rahul, Congress’s Gujarat affairs in-charge Ashok Gehlot, state Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki, Congress MLA from Amreli Paresh Dhanani and others had a over 30-minute closed-door meeting with the chairman and the president of SKT.
“The Congress vice-president told us that our community had to suffer a lot recently and that Congress will help the community if it comes to power in Gujarat,” Gajera told The Indian Express after the meeting. Rahul also garlanded a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on the premises of Khodaldham.
The visit to Khodaldham came a day after Rahul’s visit to Jamnagar and Morbi districts, where people wearing Patidar quota agitation caps greeted him on the roadside. Morbi and parts of Jamnagar are dominated by the Kadva Patels, the other sub-caste has been rather aggressive in the quota agitation.
Early in the morning, Rahul (47) treked up 304.8-m high Chotila hill for darshan of goddess Chamunda, worshipped by many in the Koli community which enjoys a numerical majority in Surendranagar district.
During the climb, people cheered Rahul by shouting “Chamunda maat ki jai”. The politician responded by saying “namaskar” with folded hands.
At the temple, former MP from Rajkot and Koli leader Kunvarji Bavaliya welcomed Rahul. While he was climbing down the hill, Congress workers raised slogans in favour of Rahul.
After visiting the temple, Rahul rode through Chotila taluka of Surendranagar district and Jasdan of Rajkot district. Both these talukas are dominated by the Koli community, and Rahul also addressed what Congress is calling “corner meetings” in both the towns. He also paid obeisance at the shrine of Dasi Jivan in Ghoghavadar village of Chotila taluka. Dasi Jivan is respected by the Dalits as a saint.
In an apparent bid to woo women voters of the Koli community, Rahul had an exclusive interaction with women at Chobari village of Chotila taluka.
Rahul had started his three-day roadshow by offering prayers at Dwarkadhish temple in Devbhoomi Dwarka district. During his stops at various places in Devbhoomi Dwarka and the neighbouring Jamnagar district, Rahul at every interaction with the locals mentioned about his visit to the temple with an eye on the Ahir voters in the region.
At corner meetings in Chotila and Jasdan, Rahul promised that farms loans would be waived off should Congress win the upcoming Assembly election. These blocks are almost entirely agrarian. He also touched upon the issue of unemployment.
Rahul wound up his tour after addressing a public rally in Jetpur town of Rajkot late on Wednesday evening.