Numerically-strong Patel community, having around 18 per cent population in the state, has rallied behind BJP in the last two decades, giving the party the edge over its opponents but this time they are divided on the lines of their sub-castes --Leuva and Kadvas.
The Leuva sub-caste, which 83-year-old Keshubhai Patel, represents, has in the run up to the elections at regular intervals organised huge caste meetings to assert their voice as they allege they have been marginalised in last 10 years of Modi rule.
"The question is to which political party this powerful sub-caste will lend its support?. Will they stay with BJP or will they go to GPP?", said political scientist Dinesh Shukla.
Out of 182 seats in the state assembly, Saurashtra region consists of 54 seats spread across 7 districts of Bhavnagar, Amreli, Junagadh, Jamnagar, Porbandar, Surendranagar and Rajkot.
So, it is always said that whichever party dominates in Saurashtra rules the state, he added.
In the past two assembly elections, BJP under Modi has made Saurashtra a bastion for the party. BJP had won 39 seats in 2002 and in 2007 despite a sulking Keshubhai staying away from the campaign, the party had won an overwhelming 43 seats here.
But 2012 could be a different story for Modi as Keshubhai's party Gujarat Parivartan Party is also in the fray.
"GPP has only one point agenda: remove Modi.And Keshubhai is claiming that GPP is the real BJP, but in fact GPP is party of Leuva Patels," Shukla added.
"Though Patel consist of both Kadva and Leuvas... the former have remained with BJP and it is yet to see which side Leuvas are tilting to," Shukla further said.
To make Leuva Patels' tilt away from Modi, Keshubhai got tactical support from none other than an epicentre of Leuva Patel community's religious faith, Khodal Dham, promoted by one Naresh Patel, a proposed temple of community deity Khodal Mata, in Rajkot which has now become a nerve centre of a strong anti-Modi undercurrent among the caste members.
Naresh Patel, who is considered a rising star of the Leuva Patels, is in the forefront to galvanize his community's support for ‘Bapa' (father), as Keshubhai is fondly called.
Both Congress and BJP know the importance of Leuvas in Saurashtra and hence both parties have liberally given tickets to candidates representing this community.
In 2007, BJP had given tickets to 13 Leuva candidates and Congress fielded 14. A total of 29 Leuva candidates were in the fray. This time, BJP has given tickets to 14, where Congress has fielded 11 candidates.
BJP has given tickets to Leuva candidates on Rajkot South, Jasdan, Jetpur, Jamnagar Rural, Keshod, Lathi, Amreli, Dhari, Visavadar, Botad, Gariadhar, Savarkundla and Bhavnagar seats.
Congress has fielded Leuva Patels on Rajkot Sought, Jetpur, Dhoraji, Jamnagar Rural, Keshod, Lathi, Amreli, Dhari, Gariadhar, Savarkundla and Bhavnagar.
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