Soon after poll strategist Prashant Kishor declined an offer to join the Congress party as part of its newly-constituted Empowered Action Group (EAG) for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, ending days of speculation around him joining the party, the focus soon turned to an unlikely man miles away from Delhi where all the action was unfolding.
Gujarat, where elections are due in December this year, has been witnessing intense jostling among political parties for a Patidar leader who has thrown his hat in the ring and expressed his desire to enter active politics. Naresh Patel, the man every party wants to get into its fold, was known to have the backing of Prashant Kishor for an entry into the Congress. This was also seen as the primary factor behind the growing discomfort of Hardik Patel, the GPCC working president, with the state leadership as polls near.
Who is Naresh Patel?
Fast emerging as the tallest leader of Leuva Patidars, a sub-group of the Patel community that commands enormous sway in 48 of the 182 assembly seats in Gujarat, Naresh Patel, 56, is an industrialist and the chairman of the influential Shree Khodaldham Trust (SKT). The Trust manages a grand temple of Goddess Khodiyar, the patron deity of the Leuva Patidar community, at Kagvad near Rajkot in Gujarat.
Patel, also known for his philanthropic activities, also serves as managing director of Patel Brassworks (PBW), a Rajkot-based firm his father Ravjibhai Undhad founded in 1948. The company currently manufactures engine components ranging from automobiles to aircraft. The youngest among six siblings, Patel attended Saint Mary’s school and Rajkumar College and completed his B.Com from JJ Kundaliya Commerce College.
Having set up the SKT in 2010, Patel also set up the Sardar Patel Cultural Foundation in 2013. which provides free coaching to government job aspirants. He also set up the Khodaldham Samadhan Panch, an alternate dispute resolution forum, and has enrolled thousands of volunteers through the SKT’s students and women wings. The initiatives that Patel has been involved with over the years give him immense influence over the Patidar youth and the trust of its elderly.
What next for Naresh Patel?
With talks between the Congress and Prashant Kishor, who rallied behind him to get him into the Congress fold, having failed yet again, Patel maintains that the development will have no bearing on his future course of action. But there was some impact expected as far as Naresh Patel’s entry into active politics is concerned.
The development in Delhi coincides with the annual meeting of the SKT board of trustees. As per the Trust, a discussion was expected on an ongoing internal field survey to ascertain people’s views on whether Naresh Patel should join politics. On his part, Patel has dismissed media reports that the survey threw up negative results on whether he should join active politics. The survey, he said, does not portray the complete picture.
“Khodaldham is all over Gujarat, and so, if somebody is saying 70% (of respondents) are saying ‘No’, then he doesn’t know about the youngsters, he doesn’t know about the women. He is talking about the elders. As you know, the elders worry about me. That is why they want to protect me, and therefore they say that it will be good if I don’t go (into active politics). They don’t say I must not go, but they do say it will be good if I don’t go,” he told The Indian Express.