Somnath, Dec 7 (IANS) Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's name figuring in Somnath Temple's non-Hindu visitors book might have kicked up a pre-election row but caste overshadows religion among the voters in this assembly constituency.
With sizeable numbers of Kolis and Muslims forming a possible winning combination in Somnath, the BJP has pitted its sitting MLA Jasha Bhai Barad, an OBC Karadiya Rajput, while the Congress has fielded a 35-year-old leader Vimal Bhai Chudasama from the Koli community.
Barad won the Somnath constituency in the 2012 assembly polls on a Congress ticket but resigned from the party to join BJP in 2014. He again won the seat and became Minister of State for tourism in Vijay Rupani's Council of Ministers.
Pradip Bhai Advani, a BJP supporter, who runs a Pan Parlour in the heart of Veraval taluka, does not hesitate to say that Congress is going to win this seat.
He elaborates the reason too. "Being a Koli, Vimal Bhai is getting most of the votes of his community. Muslims too would vote him. Besides he will get the votes of Ahirs and some other," he said.
Vimal Bhai belongs to Chorwad village, where business-tycoon late Dhirubhai Ambani was born in adjacent Junagadh district, and is a Nagarpalika Pramukh.
Manish Gohil, an employee of Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), said: "Vimal Bhai is our brother and one among us. Definitely those close to BJP would vote Barad but majority of Kolis would favour Vimal Bhai."
Bhagwan Bhai Jala, who runs a hotel in Somnath, said that his village Bhalpara has around 12,000 voters consist of Ahirs, Dalits, Bharwars and Prajapatis and most of them would vote for Congress.
"Barad has nothing to say for development of the area. There is scarcity of water and Power cut problem in the area. Our area produces peanuts but farmers are waiting to sell them," he said expressing his anger towards the BJP government.
Hira Bhai Nagora and Ram Bhai Nagar echoes similar sentiments.
Suresh Goswami, a businessman in tower chowk area of Verawal, said that Kolis may now say they support Congress but as the elections come close they all would vote the saffron party.
"Kolis and Muslims can never be on same page as both the communities have always been against each other politically. So finally Kolis would vote against Muslims," he said.
But Ramji Bhai Badiya of Mota Kolpada rejects Goswami's claim.
"I know it very well that when Congress comes to power Muslims have a chip on their shoulders. But these are things of past. This time scenario is different. Vimal Bhai is our own men. As long as he is here such things would not happen," he said.
Jaydeep Bhai is a Khavar and runs a small shop in Mandir area of Somnath. He said, "There are other communities too here. The OBC community and major chunk of SCs would vote in favour of BJP.
Somnath, a constituency in Gir-Somnath district, is a prestigious seat for BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the temple and addressed a rally in the district. Amit Shah has also visited this temple town twice after the polls were declared.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi also visited the temple but a controversy erupted after his name figured in non-Hindu visitors book.
Besides Somnath, the Congress has fielded a Koli candidate in Una, an Ahir in Talala and a Dalit in Kodinar.
(Brajendra Nath Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)