As Ramesh Tilara gets BJP ticket, 2 Khodaldham functionaries now in poll fray

Two functionaries of the Shree Khodaldham Trust (SKT)—one for the saffron party and the other for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—are in fray for the December election.

Rajkot industrialist Ramesh Tilara, who is among the founder trustees of SKT—the religious organisation that has mobilised the Leuva Patel sub-caste of the Patidar community for the Khodaldham temple project—was BJP’s pick for the Rajkot (south) Assembly constituency.

This comes only days after AAP announced PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) convener Dharmik Malaviya, who is also the Khodaldham convener for Surat district, as its candidate from the Olpad seat.

Tilara, who is the president of Shapar Veraval Industrial Association (SVIA)—a chamber of industrial units in Shapar-Veraval on the southern outskirts of the Rajkot city, is into the forging industry. Tilara and fellow industrialist Naresh Patel are among the founder trustees of SKT. A close associate of SKT president Naresh, Tilara is the No.2 in the influential organisation. Naresh who had last year announced his intention to contest the election, backed out in June saying the “time was not appropriate”.

This is for the second consecutive election that an SKT trustee would be contesting the Assembly election from Rajkot south, a seat dominated by Patidar voters. In 2017, Dinesh Chovatiya contested on a Congress ticket. Naresh Patel’s son Shivraj had then campaigned for him. However, Chovatiya had lost to sitting BJP MLA Govind Patel.

At least three Khodaldham functionaries—Chovatiya, Mitul Donga (for the Congress from Rajkot East) and Gopal Vastarpara (for BJP from Babra) had contested the election in 2017. Santokben Aarethiya, the wife of Bachubhai Aarethiya—another trustee, who had won from the Rapar seat on a Congress ticket was the only winner associated with Khodaldham.

After being declared BJP’s replacement for three-time MLA and former minister Govind Patel in Rajkot South, Tilara thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, among others. “I am entering the poll fray as a businessman. I have been working for the BJP for the past 30 to 35 years. I have worked for the party in every election—be it Lok Sabha, Assembly or (Rajkot Municipal) Corporation or the district panchayat. I have done good work and therefore, I feel the party has selected me,” said Tilara. He said he would try to establish a synergy between his network of industrialists and the BJP to win the election.

In 2017, Khodaldham had sought resignations of those who had entered the poll fray. “I have not resigned as Khodaldham trustee as of now. But if the trust asks me to do so, I will follow the order,” Tilara said.

Echoing similar views, Malaviya said, “Till now, nobody has asked for my resignation. Should they demand it, I will submit my resignation… It is Naresh Patel’s vision to develop political leadership that can be used for the community’s benefit.”

While Naresh could not be contacted for a comment, SKT secretary Jitu Vasoya said the organisation has not given any directions as of now to those who have entered the poll battle. “SKT has a policy to direct anyone desirous to contest election to resign from SKT first. As Tilara’s name has been announced by the BJP just now, the trust has not issued any directive to him as of now. He is likely to file his nomination papers on Friday. The trust is likely to take a call on the matter on Monday,” Vasoya said.

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