The entry of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's name in the Somnath temple's non-Hindu visitor book may have kicked up a row, but voters in this temple town seem to be sailing with caste, not religion.
With a sizeable numbers of Kolis and Muslims forming the winning combination in the Assembly segment of Somnath, the BJP has pitted its outgoing MLA Jasha Bhai Barad while the Congress has fielded 35-year-old Vimal Bhai Chudasama from the Koli community.
Barad won the Somnath constituency in 2012 on Congress ticket but joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014. He again won the seat and became a Minister of State for Tourism in the Vijay Rupani government.
Pradip Bhai Advani, a self-confessed BJP supporter who runs a Pan Parlour in the heart of Veraval taluka, doesn't hesitate to say that the Congress is going to win this seat.
He explains why. "Being a Koli, Vimal Bhai is getting most votes of his community. Muslims too will vote him. Besides he will get votes of Ahirs and some others."
Vimal Bhai belongs to Chorwad village where business-tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani was born and is a Nagarpalika Pramukh.
Manish Gohil, an employee of GIDC, said: "Vimal Bhai is our brother and one among us. Definitely those close to BJP would vote for Barad but a majority of Kolis would favour Vimal Bhai."
Bhagwan Bhai Jala, who runs a hotel in Somnath, said his village Bhalpara has around 12,000 voters consisting of Ahirs, Dalits, Bharwars and Prajapatis and most of them would vote for the Congress.
"Barad has done nothing for the development of the area. There is scarcity of water and power cuts. Our area produces peanuts but farmers find it difficult to sell them," he said, expressing his anger vis-a-vis the BJP government.
Hira Bhai Nagora and Ram Bhai Nagar echo the same sentiment.
Businessman Suresh Goswami in Tower Chowk area of Verawal said Kolis may support the Congress now but as the elections come close they all would vote for the saffron party.
"Kolis and Muslims can never be on the same page as both the communities are fundamentalists and ranged against each other. So finally Kolis will vote against Muslims," he said.
Ramji Bhai Badiya of Mota Kolpada rejects Goswami's claim.
"I know it very well that when the Congress comes to power, Muslims don't care for law and order. But these are things of past. This time the scenario is different. Vimal Bhai is one of our own. As long as he is here, such things won't happen," he said.
Jaydeep Bhai is a Kharwar and runs a small shop in Mandir area of Somnath. He said: "There are other communities here too. The OBC community and major chunk of SCs would vote in favour of the BJP."
Somnath, a constituency in Gir-Somnath district, is a prestigious seat for the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the temple site and addressed a rally in the district. BJP President Amit Shah also visited this temple town twice after the polls were declared.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi visited the temple but a controversy erupted after his name figured in the 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)
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