Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday told a gathering of Kolis in Gujarat that it was very unfortunate that the community was used as a vote bank in the past.
The gathering at Chotila town in Surendranagar district, 65 km from Ahmedabad, was organised to felicitate community leader Kunvarji Bavaliya who was elected in a bypoll recently, a government press release said.
The prime minister addressed the gathering through a recorded eight-minute video.
"The Koli community is present all over India and is also present in Gujarat and Mumbai in large numbers. The community members have qualities like they are very hard working and have social unity," the release quoted the prime minister as saying.
"It is very unfortunate that the community was just used as a vote bank for so many years," he said.
PM Modi said they had worked for uplift and development of every community.
"The Koli community is still lagging behind in education. Many more such caste gatherings need to be organised to bring awareness and change in society," he said.
Mr Bavaliya told PTI that he had sought time from the prime minister but as his tour of another state was already organised he gave a recorded message.
Kolis are a numerically strong OBC community, residing mainly in the coastal belt of Gujarat, and have traditionally supported the Congress.
However, with Mr Bavaliya quitting the Congress and joining the BJP government in the state, the saffron party is hopeful that the community too will switch the loyalty in the Lok Sabha polls.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who was present at the function, asked the community to come together and help build "a new Gujarat and new India".
Mr Bavaliya said he would work for the betterment of the community using his position as minister.
The five-time Congress MLA from Jasdan seat quit the party in July 2018 and was made a cabinet minister in the Rupani government. He won the bypoll from Jasdan in December on BJP ticket with a margin of over 19,000 votes.