Chitrakoot’s RK Patel: The Party-Hopping Politician

Tum to Thehre Dalbadlu, Saath Kya Nibhaaoge?

It’s a species specific to Indian rajneeti – the turncoat politician who swaps parties and ideologies and stands on core issues, in the blink of an eye. As the moon waxes and wanes, he figures which side of the equation to be on, what’s most beneficial to him in his current political context, factoring in a combination of several circumstances, ranging from ticket prices to favours taken and given.

In the end, the result of that equation is never just the sum of its parts.

Because, let’s look long and hard at our voter-faces in the mirror. Do we care if our candidates believe in equal rights, human rights, any rights, God, Modi? Do we even much seem to care if they have been, or are active criminals with gargantuan police records? Don’t we really like the chakachaund blink-blink dynastic scions, the catchy slogans? Hell, don’t we appreciate the small things, a little kachchi sharaab? Is it the apathetic voter that produces the turncoat, or the turncoat who turns voter into hard-boiled cynic?

If you’re able to emerge from the shell of cynicism, there’s some hope in the young voter, who’s aching to vote for something larger, who thinks that the big picture, the dirty game can change. The kind of progress that rises above mantras and actually creates jobs, opportunities, exposure, transparency, the promise of horizons here and beyond, and maybe some electricity to charge those damn laptops!

This is the playing field – infuriating and absurd and still astonishing – on which our leaders shapeshift so often and find themselves party-hopping. For the most part, the voter isn’t too flustered. For us, politics has never been just red and blue, Conservative or Liberal – here we like to play Holi with our parties, all 400 of them, in the case of our beloved UP.

It must be said, Ram Kripa Patel, Chitrakoot’s resident turncoat politician, hasn’t gone through all of them yet. He’s a dalbadlu neta, or, to get the full effect, we must say it like it is: call a spade a spade, or a bhaata a bhaata* when you see one.

RK Patel is BJP’s candidate from the Mau-Manikpur constituency of Chitrakoot district in rural UP, a seat that’s already drawing attention for its attractive roster of candidates this assembly election. Patel’s opponents include the incumbent MLA, from the BSP, Chandrabhan Patel; the ex-BSP loyalist who’s floated his very own outfit, the Bahujan Mukti Morcha, Daddu Prasad; and Congress/SP candidate and subject of many a french documentary and beyond, Sampat Pal – commander of the Gulabi Gang. But while the others have pretty much been where they’ve been party-wise, Patel’s been there and back and his political history is enough to get any voter to reach for the kachchi sharab. A month ago, he was with the BSP, and perhaps a dwindling of his chance at power here led to Patel joining hands with BJP, the latter giving him a ticket from an important constituency. (Although, local gossip has it, it didn’t come cheap.) He is, let’s not forget, originally an SP guy, joining Netaji in 2007. Oh wait, a BSP guy – the party where he began his political career, back in 1993. From Behenji to Modi, there’s a 180-degree turn: or you could say, as a slow, rhythmic Bundelkhandi dance, over Chitrakoot’s harsh patha landscape.

Known for his scathing critique of the BJP and particularly Modi during his time in BSP – we last heard his choicest Modi phrases at a rally just over a month ago, on demonetization – Patel has today performed the ultimate volte-face. As per the steps of his dance, he extols the virtues of BJP and its leader, the country’s Prime Minister. It’s all about stability, he’ll have us know, since UP needs some much-promised vikaas, which can only come from stability. “For a motorcycle to run properly, don’t the tyres have to be of the same brand, from the same company? It’s exactly like that – the party at the centre must also form the party at the state level,” says Patel by way of explanation of his move. A move that has come under scrutiny and has been much-maligned locally – a sureshot indicator being the digs being circulated on him on WhatsApp and Facebook (‘RK Patel sookhta hua pauda hai’ (a drying plant); ‘bina pendi ka lota hai’ (a rolling stone); yeh netaen hume kutte samajhte hain, khud bandaron ki tarah koodte rahte hain‘ (these leaders think we’re dogs, and themselves keep jumping around like monkeys)). Further, contesting from Mau Manikpur, instead of his home constituency of Karwi has also set of black-band protests by voters. But the vote in Mau Manikpur has always gone the OBC (Kurmi/Patel) way, and no doubt, with a seasoned Kurmi candidate like RK Patel, the BJP thinks that it may have a chance in upturning the sitting BSP MLA in the area, Chandrabhan Patel. Meanwhile the impoverished Manikpur, highly populated with tribals with no official ST stature, and dalits with no jobs, no money, no future, is a landscape that seems frozen in time, parties and their dancing politicians notwithstanding.

Cut back to RK Patel’s transition, his fiery criticism of notebandi today seamlessly segues into a solid appreciation of BJP’s strong policies, a depiction of potent leadership we all need. At a press conference, he termed demonetization “a good decision”, and besides, 90 days are more than up and “there are no longer any queues now”, he insisted. And if the potato farmer is still reeling from the effects – because he was sowing at the time of demonetization and that affected crop growth – well, at least there are no longer any queues.

Complete with his spanking new saffron stole, and rubbing shoulders with once arch rival Bhairon Prasad Mishra, the BJP MP from this region, this messiah for Chitrakoot’s downtrodden now extols the virtues of BJP’s ideas and ideologies for the state, the party’s most excellent “vichaar dhaara”, citing this as the main reason for his decision to shift.

Dalbadlu politics is old wine in UP and like we said, it’s no epiphany that there is only personal gain factored in this business of party hopping. Nothing else seals it. Take Shanawaz Khan, for instance, Rashtriya Lok Dal’s candidate from Muzaffarnagar, ousted from his original party, the SP and then entering a hallowed Congress circle thanks to his connections with Ghulam Nabi Azad. His Facebook timeline couldn’t catch up as he went back to SP, did a flashy photo-op with Akhilesh Yadav, and then was in the RLD, posing with handpumps the very next day. The fact that this son of well-known steel industrialist has been filmed boasting about committing his first murder at the age of 12, isn’t lost on anybody.

Nor are the criminal cases filed against RK Patel, for that matter, all up for public consumption now he has filed his nomination to contest the election.

This is the world RK Patel lives in and he plays the game.

So, tongue firmly in cheek, we must all join in on the chorus, ‘Ticket Ke Liye Kisi Bhi Party Mein Chale Jaoge’.

But we have an eye on you, ‘netaji’ Patel.

* Bhaata is slang for brinjal in these parts, applied to people who seem to roll around any-which-way, much like a brinjal on an unbalanced plate!