‘Someone who benefits from the status quo can never bring change’: Daddu Prasad and the politics of Bundelkhand

Like everything else in Bundelkhand, the political scenario here is a muddy-grey, slow-moving cesspool. It’s a land borne in and of strife, vindictiveness, struggle; a land that has pushed a certain resilience of being – an urge to test boundaries, create new ones.

Those who are compelled to do something beyond the scope of their circumstances, to question the cards they’ve been dealt with in life, hence become thrilling case studies in human spirit and sheer ambition.

And if you happenstance, belong to a traditionally oppressed community, then the ways of this world will ensure that they either break you or make you.

Much like Daddu Prasad.

Originally from Banda, Daddu considers Chitrakoot his “karmabhoomi”, the place where, it is believed, Rama spent his years of exile, along with Sita and Lakshman many aeons ago.

Charting his career in rajneeti through this karmabhoomi has been a long, winding journey for Daddu – it is after all a treacherous terrain, the navigating of which requires special skills and powers. Or staying power, if you will.

Born into poverty in a household identified as Dalit – official records would read ‘Sub-caste: Chamaar’ – Daddu’s spent his entire childhood and coming of age years embodying the true meaning of ‘difference’ and ‘prejudice’. His father, Buddhu Prasad, worked as a bonded labourer, while Daddu nursed dreams of studying to become an engineer. Fighting against restrictions and rules citing ‘aukaat’, Daddu spent precious time and energy struggling to find his toehold in a cynical society that on the one hand, celebrates Gandhi’s theories and lauds Ambedkar as a great icon, and on the other, finds ever new ways of discriminating against and exploiting marginalized communities.

No wonder then that your lens never develops black or white.

Just an ever-expanding spectrum of grey.

Daddu finally earned a diploma and casting studies aside, set his eyes and heart on a calling more charged with life and that-something we all desperately scout for: Purpose.

He found it in the churn of the Dalit movement in UP: a movement greatly inspired by Ambedkar, arguably the first political figure to bring his articulation of caste to bear on the politics of the era. Path-breaking work, the reigns of which were picked up, at least in the populist imagination, by Kanshi Ram, who started out as a social activist and reformer and went on to form one of the largest national political parties in India, the Bahujan Samaj Party.

This is a big part of Daddu’s politics, appeal and indeed, being. Speaking with Daddu in his Chitrakoot residence today, he often cites the influence of both Kanshi Ram and Ambedkar on his life, specifically the distance of Dalits and adivasis of India from education/knowledge, land, white collar jobs or political stature as the reason for their continuing oppression. Mesmerized by Kanshi Ram, Daddu converted to the BSP way of life when he joined the party in 1993 officially and was the BSP MLA thrice. He even went on to serve as minister in Mayawati’s cabinet from 2007 to 2012 – though his equation with UP’s feted-yet-notorious ex-Chief Minister (another study in grey, but for another time) went sour soon after. Amidst accusations flying every-which-way including Daddu’s strong declamations about Mayawati’s ‘compromises’, including “selling seat tickets” at a going price of a crore, Daddu was expelled from the BSP in 2015. It’s plain to see there’s no love lost between them even today when he describes, in great detail, the “devious” ways in which Kanshi Ram was placed under house arrest when he fell severely ill and had to be hospitalized.

But, speaking of devious political coups, keep in mind, this is the land of infernal stories which bend your understanding of human nature, or for that matter, politics, quite out of shape.

Daddu, along with his PA Angad Singh, were accused of rape in 2012 by a woman who went onto deliver the child that she alleged was conceived in the assault. The case unfolded in a series of ugly episodes, the highlights of which include DNA paternity tests, the woman declaring she had also been forced to drink poison, and Singh coming forward to claim the child as his own. It all ended, as as it is often wont to in a region where crime and punishment are all relative, slippery terms, in an anti-climax of sorts. The woman withdrew all charges and absolved Daddu of any criminal activities. Daddu, meanwhile, took the mighty step of floating his own political party, alluding to salvation in its very name – the Bahujan Mukti Party. “It runs on the grand values of Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram”, he says in all seriousness today, emphasizing on the work that he has done, as the founder of the party, along with his partyworkers.

Today, at 49, Daddu has no illusions about the price of striking out indie in the political landscape of a state on the verge of one of the biggest elections the country’s ever seen. Just as he’s supremely aware of what it means to play the class and caste game in India. “Anyone and everyone who’s is comfortable in, or who benefits from the status quo will never advocate for change in that system. It can only be someone from an oppressed community who can even think about being a harbinger of change.”

He also distances himself from what he calls Brahmanical forms of messaging, like the hoardings or mass media we commonly see, when he says, “All these forms of campaigning are upper-caste means. Television is an organ of the hegemony in this country, it is owned by the industrialists of this country and is biased. My kind of media is ‘mouth-media’ – it works on word of mouth alone,” and then, “Winning or losing doesn’t particularly mean much to me as of now. What is important is the work.”

It’s an overcast evening in Chitrakoot as we step out – but we know grey skies rule this karmabhoomi. It’s a land where WYSIWYG has zero currency, and that’s just how the world goes round.