MUMBAI: Nanabhau Falgunrao Patole, Lok Sabha MP from Bhandara-Gondia constituency who defeated NCP stalwart Praful Patel in 2014 with a huge margin, became probably the first MP of the ruling BJP who openly criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his autocratic style of functioning.
Though Patole later retracted his statement and said he was misquoted, his track record suggests it is unlikely that the MP will completely surrender to party bosses.
Patole, who switched over to the BJP from the Congress in 2008, is an OBC leader who raised farmers’ issues. He fell out with the state Congress leadership after an electoral defeat, and the BJP—who was looking for an OBC face in Vidarbha—took him in. With Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s backing, he became state party general secretary. Patole helped the BJP win the Zila Parishad elections in Bhandara and Gondia districts.
As his stature grew, he nursed ambitions about playing a major role in state politics. But all that crumbled in 2014 when he was made to contest the Lok Sabha election. Patole did so unwillingly, and the rift between him and the party leadership grew.
Patole expected an opportunity on the national level, which did not materialise. He felt unheard even while deciding candidates from his districts during the 2014 Assembly polls. The disappointment grew when he realised he was being ignored in matters related to his own constituency. He blamed the RSS for this, inviting ire of the party leadership.
Discord between Patole and the MLAs from Bhandara and Gondia led to the BJP’s defeat in the Zila Parishad elections last year. Meanwhile, Patole realised that the main plank of his local politics—opposition to NCP’s Praful Patel—too can be lost as Patel established strong ties with the top BJP leadership.
Owing to this staunch anti-Patel stand, Patole is likely to opt out of the party even at the slightest hint of BJP joining hands with Patel in any way. His rebellious overture is said to be the start of that rift, which Patole feels may arrive just ahead of Lok Sabha polls. His confidants say Patole won’t contest the Lok Sabha polls and will focus on an Assembly segment. He is yet to decide whether to go with the BJP or Congress.
Vidarbha has a sizeable OBC voter base, and Patole is an undisputed leader of the community. The BJP leadership knows this, and hence is trying to pacify Patole. However, neither Gadkari nor Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis could address his concerns over the growing closeness between Patel and top BJP leadership. Patole hardened his stand and started criticising the state and Central government over its policies on agriculture.
Patole created a stir last year by bringing in a private member’s bill in Lok Sabha demanding a separate Vidarbha state. Now, he is raising farmers’ issues too. “I’m not against Modi or Shah. But I will continue to raise farmers’ issues as I am a farmer’s son. My caste and religion is farming,” is his new line of defence. This stance will help him survive within the BJP and will provide a suitable plank if he decides to switch over to some other party.
Patole has broken the ice by criticising Modi and Shah. More voices of dissent, which have been suppressed over three years, will follow suit. This has put the BJP in a Catch-22 situation viz-a-viz Patole.
Who is Patole?
OBC leader from Bhandara-Gondiya constituency in Maharashtra, Nanabhau Falgunrao Patole switched over to BJP in 2008 after he fell out with the state Congress after a poll defeat.
The state BJP, which was on the lookout for an OBC face, appointed him the state party general secretary.
Patole nursed hopes of playing a major role in state politics, but grew restless after he was made to contest Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The growing closeness between his bete noire—NCP’s Praful Patel—and top BJP leadership aggravated this.
Last year, he brought in a private member’s bill in Lok Sabha demanding a separate Vidarbha state. He also ardently focuses on farmer’s issues.