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Development is the USP: Harishankar Tiwari (in cap) with supporters
Abhinav Chaturvedi
Tiwari became the perfect symbol of present-day UP politics: an independent MLA always in demand
No news is good news — this is definitely true of Gorakhpur during election time.  

Eastern UP or Poorvanchal is usually in news for the wrong reasons — the deadly battles between mafia-don turned politicians, communal riots, extreme poverty and just general benighted-ness.

And Gorakhpur is representative of the region in a way that its larger counterparts like Varanasi and Allahabad are not. Since January the town has been sporadically making national news for a series of riots. And when the riots are discussed, the name that crops up most frequently is that of the area BJP MP Yogi Adityanath — the man who accused his party of being anti-Hindu when it refused to give tickets to his supporters.

When it comes to political heft Adityanath is far behind his local rival and six-time MLA, Harishankar Tiwari. As UP heads towards another hung Assembly, the importance of this 67-year-old Brahmin leader in the post-poll political scenario is unquestioned. Tiwari, who is the lone candidate of the Akhil Bhartiya Loktantrik Congress, is contesting for the seventh time from Chillupar Assembly segment in Gorakhpur district. He became a minister for the first time when Mulayam Singh Yadav appointed him the Stamp registration and Civil Security minister in 1999. Since then UP has seen five chief ministers and Tiwari has been the one constant presence in all the ministries.

Tiwari swears that he would do anything required for his constituency’s development. And Chillupar’s voters seem to agree — governments came and went but Tiwari always managed to remain in favour with the ruling dispensation in Lucknow. “I saved the poor people of Uttar Pradesh from the burden of unnecessary Assembly elections”, he told Tehelka. Five chief ministers needed his help and he obliged them all.

The path to development began for Tiwari and Chillupar in 1997. Till then he was just a Congress MLA, better known as a dreaded mafia don. When Mayawati backed out of the BJP-BSP coalition government that year, Tiwari, along with 21 MLAs, split the Congress to form the Loktantrik Congress and supported the Kalyan Singh government. Kalyan Singh altered the course of UP’s politics forever by inducting 19 dons and hardcore criminals into his cabinet. Tiwari was one of them.

Till 1997, Tiwari was just a Congress MLA, notorious as a dreaded mafia don
In 1997, along with 21 MLAs, he split the Congress to form the Loktantrik Congress and supported the Kalyan Singh government of the BJP
Appointed the Stamp registration and Civil Security minister in 1999
Since then, by constantly shifting alliances, he has been in every ministry under five different CMs
He has modelled himself on the lines of his one-time mentor Narayan Dutt Tiwari
The Election Commission has accused him of electoral malpractices

A few months later when Governor Romesh Bhandari made breakaway Congress MLA Jagdambika Pal the CM, Tiwari was in his camp. A day later the Supreme Court reinstated Kalyan Singh and Tiwari promptly hopped back to Singh’s side. Basically, he became the perfect symbol of present-day UP politics, an independent MLA always in demand.

In the intervening decade Tiwari’s politics has changed drastically. UP Police’s records still talks about don Harishanker Tiwari who is a cabinet minister and no longer involved in crime, but that is not the whole truth.

The metamorphosis is complete. The dreaded don of yore has become the caring, hardworking, avuncular dada
The metamorphosis from a don to “Chillupar’s Vikas Purush” has been complete. Tiwari has an ma in Sociology from Gorakhpur University and by his appearance and mannerisms, he can safely be labelled as a politician of the old school. He has modelled himself on the lines of his one-time mentor and another Brahmin leader, Narayan Dutt Tiwari. He is extremely accessible despite the years he has been in power and leads a very simple lifestyle. In his affidavit to the Election Commission, the column against “criminal charges” says “none”. He never, even during off-the-record conversation, utters a word against any party or political leader.

On a typical campaigning day, Tiwari’s courtyard is full of ordinary people. Apart from a couple of UP Police security guards there is not a gun or fierce looking goon in sight. His house resembles a college hostel, rows of rooms with anyone welcome to catch a snooze on the wooden beds inside. When a Mont Blanc pen and expensive shoes are de rigueur for every leader worth his kurta pajama, Tiwari uses a cheap gel pen and wears muddy locally made slip-ons. If it weren’t for the big shiny white Ford Endeavour and Tata Safari suvs, he would have passed off as an elderly old-fashioned landlord.

How was it, working with chief ministers who had nothing in common? “Similar. I do my work and never betray anybody. I still have good relations with everybody,” he says. While Tiwari might have been at ease with CMs of various hues, he is very uncomfortable with the Election Commission. He has always been accused of electoral malpractices and this time around he is under constant surveillance by the Election Commission. A cameraman records his every movement from the time he appears from the first floor of his house in village Tanda. The number of cars in his cavalcade, the people who sit in his car and those who meet him during his campaign – everything is recorded.

“It’s too much bhai. They [ec] send men with mobile phone camera incognito to record my movements throughout the day,” he says. But at least after this election nobody would be able to say that Tiwari rigs polls, he adds wryly.

On the face of it, his campaign strategy is simple. Everywhere he points out to people that the road they are standing on and the school their children attend, are there thanks to him. Tiwari has made it a point to be in his constituency at least 10 days every month since he was first elected an MLA in 1984 from jail. But his detractors insist that Tiwari is a regular politician.

In Muslim dominated villages, Tiwari takes a dig at Yogi Avaidyanath, in villages dominated by Yadavs he talks about Mayawati’s negative agenda of wanting to send Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh to jail. In Brahmin and dalit localities he prefers to focus on development.

Not even once does he talk about his main opponent — the BSP’s Rajesh Tripathi who is confident of defeating Tiwari as “he would not be able to stop the dalits from voting.” Tripathi says that Tiwari is engaged in the “business of development”, wherein he gets massive development budgets sanctioned for his constituency and then makes money from the contracts.

His voters don’t seem to mind his constantly shifting loyalties. “As long as he is working for us, it hardly matters where he is. He laid the foundation of a madrasa when he was a minister in the BJP government and he never allowed Yogi’s men to spread their communal carnage here,” says Julfikar Khan in the village of Jameen Bhiti.

Tiwari has pinned his hopes of being elected yet again on the development work done by him and on Chillupar’s pride in his ability to remain a minister for so long. But the ec’s strictness can upset things. Though his constituency has a large number of Brahmin voters, it also has 30,000 dalits and 25,000 Thakurs who still might harbour doubts about the transition from a dreaded don to the loving-caring “dada” as he is now called.

If he manages to pull off a seventh consecutive victory, he just might be playing a key role in the formation of the next government in UP. Ask him about his agenda for the future and pat comes the reply: “Mujhe sewa karte rehna hai” (I have to keep serving).

» for earlier ground reports from up, go to:
» Writers’ e-mail: [email protected], [email protected]
May 12 , 2007
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