No news is good
news — this is definitely true of Gorakhpur during election time.
is the USP: Harishankar Tiwari (in cap) with supporters
Tiwari became the perfect
symbol of present-day UP politics: an independent MLA always in
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.
AT YOUR SERVICE
1997, Tiwari was just a Congress MLA, notorious as a dreaded mafia
1997, along with 21 MLAs, he split the Congress to form the Loktantrik
Congress and supported the Kalyan Singh government of the BJP
the Stamp registration and Civil Security minister in 1999
then, by constantly shifting alliances, he has been in every ministry
under five different CMs
has modelled himself on the lines of his one-time mentor Narayan
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.
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.
The metamorphosis is
complete. The dreaded don of yore has become the caring, hardworking,
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
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.
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
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).