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|September 25, 1999||
The Rediff Election Specials/ Savera R Someshwar
'I will be too old to do this again'
"Main N D Tiwari. Narain Dutt Tiwari. Aapka purana sevak. Yaad rakhen, panje par hi mohar lagaye. Haath ka panja. Yaad rakhen."
Curved backs straighten and faces darkened by long hours in the sun stare at the noisy cavalcade -- the Youth Congress workers are sloganeering loud enough to raise the dead -- as N D Tiwari's disembodied voice addresses them from seemingly thin air. Eyes squint, muddy hands are raised in temporary shade from the strong daylight.
An aide hitches up the sun roof of the custom-made white Tata Estate (equipped with a side table and a broadcasting unit), and Tiwari, on the wrong side of 75, climbs painfully on the seat. His bulk fills out the square in the roof. One hand waves at the crowd, the other waggles in the unseen interior of the car for the mike.
"Yes, my dear hardworking brothers and sisters," Tiwari's driver slows down so as not to subject him to any unnecessary jolts, "this is your well-wisher here. N D Tiwari. The one who has shared your concerns for so many decades. Please remember, it is the hand that is important; it is the hand for which you have to vote."
Another waggle of the hand inside the car and the vehicle slows to a halt. The women still stand and stare, while the men make their way towards the dusty Estate. "Saab," says one of the labourers tentatively, "parchi nahi mili.
Arre bhai," to his aide, "are there any pamphlets in this car?"
A hurried search ascertains the contrary. "No, sir, they are in the other vehicle."
"What is this?" Tiwari is visibly irritated. "What are you people doing? These are the people who are your vote bank. These are the people who will help us win the elections. Why haven't the pamphlets been distributed here yet? If they want pamphlets, why don't you give it to them? Send that other car back here right now and make sure these people get the pamphlets immediately."
He eases back into the seat, and stretches out his hands benevolently, touching his precious vote bank, letting them touch him in turn. "Parchi abhi mil jayegi. Yaad rahe, haath ka panja."
The Estate moves ahead. And an Ambassador returns with the required parchis -- a rectangular black and white flimsy dominated by Tiwari's picture and the Congress symbol. Meanwhile, Tiwari rests against the seat and shuts his eyes, the aide hands over a small steel tumbler of water and a pill. A minute later, Tiwari shakes his head, "These people, they cannot do a single thing right. I have to supervise everything."
We can hear the Youth Congress workers cheering, "Vote for N D Tiwari."
"English," Tiwari takes a sip of water. "Why are they shouting in English? Who is going to understand it here? They should at least have the sense of selecting the slogan according to the area and the people towards whom all this is directed."
At that very minute, the slogans change. "N D tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain."
"See?" Tiwari says. "Another meaningless slogan. These are illiterate, uneducated people who are working in the fields. What is the point of these slogans? They should concentrate on the symbol."
He reaches for the mike and clambers slowly onto the seat. "Haath ka panja. Haath ka panja yaad rakhen." A lone voice that is lost in a flood of "Jeetega bhai, jeetega, N D Tiwari jeetega."
"Arre, bhai," he directly addresses the youth Congress workers crammed into the two jeeps ahead of the mandatory Ambassador filled with gun-toting security personnel, "What kind of slogans are you shouting? Why are you using English? These are our mazdoor brethren, why don't you tell them about the symbol?"
We are in Pantnagar, part of the hills-cum-plains constituency of Nainital in Uttar Pradesh. Nainital has been Tiwari's constituency for as long as anyone can remember -- whether he has won or lost, he has always been considered the local aadmi here.
Tiwari's cavalcade of seven vehicles -- three Ambassadors with security personnel, two jeeps crammed with Youth Congress workers, one Maruti van and one Maruti car filled with members of the Mahila Congress -- makes its slow progress towards our first speech stop, the Beej Nigam. On our way there, Tiwari does not lose a single opportunity to address what he obviously considers is his true vote bank -- the labourers who work in the fields of this university-town, the shopkeepers, the men who man the various gates to the numerous official buildings…
"Dhanyavad. Dhanyavad. Namaste. Main Narain Dutt Tiwari…" It goes on like an endless record.
We finally stop at the Beej Nigam, half an hour after we have set out from the Lambert Guest House on the university campus, a ride that would have normally taken us less than five minutes. Tiwari takes up his position on the seat, resting his hands on the roof of the Estate.
Youth Congress workers garland their leader, as do others. Some present small bouquets or individual roses. Flowers that, an hour ago, had graced the trees and shrubs dotting the campus.
"You are the people," Tiwari begins his first speech of the day, "who have pioneered the agricultural development of this region. You are the ones who have developed good seed. You are the agricultural backbone of this region. You are the people who will dictate the future of the nation. The need of the hour is a strong Beej Nigam that will develop better seeds and work hard for the benefit of the farmers."
The BN employees, though, were least impressed by all this fulsome praise. "What about our wages? And the Pay Commission? Why has the government not done anything about that?"
The Pay Commission has been a sore point with BN employees. Though the Uttar Pradesh government has accepted the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission, none of them have still been implemented in the state. The delay, apparently, has been caused by the fact that many of the public corporations are in the red and not financially able to implement the recommendations.
"So what?" says an irate employee, who prefers to remain unnamed. "All we saying is, those organisations that are making profit should be allowed to implement the recommendations. The Beej Nigam is one such organisation that is flush with funds and would easily be able to do so."
"Well," Tiwari already knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, "did you have any problem when I was the chief minister of this state? And, as you all know, I have been the chief minister for four terms."
Murmured 'no's' filled the air as the crowd of 30 odd people shook their heads. "When I was there, the recommendations of the national Pay Commission were always implemented. But in the last 10 years, the focus of the governments in this state has been diffused -- they have concentrated on caste and forgotten about development. How can you concentrate on research if you have to worry about your salaries and other economic considerations?"
We move on. Many dhanyavads and namaskars later, we reach our next halt -- a Congress office that is waiting to be auspiciously inaugurated by Tiwari. He stumbles on the steps, five pairs of hands reach out their steadying influence. "Remember," he exhorts, "we only have a few days left. Work hard. We must not leave this victory to chance." A snip of the ribbon, and we are on our way.
Pantnagar University is lush. Areas are demarcated for various aspects of botanical research -- flowers, various kinds of seeds… Much of Pantnagar is divided into fields. The bright green landscape is dotted with labourers tending to the crops. Every time Tiwari spots one such group, we roll to a halt… "Main Narain Dutt Tiwari. Yaad rakhen, haath ka panja."
Our next stop is another group of university employees, mostly researchers and professors with a litany of complaints. There is, of course, the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission.
"Retirement has been reduced to 50 years, sir," clamours another.
"Our medical benefits have been cancelled," complains a third.
Youth Congress workers, in the meanwhile, grab the flowers off the roof of the Estate… and recycle it to garland Tiwari. Again. Even the Congress flags have been recycled -- into capes, headbands and neckscarves.
"You have been given many assurances," mike in hand, Tiwari is once again standing on his favourite perch, "but I know nothing has been done for you. People have been coming to me with their problems. Make a list of your complaints and I shall resolve each one of them after I win the election. I am an old man now, I only have a few years left. I want to spend them in serving my people."
It is an appeal that has been raising the hackles of all his opponents -- Balraj Pasi of the BJP, Naina Ahmed of the BSP and even the laidback Muzzaffar Ali of the SP. Especially since it was the same appeal that Tiwari made the last time round, claiming 1998 to be his last year at the hustings. "I will be too old," he said last year, "to do this again." It is a mantra he is repeating this time round as well.
We make to move ahead, but are flagged down by a neatly dressed, but desperate looking character. "Sir, sir…"
The Estate rolls to a halt.
"Sir, you are a good man, but you must do something about the people who associate with you. I have lost 28 lakhs in a finance company started by one of your supporters."
Tiwari loses his cool. "Who told you he is my supporter? I know whom you are talking about. That man supports every political party."
"You can compel him, sir…"
"Did I tell you to invest the money there?"
"But, sir, you can help me…"
"I cannot help you."
"If you tell him…"
"I am certainly not going to do anything of the sort. No one asked you to invest in such dubious schemes."
For once, we zoom ahead. Tiwari pops another pill. It is time for some nasal drops as well, but the motion of the vehicle makes the process difficult. Tiwari gives up and hands the bottle to his aide. "Yeh baad mein karenge."
We reach our next destination, Sanjay Colony, where a 70-odd jhuggi-jhopdiwalas have been waiting to hear Tiwari speak -- and hopefully resolve their problems. Instead, Tiwari -- who is helped on to the stage -- goes the grandfather mode. "You have to respect yourself," he shakes his head at the group squatting around his feet, "otherwise how can you expect others to respect you? You say you want to register yourself as a village. What have you done about it? Make a committee. Make a list of who is in which hut. Where that person has come from. Mark out the borders of each house. Let the aangan and pichwada be clear, so that there is no fight later. If you do things properly, then only will they be permanent. I know you people want to improve the quality of your life and, for that, you need employment. That is why I need your vote."
The speech is impassioned, the response is cold. The mainly female audience just stare at Tiwari -- they have heard this spiel before and nothing has ever happened. Till date. But they will vote. They are sure of that.
With more than five decades in the political arena, Tiwari is now a seasoned campaigner, adept at using every little prop and instance to his advantage. A busload of children spot him and giggle excitedly. He waves back, "Shabash, mere bacchon, shabhash." People stare at him, he smiles back and exhorts their vote. A man drops his briefcase and waits for the cavalcade to draw nearer so that he can greet Tiwari with a namaste. Tiwari obliges everyone and leaves a lot of excited smiles in his wake.
At the next halt, Majid Colony, two old men offer Tiwari handpicked flowers. Men, women and children crowd around him in equal numbers. The Youth Congress workers attempt to make everyone sit down by exercising their lung power. No one does, so they resort to some ungracious shoving which seems to work to an extent. Everyone's attention is on Tiwari and the group that has dwarfed him.
This time, there is no mike. Tiwari begins his speech anyway, but is swamped by plaints and petitions. "I know they want to shut down your shops, but that is because your shops are so shabby. Why don't you take a loan and improve your shops. Then why should they shut them down? I will resolve all these things after the election."
We move on to Badi Market. It is a good spot for the first main speech of the day -- the shops are open and the market. Tiwari is installed on the temporary dais. A supporter called upon to introduce Tiwari exults, "Can you have a better representative than Tiwari? He has no encumbrances; no family. He will be at your beck and call 24 hours a day. He represents the party that has given you Independence, that has looked after the interests if every community all these years. So you must make him win by a big margin. And we will not let him retire; we will not let this be his last elections."
Into which suitably set atmosphere, Tiwari plunges in, thanking everyone who has come there to listen to him. He recalled how he introduced the bill for the formation in the UP house, how he worked with Govind Ballabh Pant for the formation of the university-town, how he has watched it develop with his own eyes. He talks of why this will be his last election, "I am 75 years old. I will not have the energy to fight another election. But, in whatever capacity I can, I will keep serving you."
For the first, he attacks his rivals. "UP has seen 10 governments in 10 years. What has it given us except divisive politics? They have not implemented the Pay Commission recommendations, widows are not receiving their pension, employment has not been generated, developmental work has not been undertaken… These small parties should be banned from fighting national elections; they are only interested in cutting votes."
Tiwari is very fond of projecting himself as the vikas purush; the man who set UP and, specifically, the Nainital constituency on the road to development. He claims, though, that all his efforts during his tenure as chief minister were negated by succeeding governments.
"Did you have any problem when I was the chief minister? Look at how you have suffered because the Congress has become weak. You must," he exhorted, "strengthen the hands of the Congress again."
An aide informed him of the death of a local Congressman. Tiwari calls for a minute's silence in his honour, and to honour "the martyrs of Kargil." He moves to the Estate… "It's almost 11.30. I need to call Delhi and find out the details of Dilip Kumar's campaign. He is going to come here day after tomorrow? Who has an STD phone here?"
While all these discussions are happening, four fingers continue to waggle through the sun roof. The one minute of silence lies forgotten in the dust in our wake.
Photographs: Jewella C Miranda
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