Updated: March 25, 2014 1:51 am
He needs a physiotherapist’s help to get going every morning, and has to be fed his breakfast with a spoon. Once lodged in the front seat of his SUV, he finds it difficult to get off to meet people.
N D Tiwari is no longer the leader he once was. He is now trying to gauge if the man he recently recognised as his biological son could be the heir to his politics.
With 35-year-old Rohit Shekhar by his side, 89-year-old Tiwari is on a tour of Nainital, to introduce his son to his people. With his father’s trademark Gandhi cap on his head, Rohit asks Tiwari’s supporters to support him too. “Mujhe bhi apna aashirwaad dein,” he says with folded hands.
After years of denial and a long battle in court, Tiwari acknowledged Rohit earlier this month. Rohit and his mother, Ujjwala Sharma, have been travelling with him on a 10-day tour of Nainital since Friday.
On Sunday, as physiotherapist Prince Azhar Irani helped Tiwari take off his apron after breakfast at Nainital’s state guesthouse, Sharma, who has been staying in another room, entered.
“Did you have your breakfast?” Tewari asked her. She nodded. He asked a second question: “Did you see Naini lake?”
A day earlier, Tiwari and Sharma had gone with their son to the Naina Devi temple north of the lake, apparently to pray for the success of the emergence of Rohit as Tiwari junior in Nainital ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
As the day began, Tiwari sat in the front seat of a Mahindra Xylo SUV, with Rohit at the back. The entourage, which included local Congress MLA Sarita Arya, rolled through Mall Road, the vehicles stopping at several places to allow Tiwari to meet people. Everywhere, Rohit got off and stood next to his father’s window.
At the Bhowali Sanatorium, father and son sat next to each other as Tiwari asked whether all the modern equipment he had ordered during his tenure as chief minister of Uttarakhand had arrived. “No,” said the organisers of the function, and Tiwari asked his OSD Bhawani Bhatt to try to get him on the phone with the state’s DG, Health.
Next was a public meeting on the Sanskritik Manch premises. Rohit delivered his first speech here. “I do not need to tell you the bio data of my father,” he said. “If he contests the election and wins, he will sit in the front row in Parliament. This is my first visit to this constituency. Mujhe bhi apna aashirwaad dein.”
Tiwari did not give a speech. Instead, he interacted with the gathering through the public address system. “Who has come from Hiralal Shah’s family?” he asked.
No one, came the reply. Tiwari told the people that Shah had been in jail with him during the freedom movement. He knew everyone around there, he said. “There are only one or two of you whom I do not know by name.”
March 23 was martyrdom day, and Tiwari urged people to stand up to pay tribute to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. His voice appearing to crack with emotion, he sang, “Aye mere watan ke logon, zaraa aankh mein bhar lo paani.” Then came the political message: “I have seen Bhowali as a notified area right since the time I was a child. Hindustan aage badhe, Bhowali aage badhe (Both India and Bhowali must progress).”
On the way to Bhimtal, Tiwari got nostalgic at a board announcing Padampuri, his ancestral village. Rohit helped him get off the vehicle, as local people raised slogans in his praise. By then, the sun was about to set, and Tiwari headed for the fisheries department guesthouse at Bhimtal.
On Monday, Rohit travelled alone to Padmapuri; his father was not feeling well, he explained to villagers. At the leader’s ancestral home, he was offered tea and snacks. Rohit touched the feet of Durga Dutt Tiwari, N D Tiwari’s cousin.
At a public meeting, Rohit said, “I am here on the instructions of my father. He has asked me to apologise to you for his failure to turn up. I will tell him about your sentiments for him in the evening.
“Mujhe jeene ka maqsad chaahiye (I need a goal in my life). Bless me and send my father to Lok Sabha.” The people of the village, which Tiwari has not visited since 2003, applauded. He would bring his father over soon, Rohit promised.