Updated: November 11, 2021 7:34:33 am
Opposition Congress was in for a shock on Monday when, on the eve of Uttarakhand’s foundation day, the BJP government of Pushkar Singh Dhami announced a list of five names shortlisted for ‘Uttarakhand Gaurav Samman-2021’. Leading the list was the name of late Congress stalwart and former chief minister of the hill-state, N D Tiwari.
The government announced the name of Tiwari, who was a prominent Brahmin leader and multiple-time chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and completed a full five-year tenure from 2002 as CM of Uttarakhand, carved out of UP only the year before, for the annual state award posthumously for his “social work and public service”, and for this contribution in the state’s development.
On October 17, on the eve of Tiwari’s birth and death anniversaries — he had died in 2018 within hours of turning 93 — Dhami had announced naming Pantnagar industrial estate in Udham Singh Nagar district after Tiwari. The move was seen as an attempt to appropriate the legacy of the late leader from the grand old party. The next day, Dhami had also offered tributes to Tiwari at the CM’s residence.
Why BJP wants to appropriate Tiwari
While Uttarakhand BJP officially denies honouring N D Tiwari for any political gain, three years after his death he remains a tall figure in the state. The party expects to get some advantage in Kumaon, from where Tiwari came, by appropriating his legacy. Congress stalwart Harish Rawat also belongs to Kumaon, and holding up Tiwari’s memories may be a way to cut away some of Rawat’s supporters.
While Uttarakhand Congress general secretary (organisation) Mathura Dutt Joshi countered and asked why the government did not honour Tiwari in the last four years, a senior BJP leader said, “This move will create a perception that the Dhami government functions with a positive mindset and regards senior leaders across party lines for their contribution in development of Uttarakhand. Tiwari-ji was a prominent Brahmin face from Kumain, a region where BJP has been traditionally weak.”
Sources in BJP said that by honouring Tiwari, the party has tried to set three equations in its favour. First, at a time opposition parties in UP are trying to woo Brahmins and accusing the Yogi Adityanath government of “targeting” the community, BJP expects to reap the benefits in the Thakurs versus Brahmins and Kumaon versus Garhwal electoral divisions in Uttarakhand.
Second, Pantnagar is in Kumaon, and Tiwari came from the same region, and BJP wants to shore up its support there. Kumaon has 29 Assembly constituencies and Garhwal, spread over a larger geographical area, sends 41 MLAs to the Assembly. Out of 57 seats it won in 2017, BJP got 34 seats in Garhwal and 23 in Kumaon. The Congress won six seats in Garhwal and five in Kumaon.
Third, most people in the state are aware that Harish Rawat, Congress’s senior-most leader in the state, was never comfortable with Tiwari as senior leader in the state and had staged protests on issues of “public interests” when the veteran was CM.
During 2017 state elections, Tiwari had met then BJP president Amit Shah and announced support to the saffron party, apparently to secure a poll ticket for son Rohit Shekhar, who eventually was not nominated by the party. “But even after his announcing support, Tiwari and his son never met BJP workers. So he was largely known as a Congress leader until his death,” a BJP leader in Uttarakhand said.
Congress’s Mathura Dutt Joshi said, “Tiwari-ji was a pride of Uttarakhand…but the BJP has announced honour for him only when Assembly polls are at the doorstep. This move is politically motivated.”
Asked how the Congress honoured Tiwari, Joshi said, “Congress made him CM several times in UP, and once in Uttarakhand, and later made him Governor (of Andhra Pradesh). On his birth and death anniversary last month, the party took out a smriti yatra in Haldwani. Programmes were organised across the state.”
BJP state vice-president Devendra Bhasin said, “The decision to honour Tiwari-ji is not for any political gain. It is a recognition of his contribution in the development of Uttarakhand. After forming a separate state, when then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Uttarakhand, Tiwari was the CM, and on his (Tiwari’s) request, a special industrial package was announced for the new state. Special status was also given to Uttarakhand.”
Besides Tiwari, others conferred the state award are author Ruskin Bond, environmentalist Anil Joshi, folk singer Narendra Singh Negi, and mountaineer Bachendri Pal.