What Will We Remember ND Tiwari For?


What Will We Remember ND Tiwari For?

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Today, the state of Uttarakhand began a three-day mourning period, during which all national flags of government institutes will be flown at half-mast in remembrance of ND Tiwari, one of the first Chief Ministers of the fledgling state. The veteran statesman, part of the political firmament since India’s independence, was 93 years old when he succumbed to a heart attack at Max Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi. Since suffering a brain stroke in September last year, Tiwari’s health had been failing, and his 93rd birthday would also turn out to be his last day.

Despite not having actively participated in politics since stepping down as Andhra Pradesh governor in 2009, Tiwari’s passing elicited condolence messages from across the political spectrum, as his peers mourned his loss. His party, the Congress, called his death a “loss to Indian politics, which could not be filled.” PM Modi also took to Twitter to express sadness over the demise of a “towering leader”. Many other leaders also sang paeans to his memory, praising his many virtues and accomplishments, of which there were many to recount.

Tiwari began his career in Indian politics even before India existed as a nation, following in the footsteps of his freedom fighter father, Poornanand Tiwari. Much later, in the twilight of his career, he also achieved the distinction of being the only Indian politician to hold the position of Chief Minister in two different states – in Uttar Pradesh for three terms, and in Uttarakhand for a single term. Though he never became Prime Minister, he came close in 1991, narrowly losing out on the highest post in the country to Narasimha Rao.

The two sides of ND Tiwari – the veteran statesman and the scandalous politician – were both public facets of his life, whether he liked it or not.

As a freedom fighter and one-time power player, ND Tiwari’s legacy would be memorable enough by itself. Unfortunately, back-to-back scandals at the denouement of his political career have also ensured a more salacious version of Tiwari will live on in the minds of the public. His final political appointment was as governor of Andhra Pradesh, where he brought his own name and the lofty position into disrepute after a news channel acquired footage of a man it claimed was Tiwari in a compromising position with three women, in bed in the Raj Bhavan. It led to his stepping down from the post, but it would not be his last brush with infamy.

In 2008, a paternity suit was filed against Tiwari by Rohit Shekhar Tiwari, stating the politician was his biological father. The drama played out in the courtroom, and spilled into public conversation when the court ordered mandatory DNA mapping of Tiwari in 2012. At the time, Tiwari’s legal team requested that the results not be revealed to the public, but the Delhi High Court overruled this request, citing a need to put an end to the controversy. A few weeks later, in the month of July, those results were made public and confirmed that Tiwari was indeed Rohit’s father. However, in what is a rare occurrence in Indian politics, this story had a happy ending, when in 2014, Tiwari finally accepted that Rohit was his son, and married his mother at the age of 88. This high-profile lawsuit would be one of the last times Tiwari made national news.

The two sides of ND Tiwari – the veteran statesman and the scandalous politician – were both public facets of his life, whether he liked it or not, and he leaves behind a mixed legacy as a result. At the time when the court had made the results of his DNA mapping public, Tiwari had stated, “I have every right to live my life my way.” Looking back today, it would be hard to disagree.