He may have been lying low, but the 87-year-old Narayan Dutt Tiwari has no intention of being out of the reckoning. The escapades in the Andhra Pradesh Raj Bhavan and the paternity suit brouhaha well behind him, the Congress veteran is back in the city that has been the stage for most of his political life: Lucknow.
Three times the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and once of Uttarakhand, as also India’s minister for industry, external affairs, labour and planning, till the AP governorship became an inglorious epilogue to his career, Tiwari arrived in Lucknow some four months back.
It helps that both Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his chief minister son Akhilesh Yadav see merit in cultivating Tiwari. Not only did they make it a point to call on him but also honoured him at a special ceremony in the UP assembly to mark 125 years of the state legislature. Going the whole hog, in fact, the government estates department was instructed to spruce up Tiwari’s residence, allotted to him in the UP tradition of giving all former CMs an official bungalow.
And so it was that a 100-year-old English bungalow on Lucknow’s posh Mall Avenue was readied for the erstwhile CM. The spruce-up, though, was not confined just to the house, Tiwari himself has gone through some sort of makeover. Forgetting that he no longer occupies any political office, he has been going around the entire city, conducting surprise inspections at government hospitals, institutions and establishments, asking all sorts of pointless questions.
It began the night Tiwari landed at the ICU of Lucknow’s busy Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Civil Hospital, demanding an inspection of the admission register. Much to the bewilderment of the doctors there, Tiwari directed on them a volley of questions. The most bizarre being: “Do you have treatment for cancer in this hospital?” There was no point in telling him that being just a district hospital, its sole objective was primary medical and healthcare. “Make a note of this,” he imperiously directed one of the aides accompanying him.
His next pit-stop was the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development near the Lucknow airport, which he himself had set up during his third stint as CM of UP. After eliciting a lowdown on the institute’s activities over the years, he proceeded to take a round of the entire premises, again making vague inquiries, before leaving abruptly.
On another day, he visited a unit of the UP Electronics Corporation, makers of the Uptron brand of televisions, and a star undertaking of the UP government. Here he wanted to see what kind of laptops Akhilesh Yadav was giving young students, departing only after a company official showed him a sample.
On yet another occasion, as the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences prepared to celebrate its Foundation Day, Tiwari sent word that he was reaching there. Indeed, he did, and just as the function started, he began his litany of questions. He did have a considerable role in establishing the institute as some sort of parallel to aiims way back in the ’80s. What he seemed to have forgotten was that this institute was a state initiative, not of the central government. “Who is the Union health minister?” he demanded of a medic. Told who he was, he promptly asked a member of his personal staff to call up Ghulam Nabi Azad, who apparently came on the line only to be told, “This is a well-run institute, my request to you is to always remain generous to this place.”
More recently, he drove down to the Lucknow office of the Reserve Bank of India and inspected the place like he were still the Union finance minister. The poor RBI head had no choice but to extend him the usual courtesies. Another time, he was at a popular mall in Gomti Nagar, when he strode up to a foreigner lady, working as a legal advisor to the Belgian parliament, gave her his visiting card, and apparently told her, “We must meet sometime.” It led her companion, who happened to have read about the exploits of the veteran Congressman, to quip, “Old habits really die hard.” Indeed.