Rohit Shekhar, the son of ND Tiwari, a towering figure in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand politics until his career was marred by controversy -- allegations of a sexual nature revealed in ‘sex tapes’, and Rohit’s own prolonged legal suit for recognition as a son -- talks to Pragya Singh about why he now wants to join mainstream politics.
Can you clear the air a bit. Some news reports say you are joining the BJP, others say you are not.
If you just type my name or my dad’s name [on the Internet] you will just get it in seconds that I have denied this a hundred times. I’ll give you an example. If tomorrow we go to meet Mr Uddhav Thakeray the president of his party in Mumbai, and if he honors my father with a bouquet, gives me a bouquet, my mother a bouquet, does that means we have joined the Shiv Sena? Without any formality? Without filling any forms? There is an entire procedure before you join a party officially. Nothing of that sort has happened. So legally how can you [say we have joined]? It is illegal to say that we have joined, na? What happened was that it was a courtesy call and my father, on various issues, gave his blessings to Mr Narendra Modi -- on some good things he has done. What’s the big deal? My options are open. I’m a free bird. Kahani abhi baaqui hai, dost.
You are basically educated in Delhi and...
Yes I am a Modernite. I was schooled in Modern School Barakhamba Road and before that in the Doon school, which I did not like so I came back to Delhi.
Then how come you suddenly got interested in politics? Yeh shauk aapko kahan se achanak laga?
(Laughs) It is not a shauk. I joined politics because I was also an advisor to the CM of Uttar Pradesh for a year. I call him bade bhai (older brother). Akhilesh Yadav made me his advisor but we parted ways because I wanted a larger role. This is because I saw a yawning gap between rural UP and everywhere else. Rural Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the dehat belt, is a different world from Delhi. It is a different reality, another way of thinking. There is caste, there is a lot of misogyny. Still it is a backward state. I believe right now that whatever has happened, I always praise Akhilesh Yadav. The media came to my place the other day and I told them, I am just supporting Mr Modi on certain issues (but) the question of my father joining this or that party doesn’t arise, he is in non-party politics.
Because he was in the Congress party for such a long time, so why not that option for you as well?
In Harish Rawat’s Congress, have you seen in a single poster, in a single flexi, in a single inauguration of an international stadium or a zoo or IT park or whatever else, ever invite or felicitate my father? Nothing of that sort has happened. Why did my father have to cry when there was a whole mela of the unemployed on Parade Ground in Dehradun? Everybody came to us -- teachers, B.Ed students, yoga teachers, self help groups, roadways workers, self-sustaining college workers, everybody unemployed. You can check -- Rohit Shekhar was on Parade Ground with them for ten days, protesting against the government on their behalf. The unemployed youth told me, bhaiyya if you don’t help us then we have no option but to commit suicide. If you lead us the police won’t dare touch us. I marched with jobless youth, and we sat on dharna for 30 hours continuously. For ten to eleven days I was basically either in the Parade Ground or marching towards the secretariat with some unemployed union or the other marching towards the secretariat, sitting there for hours and hours, facing arrest and then coming back from the police lines.
They came for you, or for your father? What is the secret?
They basically said, we want an assurance from you, and a letter from your father, that you come and support us. They must have had this confidence in me that if I am there then the police will beat them, they will not be waylaid by the police. They must have got the message, once I supported one group of people, that Rohit poorey jazbey ke saath support karta hai (that he supports a cause whole-heartedly). They are disillusioned with the cabinet ministers and the chief minister and so they came to me.
But where is your heart? Which party appeals to you?
If you see what is happening right now in the Uttarakhand BJP right now, the party has become Congress-ised. People, in Delhi, would not even know the name of three leaders from there. The reason for this impression is obviously because there is no leader people recognise in Delhi, other than my dad and maybe one other.
So why was the Congress suddenly indifferent to your father over the last few years? Do you acknowledge you both fought publicly which led to this situation?
My father and I [were apart because] there was a huge strategy by the devilish people in the family who wanted to use my father like an ATM machine. They wanted his political legacy too. Naturally they never wanted his son to be there.
I get it; you are saying that those whose survival depends on being around your father were naturally inclined to keep him away from you?
The nephew did not want that I should be around -- because they know, Rohit has his own personality. He is a fighter. They know this guy is like his dad, and if they get together they will be ousted. When our litigation was going on, my maternal grandmother called my father many times, and some well-wishers of ours would tell us, sahi aadmi baitha hai jo in sab cheezon me nahi hai ya nahin -- the people who want to keep me and my dad apart are around at that moment, or not. They would tell us when it was safe for her to call my father, when such persons were not around. Even in 2011, in 2012, my father would answer my nani’s phone calls. He would say, I am not even fighting (Rohit), I am not fighting him, send Rohit to me, send me to Rohit... I used to get angry, that while their lawyer is calling me a ‘bastard’, that when my mother is being called ‘unchaste’ and whatnot by their lawyer, the signal from my father himself does not sound like that at all... When I met my father in 2014, because of the efforts of my mother and grandmother, because they said that it had been going on for too long, that it should now stop. At that time everything came out in the open. He had nothing against me. He started crying. His own lawyer then stopped answering his calls. The lawyer had been hired by his nephew and other people around him, his brother and all. A medicine like clonafit was being given to him morning and evening by them.
Ya. They misused the medicine he was recommended to take, so that he remains sleepy, supine...If an overdose is given then it dulls a person severely. The medicine has now left his bloodstream...
Then it was a conspiracy and nobody could find out till the truth came out?
He [my father] understood that he had made a mistake, that he was not even allowed to read the newspapers on the days when my case was being reported. They would cancel the newspapers in Lucknow on those days. And the newspaper which did not report on the case, that’s the one they would lay before him.
But he could have reached out to you anyway had he wanted to.
Yes, but he is an old man, and surrounded by people he is dependent upon for everything.
How are things now for you?
He married my mother. She is a modern-thinking and a liberal woman. I think he did a great thing and my regard for him went up sky high. When I went to Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, I was stunned -- so it is not a sudden shauk to enter politics. The kind of work that my father has done, almost everything in Uttarakhand, you can go check, has been done by him. From Bhowali sanatorium to tourism, health facilities, investments. And in Uttar Pradesh also. Don’t ask some political guy or some analyst who is arrogant about this. Ask the people. They will tell you that key facilities, the IT Park, medical colleges, schools, factories, were built in his time. The roads built during his time are still intact. And in UP also, some people tell me, ‘He was the last CM’...
And as you also said, whoever he supports will become a big leader..?
I had said, unke kaampte hue haath aur ladkhadatey hue hoth, jis ko manch se ashirwad mil jayega, woh UP bhi jeeteyga aur Uttarakhand bhi. (His trembling hands and shaky lips, whoever they bless, will win in both UP and Uttarakhand.) I still say so.
Is this a son talking?
Absolutely. Because of the kind of regard he has given my mother for the past three years. He doesn’t sit in the car unless she does so first, ‘Madam, you sit first, then I will’, he says. The fact that he married my mother, that astonished me. I had never thought such a thing would happen. I thought they would be living for me. For me, they are my parents. I am 38 now. Since I was born they are my parents, what else? So the marriage was because there is so much misogyny in the society, especially if you go into the hinterland. In Delhi and metros these things can still pass but not in rural areas. People would remark about my mother that she is a kept woman and so on even though she was 72 years old. That’s why he said, sabki zubaan band kar raha hoon mai -- I am silencing these wagging tongues. I was astonished. I was in Delhi when they decided to get married. I was told two-three hours before that they are getting married, that he is going to publicly declare that she is my son’s mother. He married the wife he loved when he was 84. So what is wrong with it? Ours is a tribal society -- yahan pe bhi kaunsi morality kaam kar rahi hai. But one should appreciate that something like this can also happen. That people can love and marry even at 90. That people can do the right thing at any age. He has a kid from the lady. I mean, come on. So yes whoever my father will bless, it is going to have a big impact on UP and Uttarakhand as well.
Do you think the BJP will understand this?
I think the BJP and other parties understand this very well but the Congress in Uttarakhand under Harish Rawat, they have insulted him openly. I’ll give you the contrast. I think the BJP understands the value of my father’s work. Modiji understands the value of his blessings. That has been given to him on some issues. What’s wrong with that? I’m not the kind of person who will be part of the PM Modi-basher brigade. From my side I am not going to utter any personal remarks against anybody.
Fair enough but one can say that some past actions by your father in the past in themselves amounted to a kind of misogyny, which is the identity he is also trapped in...
Yea he got trapped in that definitely. So he has also suffered for that.
You think he has suffered?
I think that now at this old age he is a transformed man. For the past three years what I have seen of him is that he asks for nothing. He wants nothing but a small meal or two. He helps people in any village access government healthcare there and then. He actively engages with local issues. If he sees a road broken, he gets letters sent to the chief minister. That’s all he does night or day, going to the Ambedkar sansthan, Lucknow University, to institutions in Haldwani, and the same routine in Doon as well. Then, yes, he sees the evening news--that’s all I have seen him want in the past three years. Otherwise he is almost a fakir. And he is respecting my mother a lot too. All I want is that insh’allah things should continue this way...
And how does your mother feel about it all?
She is happy. At least she has got the respect she deserved.
She is OK with your political career?
Yea, yea she wants to establish me and by hook or by crook I’m going to establish myself. I see politics as a means to do somebody’s work. When I was there as a transport advisor for badey bhai Akhilesh Yadav for one year from May 2015 to May 2016 people came to me as if I was the CM. That’s because the people who come there are from absolutely rural areas. I would tell them sometimes, yeh toh mantri ka kaam hai -- what you want me to do is actually a minister’s work. They came to me as if I am a mantri. That is why I left, because I was seeking a bigger role. That, I think, I got that from my father, that I like to do work for the masses. That gives me happiness. That makes me sleep well at night. I like my classical music and that.
What kind of classical musical?
Basically Indian classical music. I am learning from the last three years. Raag Kafi and blah blah...
Do you get time for riyaz?
Kaafi karta hoon. For the last three years I have learned from an excellent teacher at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.
And your father is with you?
Yes yes the three of us are together. We go to thousands of weddings together, we do everything together, we attend public functions...
What do you think will happen in UP elections?
UP me, meray badey bhai Akshilesh Yadav ka mujhey bahut achchey chance dikh rahey hain. I think some RSS person has issued some statement that if we come then reservation will be dissolved and all, or something like that. That I think has damaged the BJP. And I think right now, because people have suffered for the last three-four months from demonetisation, to be honest on the ground level people are angry. Some people are very angry.
But this is said to be, you know, Mr Modi’s own decision...
See what Mr Modi has done is praiseworthy. His intention is praiseworthy. What I don’t know is whether there is infrastructure at the ground level to handle the change. About that I have my doubts, serious doubts. Also, whether we have the literacy level to support a big transition to banking? I don’t think many village people know what a credit card is, what a debit card is. A poor person saves currency notes and fears putting them in the banks. I know there are people in Hindustan who haven’t even seen a railway train. Dikkat na aa jaye -- I feel this might create problems for BJP. But I also think Mr Modi is also thinking about this. My view is that what people want is the corrupt behind bars. People want to see that happen, they will support that.
None of the mainstream parties espouse liberal views but you sound like one and in a way you have changed sides by trying to come into the mainstream politics. What do you say to that allegation?
Is that an allegation? That sounds to me like a [new] Discovery of India.
Would you consider fighting in the elections as an independent candidate?
I will decide in a day or two.