Interview: Siddhart Tiwari

‘Nationalism won’t help BJP, people want jobs’

Print edition : May 10, 2019

Siddhart Tiwari.

Interview with Siddhart Tiwari, Congress candidate in Rewa.

Thirty-six-year-old Siddhart Tiwari, an engineer by profession, is making his election debut for the Congress from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. He is the son of senior Congress leader Sunder Lal Tiwari and grandson of former MP and Speaker Sriniwas Tiwari. While the incumbent MP from Rewa, Janardan Mishra, has dismissed him as a “parachuted candidate”, Siddhart says he is getting a tremendous response from youths and elders alike. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

The Congress has not won the Rewa Lok Sabha constituency after 1999. The party lost all eight assembly segments in the Assembly election held last year. What gives you hope that you will be able to wrest this seat?

It is true that the Congress hasn’t been able to win the Rewa parliamentary seat after 1999, but in 2009 my father, Sunder Lal Tiwari, was very close to the victory margin; he lost by barely 4,000 votes. In the 2008 Assembly election, my grandfather, Sriniwas Tiwari, lost by 300 votes. The major reason behind the Congress’ underwhelming performance was the low voter turnout. We are working on that this time.

The Modi factor seems to be present in Madhya Pradesh. Would not the BJP’s nationalism plank divert focus from all other issues?

This election is about creation of jobs, ending rural distress, alleviating poverty and peddling growth. The BJP is talking about nationalism because it has no credible achievement to cite. It is our duty to not let them divert attention. In any case, people are disillusioned and they understand that it is the Congress that can deliver.

Infighting has also hurt the Congress’ election prospects in the past two decades. The local press is filled with reports that there was a lot of internal bickering over the allotment of the party ticket in Rewa.

My case is different. Since I am born in a political family I share a rapport with most leaders in the Congress’ establishment in Madhya Pradesh, more so in the Vindhya belt. My father passed away recently, and there has been an outpouring of love and support from all. Even people who don’t talk to each other are working for me together. Recently, we organised a workers’ conclave and I was surprised to see the huge turnout and synergy amongst our rank and file.

The BJP has alleged that you have been parachuted into Rewa from New Delhi and that the local people do not relate to you.

Such accusations do not work in an election dominated by local issues. I am a son of the soil and well connected with the local people. I have campaigned actively along with my father since 2009. During the campaign trail, a worker surprised me with a photo from 1999, in which I, then 16 years old, was accompanying Congress leaders at a public meeting. I single-handedly managed the 2013 Assembly election for my father, and in the 2014 general election I looked after the overall electioneering here.

But ticket distribution has been a problem owing to internal rifts in the party and multiple claimants to various seats, including Bhopal, Gwalior and even Rewa. Would this not spoil the candidates’ prospects?

As far as Rewa is concerned, my father’s demise happened at an unfortunate time. I did not ask for the ticket. All the senior leaders called me and they told me to contest, whether it was Jyotiraditya Scindiaji, Kamal Nathji, Digvijay Singhji, Ajay Singhji, or Pachauriji. It was more like an order than anything else. The Congress house in the State is united. Kamal Nath ji, supported by Jyotiraditya Scindia, is providing us a dynamic leadership and we all are working together to ensure the Congress’ sweep in the State. Our only objective is to defeat the BJP and contribute handsomely to its ouster from the Centre.

There is no alliance between the Congress, the BSP and the Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP). The two parties divided opposition votes in many Assembly seats in last year’s elections and contributed to the Congress’ poor showing in the Vindhya belt. Will they not be detrimental to the party this time too?

There is no alliance with them in Madhya Pradesh because there is no national-level alliance with them, and there cannot be any regional alliances. I am not privy to why the alliance with the BSP did not happen in the 2018 Assembly election. Importantly, the BSP is more or less finished here; its senior leaders and ex-MLAs have moved to the Conngress’ fold, and there is going to be a massive shift of the BSP votes towards the Congress.

The tribal people who moved from the Congress to the BSP and then gravitated towards the BJP seem to be rooting for the saffron party. Are you making an effort to woo them back? What is the response?

The Adivasis have been Congress voters traditionally. In fact, they are the ones who gave strength to the party, right from Indira Gandhi’s time. It is the Congress that gave them land rights and pension and worked tirelessly for their uplift. After Kamal Nath came to power, he formed samitis to look into tribal people’s issues, but before we could kick-start our new initiatives, the model code of conduct came into place. But there is a renewed goodwill among them for the Congress.

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