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Heartland Congress loses its 'safed sher'

Bhopal: Sriniwas Tiwari fancied himself as the " safed sher" of Rewa. Such was his clout that there was a time when a state-owned aircraft would always be at his disposal whenever he chose to travel.

Normally, chief ministers and governors are entitled to use state aircraft for official purposes.

Tiwari, a Congress veteran from Rewa, the home of India's white tigers, was neither a chief minister nor a governor, though he did rise to become Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly.

He died on Friday of respiratory problems in a Gurgaon hospital, aged 93, leaving behind a chequered history of highhandedness, caste-based politics and electoral malpractices.

For most of his life, Tiwari, a Brahmin, had remained an arch-rival of another Congress stalwart from the state, the late chief minister Arjun Singh who came from the same region. Singh was a Rajput.

It was during Digvijaya Singh's rule as chief minister that Tiwari rose to prominence. Elected to the Assembly in 1957, Tiwari's tenure as Speaker between 1993 and 2003 coincided with Digvijaya's 10-year term at the helm.

That was the time when a state-owned aircraft was always at Tiwari's disposal whenever the "white tiger of Rewa" chose to travel in and out of the Madhya Pradesh capital.

When the Congress was voted out of power in 2003, several scandals relating to Tiwari became public. But the politician was not convicted.

In one instance, it was found that as many as 30 of Tiwari's family members had gained employment in a school in Timani, a village in Rewa district.

The school was a private institution but the Digvijaya government had acquired it when 14 of Tiwari's relatives were employees. In July 2014, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had declared in the Assembly that a probe was on relating to the "wrongful" appointment of Tiwari's relatives in the school.

In 2003, the Election Commission had found that two employees of the Speaker's office, Satyanarayan and Jairam Shukla, were canvassing for Tiwari while the model code of conduct was in force.

Earlier, election commissioners B.B. Tandon and T.S. Krishnamurthy had ordered the suspension of the then Rewa collector over glaring discrepancies in the electoral rolls.

In Madhi, a village in Tiwari's Assembly constituency, the poll panel had found that 1,237 people - both Hindus and Muslims - had been enrolled as staying in the house of one Nand Kumar. Kumar later confessed that he lived with just his wife and three sons.

But the " safed sher" had remained unfazed. He relished cultivating a larger-than-life image and often prompted Digvijaya to say that as chief minister, his writ ran only in 44 districts. "In Rewa, Panditji is the chief minister," Digvijaya, accused of giving Tiwari a free hand in all official postings in Rewa, would say.

Madhya Pradesh then had 45 districts.

During the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Tiwari would boast that the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was "scared" of his influence over Brahmins across the country.

Tiwari's son Sunderlal and grandson Vivek are both active in the Madhya Pradesh Congress.

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