Soon after he was handed the charge of BJP’s Delhi unit, Bhojpuri superstar-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari decided to spend New Year’s Eve in a slum cluster in Inderpuri. He broke bread with slum residents in the evening and the next morning relished a cup of tea with biscuits at a local stall.
Slum dwellers, he had figured, were a vote bank, which had been loyal first to the Congress, and then AAP. So, over the next eight weeks, Mr Tiwari spent several nights at Delhi’s various slum clusters.
Even though rivals castigated his nightouts as “slum tourism”, the outreach helped him burnish his image as a people’s politician.
In the run-up to the April 23 civic elections in Delhi, Mr Tiwari also travelled around the city in the Metro, public buses and on two-wheelers, despite having a fleet of luxury cars.
His movie star charm, mixed with the considered affability did wonders: Five months after he was appointed the party’s state president, the BJP swept Delhi’s civic polls, successfully crushing the strong anti-incumbency sentiment that had been building.
What set Mr Tiwari, 45, apart from his senior, more experienced and, perhaps cynical colleagues, was his accessibility. Any party worker could reach out to him, in person or on his cell phone. Mr Tiwari never switches off his mobile. And mostly, he answers all calls himself.
Those close to Mr Tiwari say that he has the drive and the endurance to execute important projects and work 24x7. They also refer to him as “Mr Perfectionist”.
A micro-manager, he apparently gets irritated if things don’t go according to his liking.
Mr Tiwari, some say, spent an entire night in the recording studio to finalise the BJP’s campaign song for the municipal polls. In fact, he himself sang the song to nail the message, melody.
Mr Tiwari is also steadfast in ensuring that all complaints addressed to his office are redressed in a time-bound manner. In his northeast Delhi constituency, he personally oversaw the distribution of disability kits to people living with various impairments.
Born to Chandra Deo Tiwari and Lalita Devi in Atarwalia, a small village in Bihar’s Kaimur district, Tiwari had five siblings.
He completed his higher education from BHU — a masters in physical education — and was also a state-level cricketer. But his inclination was more towards acting, singing and song writing.
More than a decade ago, Mr Tiwari’s debut film, Sasura Bade Paisa Wala, raked in `48 crore at the box-office, becoming one of the biggest Bhojpuri films ever. Actor Ravi Kishan, another Bhojpuri superstar, recently said that it was because of Mr Tiwari and his success that other actors in the Bhojpuri film industry started demanding higher fees.
Manoj Tiwari made his political debut in 2009 Lok Sabha polls as the Samajwadi Party’s candidate in Gorakhpur against Yogi Aditynath. He lost.
In April 2011, Mr Tiwari was one of the many celebrities to come out in support of Anna Hazare and his anti-graft campaign at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, and, two months later, yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s hunger strike against black money at Ramlila Grounds. He sang patriotic songs and claimed that he had cancelled shooting to lend his support and voice to the cause.
In 2014, he contested the Lok Sabha polls on the BJP ticket and won the Northeast Delhi parliamentary seat. About 32 per cent of Delhi’s voters are Poorvanchalis — from Bihar and eastern UP — and they can decide the fate of candidates in 20 of Delhi’s 70 Assembly constituencies. Given his popularity with Poorvanchalis, and the fact that in the 2013 Delhi polls he had campaigned in 19 of these seats of which 14 went to the BJP’s kitty, it made political sense to put him in charge of the BJP’s Delhi unit ahead of the civic polls.
It was an intense campaign. Crooning his hit songs in areas dominated by Poorvanchali voters, switching with ease from Hindi to Bhojpuri, Mr Tiwari covered about 250 wards.
No wonder he is being credited for the party’s electrifying victory in the municipal elections — the BJP won 181 wards out of 270. Though the actor-politician puts it down to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governance model, many within the party say that he was the sole factor who got the Poorvanchali votes into the BJP fold.
In 2010, Mr Tiwari was part of reality TV show Bigg Boss 4. In week nine, he and Ashmit Patel were nominated for eviction. He got voted out and in his eviction he saw a Bollywood conspiracy against Bhojpuri stars.
Many in the BJP say that if the actor-politician maintains his momentum, he could well be Delhi’s next chief minister.
Who knows. It is the season of outliers.