E Sreedharan Teaser
E Sreedharan Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

Four important states in India, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, and one Union Territory, Puducherry, are in the throes of election fever just now. The results will be keenly watched all across the country.

In West Bengal, it is a battle royale between incumbent Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) and the challenger, the national ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by none other than the formidable Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi himself. After two phases of voting already completed and the third due soon, the outcome is still a toss-up, very much up for grabs.

In the neighbouring Assam, India’s eastern border state, BJP is fighting to stay in power. Down South, in Puducherry, it might, for the first time, wrest victory.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP has been a marginal player, unable so far to make significant inroads in a contest which will largely be between the two regional parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led by M.K. Stalin and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kzhagam (AIADMK) led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami.

Recent op-eds by E Sreedharan

The situation in next-door Kerala is certainly much more complex, not to mention interesting. The interest factor comes from the BJP’s Chief Ministerial face, E. Sreedharan, who will soon turn 89. His age is not the only remarkable factor. Known as India’s metro man, Sreedharan is somewhat of a national legend.

Winner of the India’s second highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, and the French Legion d’Honneur, he is much better known as the nation’s foremost engineering wizard. The moving force behind some of India’s outstanding construction and infrastructure marvels such as the amazing Delhi Metro, the massive Konkan Railway, and the Pamban sea bridge. All monumental and memorable achievements by any standard.

Bharat Ratna for Sreedharan?

Speaking of the Delhi Metro, many declare that it is the one unquestionably great feat of engineering in the capital in recent times. Its scale, challenges, and speed of completion, not to mention its continuing punctuality, cleanliness, and efficiency make it exceptional. No wonder there have been several calls to confer on Sreedharan the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest award, even to make him the President of India.

After achieving so much, why should Sreedharan, at this age, get into the rough and tumble of politics, which is mostly a messy if not outright dirty business? This is a puzzle that is not easy to solve unless his intent is to help his party, the BJP, finally to register its presence in the state after decades of hard work but very little by way of results. Sreedharan is not only as a problem-solver, but overcomes of gigantic hurdles. But how will he fare this time?

The two main political formations in the state are the Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), headed by the Congress, with a whole host of other parties on one side or the other. Given that power has usually alternated between LDF and UDF, Sreedharan’s battle is nothing less than uphill.

Kerala's community dynamics

The vote-bank and community dynamics in the state also shows entrenched patterns, with solid groupings along religious and caste lines. The BJP’s design to consolidate the Hindu vote, despite the political mobilisation of the Sabarimala agitation, has not entirely succeeded. Powerful castes clusters like the Ezhavas and the Nairs, who traditionally voted for the UDF, could cast the swing if not defining votes.

The BJP has tried to woo them in addition to appealing to the Schedule Caste and Tribe members of the electorate too. But the difference this time is that UDF is not all that appealing or attractive as an alternative to LDF.

It is therefore possible that the anti-incumbency factor, pervasive in most Indian, particularly state, elections may go in BJP’s favour. The present coalition has also been tarnished by scandals, the most notorious of which is the gold smuggling case.

The silver lining for those who admire him, however, is that Sreedharan is considered the favourite and front-runner in the Palakkad constituency, which is also his hometown.

E. Sreedharan’s father, Neelakandan Moosath, belonged to a very small community, considered an off-shoot of the Namboodri Brahmins. Caste identity is still important in elections, especially in a constituency such as Palakkad, which has a considerable number of Brahmins.

The story is that they settled in these parts from the neighbouring Tamil Nadu to escape religious persecution in 14th century. T. N. Seshan, the legendary Central Election Commissioner, so feared by all political parties for his strict enforcement of the model code of conduct that they abolished his singular office and instated three commissioners in place of one, was Sreedharan’s classmate and contemporary.

The Palakkad assembly constituency has three Agraharams (settlements), which still support a Brahmin population — the Kalpathy Agraharam, Nurani Agraharam, and the Mathur Agraharam.

The President of the Kerala Brahmana Sabha, Karimpuzha Raman, admits that “There are around 25,000 eligible voters belonging to the Brahmin community in the constituency,” but claims that the organisation is not partial to any political party. The sitting Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly, Shafi Parambil, is campaigning door-to-door is trying to give Sreedharan a tough fight.

The BJP has already won the Palakkad Municipality. BJP district chief, E Krishnadas, is confident of victory: “Our candidate Sreedharan has visited all agraharams in Kalpathy, Nurani, Kodunthirapully and Mathur. We hope to get most of the votes from these agraharams.

The people here had waited to see Sreedharan till 9-10pm and hear his words,” said. It will be proved on the day of the results as the response has been overwhelming.”

Will Sreedharan pull of his final marvel by brining BJP to power in his state? Not likely, but he is sure to make a considerable difference in the election results.