He has built bridges over the seas, bore through the mountains of Konkan, dug up the sacred Lutyen’s Delhi and tore apart the notorious Indian bureaucracy like no technocrat has ever done.
But is E Sreedharan, the venerable ‘Metro Man’ of India, making the one wrong move in his long and illustrious life at the ripe old age of 88, by entering electoral politics as a BJP man? Most Keralites think so.
They fear that it would taint his legacy forever and irredeemably at this stage. And this is irrespective of whether he wins this election or not. He has already landed himself in a pile of ‘cow dung,’ they say. Incidentally, for the uninitiated, cow dung has emerged to represent everything that the Hindutwa gang represents.
Life-long career, literally!
The whole of India have been following his career for decades; Keralites especially with a tinge of pride garnished with an element of ownership. As if they had some sort of an ancestral claim to a part in him.
And what a career he had! Most of us don’t even realize that he retired way back in 1990. In an active professional life that spanned more than the average lifespan of an Indian, Sreedharan has done the impossible, one after the other.
The mammoth Konkan Railways, arguably the biggest undertaking after independence, the Delhi Metro, MV Rani Padmini, the first ship produced by Cochin Shipyard, Kochi Metro, the legend of Pamban Bridge all stand edifice to his diligent work ethics and sheer ability to meander through the slime and dirt of the corridors of power and emerge spotless on time, time after time.
There is no doubt about the character and achievements of the man and it is those values that BJP wants to co-opt by effecting the coup.
The company you keep
However, the latest assignment seems to be counterproductive to an extent as far as Sreedharan’s image is considered. For a man long considered to be sane and sanguine Sreedharan’s descent into the realm of hate speech was rather abrupt and shocking.
Soon after the declaration of affinity with BJP he made a direct attack on ‘meat eaters’. It was so totally misplaced in the harmonic air of Kerala that for a moment he appeared to give vent to a voice from the northern side of the country. So badly orchestrated that one could actually hear and identify the actual ventriloquist.
Sreedharan is, no doubt, BJP’s biggest celebrity catch so far in Kerala. But it doesn’t mean much. Its early recruits include a Malayalam super star Suresh Gopi, a gun-trotting bureaucrat turned politician Alphonse Kannanthanam, a couple of celebrity police officers - all of them failed to live up to the hype.
Sreedharan and TN Seshan
Another celebrated bureaucrat who endured a brief but futile tryst with politics comes to mind. It is TN Seshan, who as Chief Election Commissioner of India, has single handedly cleaned up the Indian electoral system in the 1990s. After his retirement he had the desire to be the President of India. Having known his prowess as an administrator and his principled but unpredictable manners, no major political party was willing to extend support to him. Seshan was backed only by Shiv Sena and he was defeated thoroughly in the elections by KR Narayanan, who went on to become president of India. Seshan and Sena parted ways very soon. Incidentally, TN Sehan who died far away from limelights in 2019, was a classmate of E Sreedharan in his school and college days in Palakkad.
Will Sreedharan be the Chief Minister of Kerala? Well, it is an idea he has flaunted, though for that, the NDA has to win the elections first. Which is not possible, not at least this time, even with BJP’s shrewd strategies and Amit Shah’s proven political knack at extending party’s control all over India.
Can he win the Palakkad seat, where he is fighting elections? Well, that is definitely a possibility. After all, in the last election, BJP’s Sobha Surendran emerged as a strong contender and ended up second to the sitting MLA Shafi Parambil, who is Sreedharan’s opponent now. The BJP is already ruling the Palakkad Municipality, which gives him a unique advantage. The northern Kerala district is where Sreedharan is originally from and spent his school and college days. However, Shafi is a strong fighter and the UDF has thrown all its might behind him. It would be a shame if Sreedharan couldn’t outdo what Sobha did. It would still be not much if he defeats Shafi and becomes another Who would think of congratulating Usain Bolt for winning a tennis ball cricket match?