Here’s why the BJP may be dilly-dallying on declaring the Metro Man as the Chief Minister candidate for Kerala

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Here’s why the BJP may be dilly-dallying on declaring the Metro Man as the Chief Minister candidate for Kerala
  • V Muraleedharan, minister of state for external affairs and parliamentary affairs, tweeted hinting that Sreedharan will be leading the party as the chief ministerial candidate in Kerala.
  • Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, born in Palakkad in British India in 1932, headed the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) for 17 years ⁠— between 1995 and 2012 ⁠— as its managing director.
  • Sreedharan, a civil engineer by qualification, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan — the second highest civilian honour — by the government of India, in 2008.
By projecting E Sreedharan, popularly known as the “Metro Man” ⁠— a technocrat who earned his cred for executing infrastructure projects⁠ with a kind of efficiency rare in India — as the Chief Minister candidate in Kerala on March 4, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may get to make a laudable point but not one that yields a lot of votes.

V Muraleedharan, minister of state for external affairs and parliamentary affairs, tweeted hinting that Sreedharan will be leading the party as the chief ministerial candidate in the state assembly elections scheduled on April 6. A while later, the minister corrected himself saying that there is no official announcement on it, yet.

It may be too soon to pass a verdict on Sreedharan ⁠— the politician, but it may be safe to assume that he would only be as effective as the former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam or India’s cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, who was nominated to the upper house of the parliament. He would be a great brand ambassador for the BJP, which may be gaining some ground in Kerala, but is still a distant third in electoral appeal in the south Indian state.

That would explain the reticence of the party’s central leadership with Sreedharan’s candidature, with less than a month to go for the polls.

E Sreedharan, a man who gets things done

E Sreedharan, a man who gets things done
BCCL

Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, born in Palakkad in British India in 1932, headed the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) for 17 years ⁠— between 1995 and 2012 ⁠— as its managing director. The construction work of the Delhi Metro started in 1998 and the first line was inaugurated in 2002. By the time Sreedharan left DMRC, the network had expanded to 7 lines.

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Sreedharan, a civil engineer by qualification, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan -- the second highest civilian honour — by the government of India, in 2008.

Sreedharan, a civil engineer by qualification, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan -- the second highest civilian honour — by the government of India, in 2008.
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​Sreedharan’s first claim to fame

​Sreedharan’s first claim to fame
Wikimedia

What heralded him as one of the greatest engineers in the country, before he was in the spotlight for Delhi Metro’s huge success, was his work with the Konkan Railway. After his retirement from government service, in 1990, under the then railway minister George Fernandes, Sreedharan was given a contract as the chief managing director of Konkan Railway. This project connected the coastal towns of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. The project saw the completion of 93 tunnels and over 150 bridges over 760 kilometres.

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Can a great engineer be a good politician?

Can a great engineer be a good politician?
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Last month, in a surprise development to most political watchers in Kerala, Sreedharan announced that he has accepted the invitation of the BJP to join the party, ahead of the assembly elections. The man who revolutionised India’s public transport forever told the media that there are so many things that could be done in his home state. But it is not going to be a cakewalk, at all.

The state is currently ruled by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan of the Left Democratic Front (LDF). A state where the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led alliance and the Indian National Congress-led alliance have shared power for decades, BJP has always been a very distant third, in both the state assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections.

Currently, the BJP has only one member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from the state ⁠— O. Rajagopal. And, this was the first time ever, in the 2016 polls, that the party had won a seat in Kerala assembly.

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Metro Man’s stance on BJP’s favourite issues

Metro Man’s stance on BJP’s favourite issues
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In a recent interview to news channel NDTV, the 88-year old said, "Personally, I am a very very strict vegetarian. I don't even eat eggs, so, certainly I don't like anybody eating meat. That is certain."

Sreedharan, who studied in school with former chief election commissioner T. N. Seshan, also talked about the very controversial “love jihad” issue and told the channel, "... I see what is happening in Kerala. How Hindus are being tricked in a marriage and how they suffer this... not only Hindus, Muslim, the Christian girls are being tricked in a marriage. Now, that sort of thing I certainly will oppose."

While he seems to have espoused even the BJP’s controversial causes, usually professionals/technocrats/economists/academics have not had a great electoral record in India. A great example is the Indian National Congress’ Manmohan Singh earned his credentials as a minister and reformer, but never won an election as a candidate.

The late Meera Sanyal, the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland in India, was quite popular in South Mumbai before she decided to fight election as an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and lost. This was during what can be called as perhaps the strongest wave AAP has produced in Maharashtra in an election year.

Cricketing giants Mohammad Azharuddin in 2009 and Gautam Gambhir in 2019 are rare exceptions of sporting icons who did win an election, but they never emerged as undisputed leaders in their respective parties.

So, if Sreedharan does beat the odds stacked against professionals sans political pedigree, it would truly be another feather in his cap.

The constituency, where he will contest from, has not been finalised. Media reports suggested that it could be Thrippunithura in Ernakulam district. If that is to be believed, it is an interesting choice for two reasons. One is that the people of Ernakulam are familiar with his work when he was at the helm of the Kochi Metro project. The other reason being the controversy surrounding the Palarivattom bridge scam, which has adversely affected the LDF’s image in Kerala.

Bridges have shot Sreedharan to fame, and one should not be surprised if another bridge catapults Sreedharan to stardom as his political track gets a green flag.

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