Can one man change the fortunes of over 3.48crore people? Well, at least one man thinks so, and that is Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, better known as “Metro Man”. Sreedharan took his fellow Keralites by surprise this week by announcing his decision to formally join the BJP and contest the elections in the Assembly elections scheduled sometime in April-May. Why BJP, which is struggling to take roots in a largely fertile red soil? Pat came the reply: “When you analyse the Kerala scenario, I see only BJP can deliver results for the state. CPM-led LDF and Congress-led UDF are working for furthering their interests. Only BJP is working for the betterment of the country as well as the state.” If anyone wonders how an 88-year-old can bring about the transformation, Sreedharan replies without batting an eyelid, “There would be a landslide migration to BJP. I see several like-minded persons joining the BJP or supporting it in the elections.”
As one who is credited with the completion of the prestigious 900 km long Konkan Railway project in record seven years through the rough terrains of the Western Ghat, Sreeedharan should know of landslides. Leaving landslides aside to the future, Sreedharan has raised serious allegations about the current Left Front government led by CPM’s Pinarayi Vijayan, whose pet subject these days is “development”. According to Sreedharan, while there are “advertisements with photos of the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues about development projects…the results at the ground level are nil”. Sreedharan, who hails from Palakkad district and is currently settled in Malappuram, has made it clear that he has not sought any favours from either the LDF or the UDF. Pointing out that the CPM spends most of its time fighting the Centre, Sreedhaaran is convinced that “neither the LDF nor the UDF can do anything for Kerala’s development”. Interestingly, Sreedharan’s statements about development came on a day when the Prime Minister announced a slew of projects in poll-bound Kerala, with the Chief Minister showering wholesome praise on Narendra Modi.
Sreedharan started taking interest in matters relating to Kerala only after his return to the state as late as 2018 or so, when he took charge of Kochi Metro on behalf of his erstwhile organisation Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. Then also there were some hiccups on his role, which led to small political upheavals. In 2018, the LDF government came under criticism after it decided not to involve Sreedharan and the DMRC in the Light Metro rail projects mooted for Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode by the previous UDF government under the guidance of the “Metro Man”. There was uproar in the state Assembly over the Chief Minister “not finding time” to meet Sreedharan over the projects, with the lone BJP member, O. Rajagopal also joining the Opposition in walking out of the House in protest. “If the public suspects that the government’s eagerness to demoralise Sreedharan and show him the door is for roping in new players and have a pie in the mega crore project, could anyone blame them,” asked Leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala. Pinarayi Vijayan tried to play down the controversy by saying that his government had high regard for Sreedharan and was only waiting for the clearance of some technicalities with the Centre. But the incident, in hindsight, was enough for Sreedharan to mistrust both Pinarayi and his government. Not that he made any public overtures to the Congress or the BJP then. Later the state government put the project on the backburner and it is still hanging fire.
Later, sometime in December 2019, Sreedharan had another brush with the Pinarayi and CPM when he served a legal notice to the government on its decision to bring in a legislation allowing politics in colleges. The Kerala High Court had banned campus politics in higher education institutions through a verdict in October 2017. The court directive came after hearing about 20 petitions that were filed by a cross section of college managements in Kerala over a period of three years. The petitioners had pointed out the recurring violence on campuses and disruption of academic activities due to frequent student agitations. The court, while acknowledging the problems, ruled that “education and politics should not go together. Strikes and satyagrahas should not be allowed. Those who organise strikes should be expelled.” There were widespread protests against this ruling, especially from CPM’s student wing, Students Federation of India, and other political parties which thrive on the support of student agitators for their cause. Following this, the state government had instituted the K.K. Dinesan Commission, which submitted that a blanket ban on campus politics amounted to violating the fundamental rights of students. “From burning effigies of principals to stabbing of students to murders, colleges across Kerala have been witnessing such violent incidents. That each young person must have access to education is their fundamental right, but playing politics on campuses is not a fundamental right. And not just students, politicians from outside college campuses also promote such activities with their support,” Sreedharan as head of the Foundation For Restoration of National Values, had told an English news channel at the time. His was a lost cause as the state government went ahead with its legislation and stabbing and murders are back as usual on Kerala campuses with full political support.
Only CPM has come out with a statement so far, describing Sreedharan’s decision as “a blot on his illustrious career”. Party Politburo member from Kerala, M.A. Baby said, “It is unfortunate that a person like Sreedharan, who is loved and respected by all across political lines, has joined the BJP, which is based on religious fundamentalism…He should have joined hands with secular political parties.” Later in the night, Sreedharan had stated to him “BJP is not a communal party. It is a party of nationalist elements,” he told NDTV. During the day, Sreedharan has made it amply clear that he was not interested in the Governor’s post and wants to contest elections and was even “willing to become Chief Minister if BJP is voted to power in Kerala”. Whether the values professed by him (student politics is just one) are acceptable to BJP remains a big question mark. How Sreedharan, with his illustrious past, is going to take his brush with real politic is to be seen; that too in the evening of his life. One can only wish the magic wand wielding Sreedharan best of luck and, of course, Kerala a golden era.