‘Metro man’ E. Sreedharan says he had never expressed any desire to become CM candidate.
Palakkad: Ahead of the Kerala elections, E. Sreedharan—popularly known as “Metro man”—joined the BJP in February. The BJP has fielded him against the Congress’ Shafi Parambil, who is the sitting MLA, in Palakkad. The 88-year-old former government servant is credited with changing the face of public transport in India through projects such as Konkan railway, Delhi Metro, Kochi Metro and also Pamba bridge, joining the Rameswaram to mainland Tamil Nadu. The Sunday Guardian spoke to Sreedharan at his residence in Palakkad. Excerpts:
Q: Why did you choose the BJP to start your political career and what was your purpose in taking a political plunge at this moment?
A: There are two main reasons. One, I have been in government service for 67 years. Through that period, I had the opportunity and also good fortune to be part of several projects for the country like Konkan railway, Delhi Metro, Kochi Metro, etc. Now, I should use my knowledge and experience for the development of my state—Kerala. This is possible only if I enter into politics.
Two, I have been living in Kerala for the last 10 years. Between 2011-2016, it was Congress-led UDF government and the next five years, it was CPM-led LDF government. I was so disappointed by the performance of both the governments. I felt there is a need in change of government, the style and approach in governance. And the only option was to join the BJP and by that time, the BJP had established itself in Kerala. Moreover, in the last seven years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s reputation and stature have increased substantially. So, I thought I will join the BJP and it will give me the opportunity to serve my state.
Q: Did you discuss about becoming a chief ministerial candidate before joining the BJP? What was the discussion that happened before joining the party?
A: Not at all. I never discussed and expressed my desire to become a chief ministerial candidate. This is all media creation. Kerala BJP president K. Surendran came to my residence and asked whether I would like to join the BJP. He did this as the people of Kerala knew that I was about to retire, and the BJP wanted me to serve the people of the state. And also I had been debating about the need of change in the style of governance in the state. At that moment, Surendran approached me twice and requested to join the BJP.
During the discussion, I had kept only one condition that I should be fielded nearer to my residence in Ponnani, Malappuram district. They gave three options—Thrissur, Kochi and Palakkad. Ultimately, the party asked me to contest from the Palakkad constituency. That’s all.
Q: Recently, Surendran gave a speech that if the BJP comes to power, the government would bring a law against Love Jihad. What is your take on it?
A: See, this is one topic I don’t want to discuss. I don’t know why media is discussing about love jihad. Is the BJP only about love jihad? One or two strange comments that BJP wants to put down, but the media is only discussing about this. Loving a person is a personal liberty and choice. But if somebody entices the girl in the name of love and forcefully converts her into Muslim, that is love jihad, and the BJP is against this.
Q: What are major bottlenecks in the Kerala government in your view that you want to eliminate if you come to power?
A: First and foremost is an effective government. Here nothing happens. It takes 12 to 15 years for the construction of a road over a bridge. The work culture in the government is so bad. People are suffering without protesting. Any decision for the welfare of the people takes a long time. The movement for United Kerala happened in 65 years ago. What benefits Kerala received since then I don’t remember. Kerala still depends on neighbouring states to fulfill our basic needs. Whatever rice we produce is not enough for the people. Andhra Pradesh fulfills our rice shortage. We depend on Tamil Nadu for the supply of eggs and chicken. For fruits, we depend on Karnataka. We purchase electricity from other states. Why states like Kerala depend on other states? This shows that the state’s development has not reached the required level. We are 10-15 years behind the rest of the states in development. I want to make the state a well-developed state.
Q: In order to make a self-sustainable state, what are the major steps that you would take if elected to power?
A: We have a lot of master plan to develop the state. Now the problem is not making the plan, but implementing those plans. For example, Alappuzha Bypass took 40 years for completion. We don’t have a government that could take decision fast and implement it faster. The government should finish the projects within five years.
Moreover, there are 99 level-crossing replacement projects sanctioned, but nothing has happened in the last five years. This is how the government works and this is what I want to change. 99 level-crossings should not take more than two years.
Q: Last time, Sobha Surendran was a runner-up in the Palakkad constituency. How are you faring in this election?
A: I have not done a study as such. The BJP has been able establish itself in the last five years. The BJP’s presence has increased in Kerala. The BJP is the fastest-growing party in Kerala. Sobha Surendran did not have the benefit of this. In my case, I am sure to win not only because of the BJP but also due my reputation in this area. People in this area adore me.
Q: You have been fielded against Shafi Parambil, who is a general secretary of Indian Youth Congress and a two-time sitting MLA, and he is 50 years younger to you.
A: Don’t I have an accumulated experience of 67 years, does he have any? It is the knowledge, expertise and experience that are important for the country today. Being 88-year-old, I don’t have to run around places, I have to give guidance to the volunteers. Is he able to give that guidance? For example, the work to construct a bus stand was started seven years back by the same MLA. Until now, it has not been completed. If I had taken up, I would have finished in two years.
Q: What is your plan for Palakkad constituency?
A: I want to focus on four main areas—development, employment, education, and transparency. I have no ambitions for laurels.
Q: What are major achievements of the LDF government in the last five years?
A: The government says that they have done 500-odd projects in the state. I don’t know where they are. The government has finished some projects started by the earlier government like Kochi Metro. Development scheme should benefit the entire the state, and I don’t see any such projects on the ground. On the other hand, this government has stalled many developmental schemes, for example, the Nilambur-Nanjangud railway line. They stopped the project and took back the money from me. Then the Guruvayur-Tirunnavaya railway line. The money was sanctioned, but both the governments (UDF & LDF) did not start the work.
High-speed railway line from Thiruvananthapuram to Kannur for which the project report is ready, only official permission is required from the government to start the work. They could have expedited the completion of Vizhinjam port, but the LDF government is putting obstacles. There are several such projects.
Q: Recently, Sweden-based institute Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute has said that India has turned into “electoral autocracy”. What is your view on this?
A: You have to see the statements are given by those institutes who envy of our country, who want to put down country just like Congress. If PM Modi would not have become Prime Minister of India, I am sure that Jammu and Kashmir would not have been part of India; Chinese would have come miles inside Indian territory. Modi had the courage and determination to tackle all this. If Modi had not been there, the economic crisis we are facing would have been horrible. As a citizen of this country, I have not felt the brunt of this economic crisis. Have you heard one scandal in the current regime?
Q: According to reports, CAG audit reports are down by 75% over the last five years?
A: This is totally wrong information from a perverted media. The media people should love their country. Today, India is the fourth biggest military power in the world. Under whose leadership have we achieved it? If India had not been the fourth biggest military power, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan would have entered India. We should see the positive side of Narendra Modi. Why do you blame Modi for everything?