Not a born politician, but learning fast, says Sreedharan
Thiruvananthapuram Clad in traditional mundu (dhoti) and a blue-striped shirt, with sandal paste on his forehead, Metro Man and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Palakkad E Sreedharan gently discourages youngsters who try to touch his feet as mark of reverence during the campaign trail.
This comes close on the heels of an attack by Left parties after images of voters washing the 88-year-old’s feet during a public meeting went viral on social media last week. While he tried to explain it as a custom to greet guests in some areas of Palakkad, his opponents claimed he enjoyed “feudalist traditions”.
“I am not a born politician. But I am fast learning the lessons of politics. It is a different ball game. A civil engineer for six decades, I was familiar with heat and dust but here, both are quite different but I enjoy them,” the senior-most candidate in the state says.
A man of few words, Sreedharan’s camp followers often require to remind him to wave at the crowd while campaigning. He follows the directions of seasoned leaders who accompany him and in the sweltering heat (Palakkad is the hottest district in the state), appears to be enjoying his debut political innings.
He has been pitted against Congress’ Shafi Parambhil and CPI(M)’s C P Pramod from this seat.
Near Victoria College, one of the oldest educational institutions of Kerala founded in 1887, he profusely thanks an aged man over his concerns that the politician should cut down on his campaign during the peak summer hours of the day.
“Look, some people are concerned about my age. Some are genuine but others take a dig. Age is just a number and I have enough energy left in me. If I can serve the people at this age, what is wrong in it,” he asks.
Sreedharan’s entry into the political fray has put the limelight on Palakkad constituency. While Union home minister Amit Shah had visited the area last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to arrive in March-end to campaign for the Metro Man. “He is leading the NDA battle in Kerala,” Shah had said during his road show in Kanjikode on Wednesday.
With a smile and his trademark gentle behaviour, Sreedharan reaches out to the masses with folded hands.
“Sir, you do not have to bow down before us. You have made our state and country proud. We feel sad when you come to us with folded hands,” a female student at Victoria College tells Sreedharan, who in return, informs that the institute is his alma mater.
Sreedharan and former chief election commissioner T N Seshan were classmates both in school and in college.
“If you elect me, I will develop the area and make Palakkad one of the biggest cities of the country. I have enough ideas but you will have to help me,” he tells another crowd in Petta in the city.
Launching an attack on his opponents, Sreedharan says: “The BJP is the most misunderstood party in Kerala as opponents compete to discredit it. Both the fronts (Left Democratic Front and United Democratic Front) damaged the state beyond repair. Under PM Modi’s dynamic leadership, the country is surging and its signs are visible in Kerala too. The party will be a kingmaker soon.”
While photos of Pambhan bridge in Rameswaram, Konkan railway and Delhi Metro (his main contributions) pop up in some locations, he refuses to mention them in their meetings. “We have to look ahead,” he says.
His opponents, however, believe he chose a “wrong party”. “He is a man of high integrity and stature. But he joined a party that is wedded to divisive ideology. The people are the best judges, let them decide,” sitting MLA and main rival Parambhil says.
In the 2016 assembly elections, Parambhil had defeated Shobha Surendran of the BJP by over 17,000 votes. The CPI(M) candidate, N N Krishnadas, a former MP, had ranked third.
While this time too, the main contest is between the Congress and BJP, CPI(M)s’ Pramod claims the tussle is between the BJP and his party.
An engineer, Metro Man is banking on the growth trajectory of the BJP in the district. In 2011, the party’s vote share was 19.86 per cent which rose in 29.08 per cent in 2016. An additional vote share of five per cent will be able to make a greater impact, his camp followers say.
The saffron party is of the view that Sreedharan will be able to add a large number of independent votes and that he can cross the bridge easily.
Polling in Kerala will be held in a single phase on April 6.