BJP will be the kingmaker in Kerala: E. Sreedharan
“Metroman” E. Sreedharan is convinced that the BJP will come to power or at least be the kingmaker in Kerala, a month after joining the party and deciding to take the electoral field in Palakkad.
It doesn’t matter to the 89-year-old technocract that the BJP is faced with two formidable opponents in the ruling Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front that holds the Palakkad seat.
“I will certainly win and am expecting the BJP to touch at least 40 seats. We may go up to even 75,” Sreedharan tells The Telegraph without batting an eyelid while taking a break from his hectic campaign schedule in Palakkad on Sunday.
He adds, scaling down his expectations a tad bit: “I feel the BJP has got a good chance to come to power, or at least be the king maker…. The BJP will decide who will rule Kerala.”
For a party that has so far won just one Assembly seat in Kerala, Sreedharan’s ambitious prediction is certain to befuddle even the most optimistic of Sangh parivar supporters.
“There is such a massive switchover to the BJP,” he says when asked what makes him so confident that a party that has historically struggled to carve out even a toehold in Kerala will cross the majority mark of 71 in the 140-seat Assembly.
That’s not all.
“The image of the BJP is different now, particularly after my joining the party,” Sreedharan says, adding that many educated people
have flocked to the party “because they find a person like me who has reputation, calibre and stature has joined BJP”.
He has certainly climbed down from his earlier position that he will become chief minister if the BJP is elected to power. “That is for the BJP to decide. I have not asked for it. If they want, I will take it,” says the celebrated technocrat whose entry into the BJP has enlivened the contest in the prestigious Palakkad Assembly seat currently held by the Congress.
But unlike his party, which has been banking heavily on the dispute over women’s entry into the Sabarimala hill shrine, Sreedharan insists it is not an issue in Palakkad.
“Only the media is thinking about it. None of the people I have met during the campaign has raised the Sabarimala issue,” he says.
What he lacks in mobility and physical endurance, Sreedharan hopes to make up with his image of being a much-sought-after technocract who has lead teams of engineers to build railway lines and Metro train networks.
Clad in a traditional Kerala kasavu mundu — off-white dhoti with gold-threaded borders — and formal shirt, Sreedharan has been making more than a dozen stops each day, attending meetings organised by small groups of residents. “I do only these meetings with groups while my party takes care of house visits,” he says. Pramod says.
Sreedharan is pitched in a tough political landscape that has an industrial belt and a high concentration of minorities and backward classes who have been traditional supporters of the Congress and the CPM. The incumbent lawmaker, Shafi Parambil, 38, of the Congress is known to be a dynamic youth leader trying for a third consecutive term as MLA. The CPM’s C.P. Pramod is also pulling out all the stops to regain the seat from UDF.
“No doubt he is a good technocract, but we are fighting an election,” Shafi tells this newspaper in between visiting churches on Palm Sunday.
“We don’t think this whole support base will shift to the BJP just because he (Sreedharan) has entered the fray,” says Shafi, whose rapport with the general populace is never denied even by his staunchest opponents.
“I have been at the forefront, raising various issues in and outside the Assembly and have managed to develop a distinct connect with the people here. I have worked for two consecutive terms and naturally enjoy an edge here,” Shafi says.
Even the LDF candidate, Pramod, acknowledges the “rapport” Shafi enjoys with the people. “Yes, he has a certain level of rapport. But that hasn’t translated into performance,” Pramod quips.
A lawyer by profession, Pramod doesn’t consider a big hindrance the fact that the Left had finished third in Palakkad in 2016 when N.N. Krishnadas could muster only 38,675 votes, against the BJP’s Shobha Surendran who polled more than 40,076 votes and Shafi who bagged 57,559 votes.
“The poor showing in 2016 was just an aberration. The LDF has a very good chance this time,” Pramod says, adding that the fight is between the LDF and the UDF.
“Sreedharan is not a serious contender although the media gives him a lot of space. I have great regard for his achievements as a technocract,”