On a new track

BJP may be betting on Metro Man Sreedharan to help it make headway in Kerala. It’s an interesting gamble

Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, India’s Metro Man, first came to public prominence when he rebuilt the Rameshwaram Pamban bridge that was washed away by a cyclone, ahead of deadline in 1964. Since then he has completed several bridges and projects in record time and without a trace of scandal. At 88, he has announced another project, a political mission which involves social engineering and coalition-building, one that his skills and achievements so far may or may not have prepared him for.

Sreedharan announced on Thursday that he is set to join the BJP and has since declared that he is willing to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in Kerala, where elections are due soon. Sreedharan is admired across party lines for his contributions to building public infrastructure and has immense credibility in his home state. He evidently expects that this public adulation and acceptance will clear the tracks for him in electoral politics. For the BJP, Sreedharan may look like a prize catch in a state where the party is short of credible pan-state leaders and is desperately eager to build bridges with various social groups. The party managed to win a seat in the 2016 assembly election for the first time since the formation of the state in 1956, but its vote share seems to have plateaued around 15 per cent. Its push to expand its vote base has had only limited success and its attempts to build the NDA by including various caste and community-centric outfits has not yet fetched electoral dividends. Sreedharan’s credentials as an honest and efficient technocrat can presumably help the party reach out to the less politicised and polarised sections of the electorate across castes and communities and, arguably, also to new voters.

So far, Sreedharan’s public interventions have been issue-specific, politically neutral and mostly connected to building public infrastructure. Now, he will be questioned on the larger themes of politics and society. It will also be interesting to see the response of ambitious state BJP leaders to his claim for the CM’s post, even before joining the party, and despite being way above the age bar the prime minister has set for holding public office.

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