‘I Won’t Be Comfortable With An 88-Yr-Old CM For My State’

Prajesh Peter, 38, a software engineer from Kochi, says active politics can be draining and at 90 E Sreedharan will not be able to cope with the obligation required of a lawmaker

E Sreedharan is nearly 90! I totally don’t think it is the right age for him to enter politics. The Kerala voter makes well-informed choices and just bringing in a celebrity or a celebrated personality would influence only those who don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

A couple of days ago, Mr Sreedharan’s name came up as the Chief Ministerial candidate, but they later backtracked. I wonder why this happened. But it’s good that this happened. I wouldn’t feel very comfortable with him as our CM. Leading a corporate, where everyone is self-disciplined is one thing, leading a town, city, state, with all kinds of people, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

I don’t think Mr Sreedharan’s entry into Kerala politics will change things for the BJP. The pandemic has shown us how important it is for us to have robust leadership at every level, but more so at the local level. I am not sure Mr Sreedharan is cut out at this age for all the actual physical hard-work that is required of a local MLA.

Peter (inset) feels engineering and politics are two different ballgames altogether

Also, what happened to BJP’s rule of not fielding candidates above the age of 75? The party bends so many rules of its own to suit its narrative. But then so many people don’t question anything that the party does.

It is rare that a person who has excelled in a particular field (be it arts, sports or engineering), will also excel in politics. These fields are about individual hard work and excellence, while politics is different ballgame altogether. I don’t see former Rajya Sabha members like Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha having brought any change even to their own fields, forget social issues at large.

ALSO READ: ‘Sreedharan’s Entry Into Politics A Boon For Kerala’

Similarly, for Mr Sreedharan, good reputation isn’t necessarily going to translate into a good political innings. In politics, you have to have a keen understanding of local issues and how they intertwine with national level and international level politics. A politician should be a social worker first.

In June 2019, when the Delhi government proposed free commute for city women in Delhi Metro, Mr Sreedharan wrote a letter to the Prime Minister saying it would set a bad precedent. Why couldn’t the ‘Metro Man’ communicate directly with the state government of Delhi, where the issue belonged? I had an inkling then itself that he might join politics in future.

Many people laud him as the force behind the ambitious Metro projects. But it is not the achievement of Mr Sreedharan alone. The Delhi Metro Project was brought in by the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government. It was the political backing that made everything possible, from the doing away of bureaucratic roadblocks, getting international loans sanctioned to see the Delhi Metro built through heavily-populated areas.

So far in his career, he has to be answerable to only a few. I would love to see how Mr Sreedharan fields questions asked by the media, and would love to know his views on important matters and just how much hard-work he is ready to put in as a political candidate.

As told to Yog Maya Singh

The Battle For Bengal Is The Election To Watch

Of the four states where there will soon be assembly elections in April-May, West Bengal’s will be the most keenly watched. It is the state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest challenger to the incumbent All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC) government, which, led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, is completing 10 years in power.

For several years, the eastern state has been a hard nut to crack for the BJP but in the last parliamentary polls, the party managed to win 18 member of parliament seats from Bengal, which was a feat considering that the party has traditionally managed to get no more than two MPs elected from the state. In the West Bengal assembly, the BJP currently has just 27 of the 294 seats (the AITC and its allies have 211).

The BJP’s formulaic approach to winning in the states – the party enjoys power in 18 of India’s 28 states – thus far has been a combination of caste and religion based politics. In the Hindi belt states as well as in the western states this has worked well. But in Bengal, caste politics and religious issues have mattered less in the past. That, however, could change. The Muslim population in Bengal has grown steadily and is estimated now at nearly 30% compared to the all-India proportion of a little more than 13%.

This has two implications. A larger proportion of Muslim voters has stood in the way of the Hindu nationalist-leaning BJP becoming popular in the state. But it has also created a sort of backlash among Hindu voters many of whom perceive Ms Banerjee’s government as being one that appeases the minority community. The BJP wants to turn that sort of backlash to an electoral advantage.

The BJP is also following a strategy that challenges Ms Banerjee’s government with charges of corruption, particularly against her nephew Abhisek Banerjee, who is an MP and a powerful member of her party. The party has also managed to chip away at the AITC by getting some of its prominent leaders such as former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, former state ministers Subhendu Adhikary and Rajib Banerjee to defect to the BJP. Although these leaders have limited mass following in the state, their exits have triggered some dissension within Ms Banerjee’s party.

ALSO READ: It’s Bangla Trinamool Vs Outsider BJP

There are other factors that might help the BJP. A large part of the urban population comprising middle-class could be a bit restive about Ms Banerjee’s government, which despite promises has not really been effective in ensuring the state’s economic progress at a more rapid pace. The continuing impact of the pandemic has not helped either.

But yet, the AITC led by the feisty Ms Banerjee has many strong advantages in the state. For instance, the BJP really doesn’t have a credible face to project as its chief ministerial candidate for the state. Also, the backlash against Muslims may have grown but the fact remains that at in 100 of the 294 constituencies, Muslim voters will be the ones who will decide who wins. And the BJP is unlikely to get their favour.

The AITC has also employed the services of a poll strategist with a good track record – Prashant Kishor, who has worked with several Indian parties and leaders, including his efforts in Gujarat where he is believed to have played a key role in ensuring that Narendra Modi got a third term there as chief minister in 2011. The other niggling factor that might affect the BJP is the first ever formal seat-sharing arrangement in the state between the Congress and the Left parties. Both are not significant players anymore (both have just 46 seats between them) but an alliance could dent both, the AITC as well as the BJP’s fortunes in the elections.

The other states that will go to the polls are Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, and Puducherry. In Tamil Nadu it will be a repeat of the traditional battle between two regional parties, DMK and AIADMK. The BJP, which is likely to have an alliance with AIADMK (in power now), hopes to piggyback on that party if it manages to be re-elected. But early analyses show that DMK may have an edge this time. The Congress and Left parties in the state are allied with the DMK.

ALSO READ: ‘Sreedharan Entry Into Politics A Boon For Kerala’

In Kerala, the pattern has traditionally been one where every five years the fortunes swing between the Left and the Congress. In other words, the opposition gets elected to power. By that logic, the Congress-led alliance may come back to power, dislodging the Left alliance which forms the incumbent government. The Congress is hoping that the fact that Rahul Gandhi represents Wayanad (he was elected MP from that constituency in Kerala) will give it more of an edge.

Meanwhile, the BJP looks confident in being able to retain power in Assam but the Congress party there is focussing its strategy on opposing the National Registrar of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act, two thorny issues that have divisive effects in the state. In Puducherry, a union territory, the Congress government has collapsed recently and although this has created uncertainties, it could well work to the advantage of a BJP-backed alliance if that can be formed.

But it is West Bengal that will steal the show during the state elections. The battle for Bengal could be one that is fought tooth and nail by both, Ms Banerjee who wants to come back for a third term; and the BJP, which wants to wrest control of a state that has always posed formidable challenges to it.

‘Sreedharan’s Entry Into Politics Is A Boon For Kerala’

Anjali Bhaskar, 37, from Kottayam, Kerala, feels E Sreedharan’s entry into politics can be a game-changer for the state. She stresses that right candidates matter more than the party in Assembly elections

E Sreedharan is the pride of both Kerala as well as India. He has given India a long-lasting legacy that will be remembered for ages. He made public transport easy and accessible and he has shown that he has public interest at heart and also that he executes those public interest works in the easiest, quickest and most efficient way possible. So, personally I am happy that a person with such a level of commitment, discipline and dignity has joined politics.

He is 88, but I believe it’s not his physical age that we should be looking at; we should recognise his mental contributions, his troubleshooting methods that can improve people’s lives. In an age when even political rallies have been digitised (hologram technique), he wouldn’t have to get out of the comfort of his home to interact effectively with people (at least during campaigning). And after campaigning also, he can definitely find digital methods to serve people easily. Also, he is really fit for his age physically.

BJP has broken its own rule of not allowing people above 75 to be a part of active politics in Metro Man’s case but we believe we can work around some rules when it comes to exemplary people, whose dedication to the nation is well known. I also believe E Sreedharan’s entry into politics will change the way the wind is blowing in Kerala. So far BJP hasn’t managed to make inroads into the state.

Bhaskar is impressed by fitness of Mr Sreedharan (inset) at 88

Post retirement, Mr Sreedharan has spent a lot of time living in Kerala and he understands local issues. Even though he will be an MLA if he contests elections and Rahul Gandhi is an MP from Wayanad, Kerala, it will affect both the parties.

I feel it is my duty to choose the right leader. I am very happy with the leadership style of Narendra Modi at the Centre and even Mr Sreedharan has proven leadership qualities. The same Indians, who do not follow rules of hygiene and queuing outside, follow all the rules once inside the Metro.

ALSO READ: ‘Delhi Metro Set An Example Amid Pandemic’

However, when it comes to local issues, I don’t see the party per se as much as I see the candidate in question. An even if an individual’s work hasn’t been up to the mark, I see whether their intention and communication was good. Communication is very important in running a local body, town, city, state and country. And even the family. In Assembly Elections you also have to see how candidates communicate and coordinate with their party members as well as members from other parties.

I voted during the Kerala local body elections in December, even though Covid-19 thread was looming. And I will again vote during Assembly Elections without fear (of course with precautions). If we choose the right leaders at every step from local elections to Lok Sabha Elections, we can handle issues like the pandemic and other important issues more effectively.