By taking to politics, is the Metroman off-track?

NS Vageesh | Updated on February 26, 2021

An impeccable track record   -  The Hindu

At 88, a national icon like E Sreedharan would do well to stay away from the rough and tumble of politics

Last week, the country was greeted by ‘metroman’ E Sreedharan’s announcement of joining the BJP. There was incredulity as it sounded much like one of those fake news that circulates with irritating regularity on various chat groups. But, surprisingly, the news turned out to be true.

Old is gold, they say. Well, Sreedharan is 88. And he wants to be projected as the CM face of the BJP in Kerala. In his initial comments, he dutifully chanted the party’s mantra on ‘love jihad’, beef eating and a few other issues sacred to the BJP.

This sounded strange coming from a man widely admired for his integrity and apolitical approach throughout his legendary career. Indians of all ages and backgrounds looked up to him. He had showed the world and our own sceptical countrymen that big projects could be delivered on time and without the concomitant hanky-panky.

He set a world record for bridge-building in his earliest years (in the 1960s) at the Indian Railways, and then went on to notch successes with the Konkan Railway project and subsequently with various metro projects across the country. Most of them were post his ‘official’ superannuation date.

The scale of activity at his age has few parallels anywhere. The nearest comparison of someone in the similar age group attempting gigantic tasks against formidable odds is perhaps the newly sworn US President Joe Biden at 79, or closer home, statesman Rajaji, who started the Swatantra party when he was well into his eighties.

Powerful triggers

Some people, it is true, are not meant to sit still as they age. They need to lead, see action or just keep themselves occupied beyond the dictates of what society or custom prescribes as superannuation — these are all powerful triggers to continue in a job.

It is also, very frequently, the difficulty of letting go — either the exercise of power itself or its attendant perks including the limelight — that compel many men to cling on to their posts.

Witness therefore a host of geriatrics from civil service and judiciary occupying most of the top government sinecures in different garbs — in Parliament, regulatory towers, corporate boards, think-tanks, commissions, advisory councils or clubs.

And, yet, none of the these categorisations apply to Sreedharan. Responsibilities sought him, not the other way. Top politicians from either side of the aisle, from George Fernandes to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, from Sheila Dixit to Yogi Adityanath chose him to lead projects because that automatically conferred credibility and integrity — and the guarantee that he would deliver on time and within budget. His track record remains impeccable.

Why throw it away?

Sreedharan is unquestionably a national icon — and revered and loved as such. Why would such a man throw it all away at this late stage and offer to hitch the BJP’s dim electoral prospects in Kerala to his star brand value?

Is it because he has little to lose at this stage in his life? Perhaps, he reckons both his iconic status and his achievements are safe and secure — and their lustre will remain undiminished even if he does enter the electoral fray.

That’s a premise that is as yet untested. But given the state of politics in the country, it’s a sure bet that there will be mudslinging. Should he subject himself to that now?

If his motivation is indeed the renaissance of his State and the generation of employment and income for the poor, then he just has to continue what he has been doing all along.

Sreedharan is known to be an ardent student of ancient Hindu scriptures, including the Mahabharatha. He would know that one of the heroes in the epic, the beloved grandsire, Bheeshma, misinterpreted his oath to protect the throne of Hastinapur as well as his definition of duty — and joined the battle fray on the side of the evil Kauravas in the great war. As many learned scholars will tell you, Bheeshma ought to have remained neutral, above the battle or away from it. At the most, he could have remained an umpire or a referee — certainly not a participant, even if a reluctant one.

Perhaps, Sreedharan will realise even at this late hour that he is committing a mistake of Bheeshmic proportions and take back the hat that he has thrown into the political ring.

Yes, the BJP needs him to brighten their electoral prospects and wants his coattails to ride on. He doesn’t, however, need to accept the invite and should have said that while he is happy to be asked, he is happier to refuse.

As writer Gabriel Marquez put it eloquently: “The secret of a good old age is simply an honourable pact with solitude.”

Published on February 26, 2021

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