Popularly known as Metroman, Elattuvalapil Sreedharan was the person behind India’s first metro service, Kolkata Metro. Since then he has donned many hats, including that of an engineer, lecturer and advisor. However, his latest stint is the one most talked about.
Sreedharan grabbed many eyeballs as he embarked on a journey to convert his technocrat charisma into votes. Sreedharan joined the Kerala unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in February.
He is set to take on sitting Congress MLA Shafi Parambil in Palakkad during the Kerala Assembly election.
At 88, age seems to be no barrier for Sreedharan, the technocrat-turned-political leader who travels from one place to another making all attempts to reach out to the maximum number of voters in a limited time.
On his decision to join politics at this age, Sreedharan said that he is still mentally and physically agile and healthy. "I felt my experience, knowledge and talents should be made available to the people of Kerala and that is why I joined politics," he had earlier told Moneycontrol.
He has vowed to make Palakkad city the best in the country in five years and talks more development and less politics during the campaign meetings.
Sharing his vision for the Palakkad Assembly constituency in a series of tweets, Sreedharan said, "Indore is the top city in India currently and I assure you that in five years, Palakkad can become the top smart city."
"I can remain seated and see to it that development happens," he said.
The journey from a lecturer to the Metro Man
Born in 1932 in the Palakkad district of Kerala, Sreedharan completed his Civil Engineering degree from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, presently known as JNTUK.
For a brief period, Sreedharan worked as a lecturer in Civil engineering at the Government Polytechnic, Kozhikode. He cleared the UPSC Indian Engineering Services Exam in 1953 and went on to join the Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE).
His first assignment was in the Southern Railway as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in December 1954.
10 years later, Sreedharan won the Railway Minister's Award for his achievements in restoring Pamban Bridge connecting Rameshwaram to mainland Tamil Nadu, which was washed away by a tidal wave in 1963.
The Kerala-born engineer was subsequently put in charge of the implementation, planning and design of the Calcutta Metro, the first-ever metro in India, in the 1970s.
Sreedharan not only completed this project but also laid down the foundation of modern infrastructure engineering in India.
He was promoted as general manager, Western Railway in July 1987, and in July 1989, elevated to the post of Member Engineering, Railway Board and ex-officio Secretary to the Government of India.
On his retirement in June 1990, the government appointed him as the CMD of Konkan Railway on a contract basis.
He became the managing director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and by mid-1997, all the scheduled sections were completed by their target date or before, and within their respective budgets.
Read | E Sreedharan: BJP has the best secular credentials today; opposition parties brand it as religious
His stint in the Delhi Metro was so successful that he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the government of India in 2008.
Sreedharan was also awarded the French government’s highest civilian honour Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 2005.
After 16 years of service with the Delhi Metro, Sreedharan retired from service on December 31, 2011.
After his retirement, Sreedharan worked in various capacities for the development of several metro projects, including Kochi Metro Rail Project, Lucknow Metro, Jaipur Metro and Coimbatore Metro.
Battle for Palakkad
A fierce young-versus-old battle is expected in Palakkad, a seat held by the United Democratic Front (UDF) since 2011. Buoyed by its success in Palakkad in the recent civic polls, the BJP has fielded the 88-year-old E Sreedharan to fight it out with the 38-year-old Shafi Parambil.
The incumbent, who is seeking a hat-trick term, also faces stiff competition from the ruling LDF candidate CP Pramod.
While UDF is once again banking on the popular image and personal influence of Parambil in the constituency, the ruling LDF, fresh from its good show in the recent civic polls in the state, aims to upset the plans of the two national parties with Pramod's new face.
Of the total 1.37 lakh votes polled during 2016 Assembly elections, Parambil had garnered 57,559 votes while his nearest rival Shobha Surendran of BJP got 40,076 votes and CPI(M) candidate NN Krishnadas received 38,675 votes.
The BJP is pinning hopes on its increasing vote share in the constituency, which comprises Pirayiri, Kannadi and Mathur village panchayats and Palakkad Municipality. Palakkad Municipality is one of the two civic bodies in which the saffron party is in power in the state.
The Palakkad Assembly constituency has 1,88,534 registered voters including 96,774 women and three transgenders.
Amit Shah certified
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has taken several out a whistle-stop tour of poll-bound Kerala. Shah also took out a roadshow at Kanjikode in Palakkad last week.
Thousands of party workers, carrying party flags, cheered as the vehicle carrying Shah flanked by E Sreedharan and C Krishnakumar -- BJP candidate from Malampuzha -- crisscrossed its way through the industrial town.
Speaking at a rally, Shah was all praise for the 88-year-old Sreedharan. "I am already 56. Many times, I have felt that it's time to stop. But even at his age, Sreedharan is energetic and ready to work for this country. I would like to salute him. The infrastructure developer, Metroman has decided to join BJP for the nation-building," Shah said.
The BJP has just one MLA in the 140-member Kerala legislative assembly and the party has been trying to make in-roads in Kerala. The saffron party hopes that Sreedharan's high profile persona and a clean image would bring it rich electoral dividends.
Whether the Metroman will be successful in making his mark will be known on May 2.