Neeraja Kannan grew up in Palakkad but works out of Bengaluru. With the Covid-19 bringing work from home culture, she has been at her native town for a few months now.
Mother of a five-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, Kannan could not just sit and watch from the sidelines as her assembly constituency has one of the most prestigious candidates ever in Kerala's history contesting as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate — Metroman, Padmavibhushan Dr E Sreedharan.
The situation is similar to Manoj Odunghat, with a small difference “that his baby is only seven months old”.
Ajith Surya on the other hand is in his early 20s, an engineer with a keen interest in stock market, but these days he travels two hours to work as part of a group of professionals called "Progress for Palakkad" supporting the "The Metroman".
Together, they with support from other volunteers organised a ‘Youth Meet’ on 29 March which was also live streamed on Facebook. On a hot summer Monday afternoon, from among an age group normally considered lethargic to elections, a turnout of around 80 for the event was a success by all measures.
It is not just the youth — entrepreneurs, street vendors, elderly professionals and engineers, teachers and many more — turn up in various forums to meet and talk to the candidate. Some are there to listen to him, some to offer support and help, some to share their ideas and initiatives which fits with the Metroman's ‘Master plan for Palakkad’.
As the author wondered where this master plan is explained, a WhatsApp forward landed pointing to a YouTube channel owned by a Palakkad resident who doesn't seem to have any direct connection with the BJP.
She seems to have added her own colourful cover slides to the seven videos which add up to about 16 minutes and together they explain the Metroman's vision for the Palakkad Assembly constituency — topic by topic, point by point.
Along with his reputation built over 67 years of corruption free hard work, it must be the kind of clear vision for future, along with the highly positive campaign that has attracted people beyond normal party cadre to offer to work for him.
Note that in spite of pressure, Sreedharan refuses to talk negative of his rival candidates, including the sitting Shafi Parambil, sitting Congress MLA, who seem to have only public relations as his main asset as opposed to having done anything solid for the constituency over the last 10 years when he had represented the constituency.
So what does Sreedharan's master plan have? It is impossible to explain it all in half of the space for an article. However, here are some which caught this author's eyes.
The very first video gets straight into addressing the basic living needs — clean water for example. Removing the near 25 per cent silt that has accumulated in Malampuzha Dam can help increase its capacity, says Sreedharan.
Not just that, “the silt from the Malampuzha Dam can be used for buildings and the money hence gained can be utilised to clean the dam water to obtain pure drinking water".
It is now starting to sink in why many are calling his election campaign and manifesto as ‘DMRC style’ —sound from a technical angle and sensitive from a people's need perspective.
Perhaps taking cue out of Narendra Modi's prestigious Sabarmati river front, Sreedharan has proposed riverfront parks along the couple of rivers that flow through the town but are in a neglected state these days.
He has also proposed planting lakhs of trees within the next five years to increase the green cover and thereby reduce the average temperature of the area by at least two or three degrees.
Promise of a world class information technology (IT) park for sure will excite the professional class, especially as they know that it is coming from a man known to achieve the seemingly impossible.
Upgrading the Palakkad Medical College — known otherwise for its insufficient and poor state of affairs — to the level of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) or to bring in AIIMS is another promise that caters directly to the need of improved healthcare, the lack of which forces people now to travel outside for advanced treatment.
Though Kanjikode — an erstwhile industrialised area which due to trade unionism and neglect is no more one — comes under the neighbouring constituency of Malampuzha. People in the area have started seeing Sreedharan as the potential saviour, having promised to bring industries of all kind as long as they don’t cause eco damage or stick to the necessary regulations.
His experience of having worked with four different state governments of varying political affiliations during Konkan Railway project, make them feel that even if Malampuzha does not elect a BJP candidate, Sreedharan may be able to pull it through as long as he wins from Palakkad.
As it stands, Malampuzha has been traditionally a left strong constituency. However, this time BJP's Krishnakumar is giving a strong fight and is expected to come a close second if not pull a surprise victory.
E Sreedharan's vision on tourism, cultural revival, sports and education — all are sure to catch attention from respective audiences. However, one big question that remains with about five days left for the polling is that, has the message reached the nook and corner of Palakkad constituency?
The answer is both a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’. Over the last two weeks, the party volunteers through their ‘with the candidate’ clockwork campaign trails, as well as with their ‘without the candidate door to door, small meetings and public announcements’ as well as the non-party but ‘only because the candidate is someone like the Metroman’ supporters through their own ways have been working like a well-oiled machine and actually have been able to cover good ground.
No wonder that while a previous article on 12 March mentioned a near 20,000 vote deficit and opinion polls conducted two weeks back predicted that Sreedharan is about 7 per cent vote share behind Shafi, the ones that came out on 28 and 29 March predict that he is behind by only around 2 per cent— that is about 2,500 to 3,000 votes.
While one may think that at the rate the gap has been narrowed, with five days left, it is achievable that from a deficit it can be turned into a lead, there are two catches — one, there is a possibility that sensing a possible last-minute surge of pro-Sreedharan votes, the LDF 'trustworthy' cadre — who may number around 1,500-2,000 in a typical assembly constituency of the Palakkad kind, may be "asked" to vote for the Congress candidate.
It may seem defying logic — because one seat less for Congress will actually help the left get closer to its power-retaining goals, but then "BJP should not win at any cost" attitude among some Malayalis have never been driven by logic, but by blind hate. It may not matter whether the candidate is one of the best technocrats that the world has produced or god itself.
Secondly, now the kind of areas that are ‘left’ to campaign are not the easy areas — either traditionally hardcore left areas or the Muslim areas.
While in theory, there is no reason to not try to take the ‘development for all’ message to these areas, one senses that the BJP party cadre may be hesitant or half-hearted to cover these somewhat ‘never before reached out’ areas.
This is where the educated, professional, supporters of Sreedharan both from within Palakkad and from nearby areas from where they can travel, can make a difference — especially over the final, long weekend before the polling date.
A Kannan or an Odunghat could not find a job suited for them in Palakkad — but for the sake of their toddler's generation, the voters of Palakkad and the Malayali supporters outside Kerala who are in a position to help beyond just forwarding WhatsApp messages — have a one of a kind opportunity to work on the ground for a technocrat of his stature who could also fit quickly and with ease as a people's candidate. Who doesn't want to be part of a once-in-half-a-century event?
Sreedharan may very well have defined a new style of politics and a new class in itself which the author would like to ‘politecrat’ — positive politics, technical acumen, politeness — all in one. Whether the Malayali is ready to embrace it will be put to test on 6 April when they vote, and will be known on 2 May when the result will be declared.
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