New Delhi, June 15: The Prime Minister's Office today stepped in to stave off a major political controversy by agreeing to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's request to allow "Metro Man" E. Sreedharan to share the dais with Narendra Modi at the inauguration of the much-awaited Kochi Metro on Saturday.
Amid protests at the government level and across media platforms over the exclusion of the man who delivered Kochi Metro on schedule - and a native of Kerala at that - the PMO met the CMO (chief minister's office) halfway by agreeing to Sreedharan and state leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala on stage while rejecting the request for inclusion of local MLA P.T. Thomas.
Where the Prime Minister is involved, the dais plan requires the PMO nod and the Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) had sent a list of invitees under protocol for clearance. That Sreedharan had been dropped from the list by the PMO became public knowledge on Wednesday after many began receiving invitation cards and Pinarayi revealed on social media that he had written to Modi's office seeking inclusion of the "Metro Man", Chennithala and local MLA on the dais.
"Govt. requested @PMOIndia for the inclusion of E. Sreedharan, Oppn. leader & local MLA as invitees for the #KochiMetro inauguration," the chief minister tweeted yesterday. He confirmed this afternoon that a positive response had been received. "Following GoK's request, @PMOIndia has informed that E. Sreedharan & Oppn. leader will be included in the #KochiMetro inauguration."
Sreedharan, 85, himself downplayed the controversy, telling reporters in Kochi not to make a row as Prime Minister's security is important and such restrictions are par for the course. "I have no issues. Since I am a worker here, there is no need for an invitation.''
But in the 24 hours that the issue remained alive, the Prime Minister and his party received a lot of flak from a state where the BJP is working overtime to make electoral inroads. In fact, the BJP has earmarked an office for its "chief minister" in the new party office that it is building in Thiruvananthapuram.
While the chief minister insisted on inclusion of the leader of Opposition and local legislator, much of the uproar was around the slight to 85-year-old Sreedharan, a native of Palakkad. In the slight to Sreedharan - who is widely perceived to have transformed public transport with the construction of the Konkan Railway and Delhi's Metro -#Malayalis also saw a pattern in the troubled relationship Modi as Gujarat chief minister had with another agent of change from Kerala - "Milk Man" V. Kurien of Amul fame.