In her e-book Yuganta, a commentary on the Mahabharata, the eminent anthropologist of Indian society, Irawati Karve, has this to say about Bhishma. Discussing his life of contradictions, his abduction of the three princesses of Kashi, his unwillingness to settle for Vyasa’s provide to retire with Satyavati in the forest earlier than the warfare, his agonies on the battlefield, and his well-known discourse (what she calls “banalities”) on dharma, Karve asks three questions on his life which might be value contemplating right now: (i) Why did he settle for generalship of the military when he was 90 years outdated? (She had calculated this determine) (ii) As one who “was no nice warrior”, aside from his legendary battle with Parashurama on which his fame rests, why did he settle for generalship of the Kaurava military? And (iii) as a Kshatriya who had discharged his duties (given his nephews the coaching they required to be kings) why did he not relinquish energy as one was required to do? “This rule utilized to extraordinary household males immersed in their very own affairs. Did Bhishma assume that he was immune as a result of he belonged to that class of males who sacrifice the self and stay just for others? Did he really feel, as such individuals do, that he might by no means surrender his tasks however should die in harness?” (p21)
I used to be reminded of Karve’s dialogue on Bhishma once I examine E Sreedharan’s resolution, at 88 years, to enter social gathering politics by way of the BJP. The media interview the place he provided himself to be the chief minister candidate of the BJP in Kerala was each astounding and puzzling. It threw up a number of points that I really feel compelled to focus on right here.
What does the resolution of one of India’s best engineers signify, each philosophically and for the nation? What does it imply when a person whose service to the nation as a railway engineer is the ultimate, who has obtained virtually each award the nation has to provide, chooses, in his 89th 12 months, to enter the messy area of social gathering politics? When does one “relinquish energy”, as Karve asks of Bhishma, and retire to a unique life of service? Does Sreedharan imagine that he nonetheless has a public position to play? Why social gathering politics?
There are three elements of his public life, culled from the web, that I’m in discussing as a result of they inform us one thing about the human situation. At the outset, let me garbage any suggestion that he did this for private achieve, a nomination to the Rajya Sabha or a Bharat Ratna. I imagine that he deserves a Bharat Ratna for the duties already achieved so he doesn’t want to do extra. I additionally imagine the Bharat Ratna ought to be given to a modern-day rishi. I assumed he was one. After his resolution to be a part of the BJP, I’m not so positive.
Let me, subsequently, assess his life at three ranges: As an engineer, a public servant, and an egoist. Though I shall focus on every individually, elements of one infiltrate the different.
As an engineer, Sreedharan was peerless. His bio-note on the internet mentions that he succeeded in each engineering process he accepted. In 46 days, he repaired the Rameswaram bridge that had been washed away in a cyclone. He constructed the Kolkata Metro. He led the development of the first ship, MV Rani Padmini, at Cochin Shipyard. He constructed the Konkan Railway in seven years. It runs north to south for 760 miles by way of 93 tunnels, utilizing the reduce and fill methodology, totally on the Western Ghats. Different railway tracks run east to west. He constructed 150 bridges and did all this bypassing the normal development procedures in the Railway guide. I had opposed the route chosen, although not the venture, however extra on that later. After which he constructed the Delhi Metro which modified Delhi, not simply its infrastructure of mass public transport however its social life. The story I Iike finest is how the Metro has enabled younger ladies from the walled metropolis to journey to Connaught Place as a result of, in contrast to travelling by DTC, it is now protected for them to use public transport. All his initiatives have been inside finances and in accordance to schedule. No time or value overruns.
On his life as a public servant, let me focus on simply two elements. The primary is his concern with the security of staff, disabled individuals, girls, and the aged. The Konkan Railway venture established the obligatory sporting of helmets by labourers at constructing websites. This has now grow to be finest follow in all places however, I feel, was first adopted at the Konkan Railway. This concern for security may also be seen in the Delhi Metro with its lifts, escalators, reserved seats for the aged and the disabled. These protections and conveniences are embedded in the design of the metro coaches, stations, utilities, and maintenance. Salaam, sir.
The second facet is his authorized battle with the Railway Ministry which, after his retirement, sought to deduct his pension from his Delhi Metro wage. He received the case in the Delhi Excessive Courtroom, thereby including two clarifications to the service guidelines. His job at the Delhi Metro, in accordance to the judgment, was (i) an “appointment” and never “re-employment” and (ii) his wage was being paid not from the Consolidated Fund of India however from the Delhi Metro, one other authorized physique, and therefore his pension mustn’t be deducted.
These two elements of his character have a bearing on his resolution to be a part of social gathering politics. From the engineer comes the perception that each one societal issues have engineering options. Design a system, write upkeep protocols, prepare the operatives, set up time and price schedules, create penalty constructions and the social downside will go away. He confirmed this in all his engineering initiatives. I had opposed his Konkan Railway route as a result of it was going by way of the most ecologically delicate and demographically congested zones in Goa, each of which might be negatively impacted by the bunds he was constructing to keep the incline of 1:160 wanted for high-speed trains. We protested. He didn’t pay attention. We at the moment are paying the worth. Democratic protest was then not a component of his engineering mindset. Politics in India, Dr Sreedharan, is and should be noisy, messy and constructed on compromise. Solely authoritarian methods, reminiscent of China right now, are run by engineers. How does he imagine he can ship outcomes in a Kerala full of argumentative residents, with out democracy? Is he being naïve or conceited or each to assume that his engineering options will resolve the downside of “love jihad” and “beef consuming”, the two issues he voiced in the media interview?
That is why the third facet of his character is so important. His resolution reveals that his ego stays undiminished by age. Undiminished egos produce nationwide issues. At this age, in our Indian system, we metaphorically enter vanaprastha the place social tasks are handed over to the subsequent technology in order that we will retire to ponder the cosmic drama in which we have now performed a bit half. In vanaprastha it is the stochastic protocols, established by the larger engineer up there, that we should meditate upon. This is what makes Irawati Karve’s three questions ever so related right now.
This text first appeared in the print version on February 26, 2021 underneath the title ‘Certainly you’re joking, Dr Sreedharan?’ The author is the DD Kosambi Visiting Professor at Goa College. He has just lately edited, with Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Key phrases for India, Bloomsbury, UK, 2020. Views are private.