Prime Minister Narendra Modi couldn’t help praising the Kochi Metro started by his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh. After dedicating the first phase of Kochi Metro to the nation and after taking a brief ride, the Prime Minister tweeted out a photograph with the following words: “Futuristic infrastructure that will contribute to India's growth…”
Irrespective of the public political rhetoric and posturing, the tweet is an admission that the earlier UPA government had worked on and implemented some futuristic infrastructure projects such as the metro in many cities of the country. And, Prime Minister Modi only cut the ribbon.
The Prime Minister hailed several unique features of the project such as the rail network employing 23 transgenders and 1,000 women.
The Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) is a 50:50 joint venture between the Centre and the state government. Considered the fastest completed metro project in the country, Kochi Metro – that was inaugurated in 2012 – will start its regular operations from June 19.
That said, two controversies had erupted as the deadline to the Kochi Metro’s inauguration was approaching.
First, there was much public furore and angst over the PMO’s earlier decision in not allowing India’s ‘Metro Man’ E Sreedharan to be on the dais with the PM during the inauguration. It was seen as slighting Sreedharan, who is hugely respected for his great achievements in implementation of metro projects throughout the country - from the Calcutta metro in 1970 to the spectacular Delhi Metro in the 21st Century. In fact, he was appointed Principal Advisor of the Kochi Metro Rail Project as well.
Also, Kerala’s Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala too was not allowed to share the dais with the PM reportedly after the Special Protection Group (SPG) put a limit of only seven people.
While security considerations and protocol were cited as reasons, that didn’t seem like a plausible explanation with up to 15 people seen with Prime Minister Modi during election campaigns.
Of course, finally the PMO had to relent and the two shared the dais with the PM on Saturday. The ‘Metro Man’ also took the metro ride with the Prime Minister and other dignitaries including Governor P Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu. However, Chennithala did not get to travel with the dignitaries while BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan did.
The second row was over the Kerala Unit of the BJP trying to take credit for the Kochi Metro. The project was approved by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the Union cabinet giving the nod on July 4, 2012 and the foundation stone being laid by Singh on September 13, 2012.
The previous Congress-led UDF government, headed by Oommen Chandy, had begun construction in June 2013. Chandy though was conspicuous by his absence on Saturday.
However, BJP’s posters prior to the inauguration screamed: “Kochi Metro Yadharthyamaakiya Pradhanamantri Narendra Modikku Abhivadyangal (Salutations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who made Kochi Metro a reality)”.
That claim was countered by Congress’ Rachith Seth who tweeted archive photos of former PM Singh inaugurating the project:
Seth further took a dig at the PM in context to the various metros started by the previous UPA government: