Remembering Oommen Chandy: Kerala's most development-oriented CM in recent times

Bitter local politics meant that Chandy could not bask in the glory of his achievements. A case in point was Kochi Metro Rail's inauguration in June 2017...
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. (Photo | Vincent Pulickal, EPS)
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. (Photo | Vincent Pulickal, EPS)

KOCHI: When Oommen Chandy was trying to bring the metro rail project to Kochi in 2011 -- his second tenure as Chief Minister -- he was convinced of one thing: the project could take off only if Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and 'Metro Man' E Sreedharan were directly involved in the project.

But, there was a big hindrance. The then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and the Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, under whom DMRC comes, were totally opposed to this idea. "Sheila Dixit was against DMRC going to South India. She felt DMRC should not divert its attention to other states and said it should focus on Delhi alone," recollects Sreedharan, former chief of DMRC.

The Kochi metro rail project was something that was close to Chandy's heart. He first mooted the project idea in 2005, when he replaced the then Chief Minister AK Antony. The project didn't see much progress under the 2006 VS Achuthanandan-led CPM government.

Despite the opposition from Dixit and Kamal Nath, Chandy was determined. In late 2011, Delhi hosted an AICC meeting. It was a godsend opportunity for Chandy, who, along with senior Congress MPs from Kerala, viz., Vayalar Ravi, A K Antony, and Prof K V Thomas, met Dixit and Nath on the sidelines of the AICC conference. "The meeting paved the way for DMRC's participation in the Kochi metro rail project," says Thomas. 

Chandy, who passed away in Bengaluru early on Tuesday, was perhaps the most development-oriented CM that Kerala has seen after K. Karunakaran (and now Pinarayi Vijayan), bringing some of the big infrastructure projects to Kerala. The SmartCity-Kochi (IT park at Kakkanad), Vizhinjam International Seaport Project, and Kannur Airport project, are some of the other showpiece projects that were initiated during his regime.

No one was ready to invest in the Vizhinjam seaport project, said an officer who was closely involved in the initial stages of the project. During the tenders, there were no bids. "Then, Oommen Chandy decided to meet Gautam Adani personally and convinced him to invest in the port project. The Adani Group was reluctant to come to Kerala, fearing controversies. It was Oommen Chandy's direct involvement that helped Kerala bring the multi-crore port project to Vizhinjam," said the officer.

The bitter local politics meant that Chandy could not bask in the glory of his achievements. A case in point was Kochi Metro Rail's inauguration in June 2017. By then, the Oommen Chandy-led UDF regime (2011–2016) had paved the way for the LDF government. The main list of special invitees alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not contain the name of Chandy, who was practically involved in every aspect from the inking of the agreement to the commencement of the work and the trial run.

So typical of his nature, Chandy did not raise a voice in protest and bore no grudge towards anyone. As he leaves the arena, the man who emerged from a small village in Puthupally to become a mass leader for more than five decades, had a development vision for the state. In controversy-loving Kerala too, things can be done, he showed. 

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