The CPI and CPI (M) might be mired in a precarious tangle in Kerala as they fight it out over the recent evictions in Munnar and keep their coalition government running. But there’s one man who’s emerged as a popular folk hero out of the entire affair – Devikulam sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman.
The 30-year-old IAS officer hit national headlines on 20 April when he led the team that razed to the ground a massive metal cross erected on government land by the ‘Spirit in Jesus’ sect. In the process, Sriram has turned into a target of CPI (M) ire, and this, in return, has given him the popular image of a conscientious officer who does his duty irrespective of the opposition.
Posted in 2016 to Munnar as sub-collector, the young and energetic officer has an aura of coolness about him, thanks to his habit of touring around Munnar on his Royal Enfield, sporting a beard and glasses.
From MBBS to IAS
His career history is also the stuff of inspirational speeches. Having trained as a doctor at the Government Medical College (GMC) in Thiruvananthapuram, and having obtained his post-graduate degree in General Medicine, he gave up a lucrative career to join the IAS.
Fazal Rahman, a classmate of Sriram from his GMC days, talks about him in a Facebook post that went viral:
Fazal Rahman, Sriram’s classmateYou (Sriram) completed MBBS and PG. Now you work for one-fourth of the salary that you could have got if you had continued in the profession of medicine.
It's on social media that Sriram has achieved massive fame, as more than one fan page dedicated to the sub-collector has popped up.
With messages like, "Solidarity with Sriram Venkitaraman, who is working day and night against land encroachers," these pages shout popular support for the public official. Indeed, one of these pages, which bears a name very similar to his official page, became so popular that Sriram had to issue a statement distancing himself from it.
What’s more, when he made the shift from medicine to IAS, he did it in style – securing the all-India second rank in the 2013 civil services exam.
Sriram told NDTV that the career shift happened because the civil services offered a much greater scope for working for public well-being than the medical profession.
Sriram Venkitaraman to NDTVI am a doctor and chose to become an IAS officer because of the large canvas it offers to serve people.
Even before his posting to Munnar, Sriram had some key initiatives to his claim – the foremost being banning plastic in Sabarimala, together with collector Harikishore.
“The plastic-free Sabarimala campaign was a great success. It was our idea to place water kiosks in Sabarimala. All our initiatives are being followed now. It was one of the biggest achievements in our careers. The very next year, the High Court also banned plastic in Sabarimala, Sriram told Mathrubhumi.
On the Munnar evictions, Sriram stays firm. He overturns the popular Malayalam saying about acting without looking at the face of the opponent.
SriramI have not taken action without seeing the face. I took action by looking at each face. I don’t regret what I have done. My aim is to enforce the law, and I am doing it.
He also told Manorama that he feels no fear in enforcing the law, which is his duty as a government official. “Certain officials have a feeling that they would get their salary whether they work or not. This attitude should go. Each official should try to improve his performance.”
Despite the vocal opposition, Sriram has also said that he has received sufficient backing from the government. “I have not even got one call in a threatening tone. I am banking on the support of the revenue minister and higher officials,” he told Manorama.
Even when he’s not fighting powerful encroachers, Sriram has quotable advice to offer to young people who might look to him for inspiration. At a recent event commemorating Sankaracharya, for instance, he urged children and students not to be frogs in the well, and to open their minds to knowledge of the wider world.
(This article was originally published on The News Minute)