Bengaluru: Civil servant-turned-politician Alphons Kannanthanam became the new minister of state (independent charge) for tourism and information technology (IT) in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet this week. In an interview with Mint, Kannanthanam spoke about his plans for his home state, Kerala, where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expects his elevation to the Union cabinet to make some political impact . Edited excerpts:
Will you be the face of BJP in the next Lok Sabha election in Kerala?
No, I don’t want to pretend to be a big leader. There are many senior leaders in the BJP in Kerala, so we all are going to work as a team out there. Obviously, we should be able to take the party forward in a big way (in the next election).
How did your community react to the news?
I had all the Cardinals calling me, and saying how happy they are and how supportive they will be. I told them I want the Christian community to share Modi’s dream. He wants every child to go to school, every house to have a toilet, everyone to have a bank account with money in it, he wants roads, he wants to fight corruption. What was Christ about? He was fighting corruption, he fought the inequality. So I see a lot of common ground between Modi’s dreams and what Christianity is all about.
Some say BJP made you a minister to get the Christian votes and to project you as a face of inclusive politics in Kerala. Your comments.
I am an Indian, a very proud Indian. I have a fantastic relationship with members of every community. Even Kanjirappally (from where he got elected as a state legislator in 2006) is not a majority Christian constituency, there are only 20-25% Christians.
Hindus, Muslims, Marxists, Congressmen, all of them voted for me. I think the affection for me cuts across party lines, community, caste and all that. Perhaps, it comes from my civil service background. When you are a collector, you are seen as the state person, as somebody who can bring some light into people’s lives, and not really a person belonging to a party or a community.
What will be your agenda in terms of governance?
I would like the whole world to come and feel India, not just see India. We are one of the greatest civilizations in the world, we had a great philosophical school and so on. But before we do that, we need to put a lot of things in place, like basic infrastructure, clean toilets etc. In IT, massive innovation keeps happening but workers are basically treated like coolies. How much revenue from innovative products in our export portfolios goes to them? How long are we going to sustain ourselves through BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing) and such? We have to get better wages, innovative products and much higher IT solutions. Startups are a silver lining. This is where innovations are going to take place. But I understand there are some bottlenecks when it comes to regulation, my job will be to remove all those hurdles out there and put a smile on their faces. Basically, I will be here to facilitate so that business and creativity flourish in startups. I had a briefing with my team on Wednesday afternoon and I told them to come up with new ideas. On Thursday, I am going to attend a meeting of all-India tour operators association, the guys who bring people to our tourism spots. Soon, I will also talk to people in the IT and startup industry.
You are the only person from Kerala in the Union cabinet. Will you be giving a special focus on governance in your home state?
Pinarayi Vijayan (chief minister of Kerala) and I are personal friends. In fact, he was the one who brought me into politics. On Wednesday, I discussed with him the tourism potential in Kerala. There was a lot of warmth in the meeting, he was grinning from ear to ear throughout the meeting, you know that is something you generally don’t see in him. I told him I’m completely with you in whatever you want to do, even in other things that Kerala requires in terms of getting anything that is pending from Delhi. I said that from in front of a microphone in public rallies, you might not agree with us but that is a completely different question (and it will not interfere in governance).
Last time you were in Delhi, you were called a demolition man, as you tried to raze down illegal constructions as Delhi Development Authority commissioner. Are you bracing up for a version 2.0 of your “demolition man" image this time?
No. This is a completely new avatar. Each job has its requirements. Let me put it this way, my job in this ministry is to demolish myths. The myth that India can’t dream. Our Prime Minister is a man who has so many dreams, my job is to convert some of those dreams into reality. So I’m a small part of that big dream.