Why this Bureaucrat-turned-politician from Kerala was Handpicked for Modi's Cabinet
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Alphons Kannanthanam, a bureaucrat-turned-politician who has a strong reputation as an administrator, may have been a surprise name for the Narendra Modi-led BJP cabinet in the centre, but it’s definitely a calculated one. Kannanthanam is the first ever minister from Kerala in the cabinet since Modi took over, and his selection reflects a long-term pitch by BJP for the 2019 elections in the southern state, where the party hopes to expand its footprint.
Kannanthanam has been given the independent charges as Minister of State for the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology along with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Background and Past Record
Kannanthanam, was born in a non-electrified Manimala village in Kottayam district to a World War II veteran and went to pass out from the 1979-batch of the IAS cadre. He has an illustrious career as a bureaucrat behind him starting from being the district collector of Kottayam in 1988. He drove an aggressive literacy movement in the state and helped make Kottayam as the first 100% literate town in India in 1989.
He gained popular recognition as a tough administrator, as the commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority in the mid- 1990s, when he ordered demolition of thousands of illegal constructions, and being branded as the 'demolition man'. His strong anti-corruption stance helped him attain a place in Time magazine's list of 100 Young Global Leaders in 1994.
In 2006 he moved into politics, having been elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, from Kanjirappally in Kottayam District, Kerala with the support of Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF). He later joined the BJP in 2011 and is a member of the party’s National Executive.
Face of BJP for Kerala for 2019
Since BJP took over in 2014, it has been on their agenda to politically penetrate two historically strong communist bastions in India, West Bengal and Kerala. While in Bengal it has seen rise in the number of supporters, in Kerala its strong absence still remains.
Kannanthanam’s induction into the cabinet reflects BJP’s plans to make inroads into the state and reach out to the state’s Christian minority, which is the largest population of Christians in India. It is part of the party’s ‘Mission South’ programme, a region where it is weak and absent in most regions, due to strong regional players.
In fact the Kerala plan has been on BJP chief Amit Shah’s priorities, as the party reconstituted its Kerala unit last year, to induct senior politician P C Thomas of the Kerala Congress to the NDA central committee. If predictions were to made on these lines, BJP could very well field fields Alphons as one of its MP candidates in the upcoming 2019 elections . The BJP believes that they can win a seat by consolidating the support base of Alphons and Thomas.
What to Expect
Of the two key portfolio under his charge, Kannanthanam is tailor made for the tourism sector as not only is Kerala one of the top tourists destinations in the country, the BJP government at the centre is also riding high on forming conducive tourism policies. His connect with the South will give the BJP government access to showcase central schemes in both tourism and culture as well as the IT sector.
Given his praiseworthy administrative record, he is likely to take a no nonsense stand when it comes to policy formulations and executions by his department.