The ministerial reshuffle in the Central government has sprung a sudden surprise in Kerala politics, with former IAS officer Alphons Kannanthanam inducted as a Minister in the Union Government.
Alphons joins the Modi government along with eight other new faces on Sunday. His induction has come as something of a surprise even for some BJP leaders in Kerala, as he has not been among the most visible figures in the party.
Alphons joins the government following a leap across the political spectrum in 2011. The bureaucrat-turned-politician shifted his loyalties to the BJP that year, after first entering the Kerala Assembly with the support of the LDF in 2006.
Known as an able officer during his tenure in the IAS, Alphons received LDF backing when he quit the service left to contest from Kanjirappally in the 2006 elections. While he received LDF support for his reputation as an honest, upright officer while in the IAS, his five-year tenure as MLA didnâ€™t prove to be as fruitful as expected.
So it did not come as a big surprise in political circles in the state when he shifted base to Delhi and joined the BJP. What did come as a big surprise, however, was Alphonsâ€™s nearly immediate induction as a National Executive Committee member, superseding many other leaders from the state.
Alphons has been inducted into the NDA government just a year after he was nearly made the Administrator of Chandigarh, but was dropped at the last moment, as it was felt a more suitable choice was needed for poll-bound Punjab.
Alphons becomes the first Minister in the Modi government from Kerala, a state where the BJP does not have a single elected MP and only one MLA. This is being seen as part of the political formula to build up the party in the state on the road to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Actor-turned-politician Suresh Gopi is the only BJP MP from the state, nominated to the Rajya Sabha in April 2016. And O Rajagopal opened the account for the BJP in the 2016 Assembly elections from the Nemom constituency in Thiruvananthapuram. Rajagopal had earlier been a Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, after being elected to the RS from Madhya Pradesh.
Alphons, who is a Roman Catholic hailing from the central Kerala district of Kottayam, is particularly being seen as a candidate to woo the Church and Christian voters towards the NDA.
A UPSC topper in 1979, Alphons has a strong reputation as an administrator, with many high-profile achievements and decisions to his name. One of his major achievements in his home state was the key role he played in the literacy movement. He was one of the major forces in helping Kottayam achieve the distinction of becoming the first 100% literate district in the country in 1989.
He was also responsible for cleaning up the system of professional exams as the Entrance Commissioner.
He earned himself the name â€śDemolition Manâ€ť in Delhi in the mid-1990s, when he knocked down 14,310 illegal buildings as Commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority and stood his ground even after his wife and children came under attack.
In his political avatar, Kannanthanam has relied on his heavyweight image as a well-known IAS officer, and has not sought to build up his connections with the rank and file of the party. It is not surprising then that some party workers and leaders in Kerala are reportedly not too enthused with the choice.
However, state BJP General Secretary MT Ramesh told TNM that the Kerala unit of the BJP is enthused to have a Minister from Kerala at the Centre as this will help build the base of the party in the state. â€śHe is an able person who has travelled at length across the state. For the last five years he acted as a link between Delhi and Kerala. A high-profile person like him is an apt choice,â€ť Ramesh said.
(With inputs from IANS)