Union Tourism Minister Alphons Kannanthanam, a former civil servant, today found himself at the centre of a row for his remark justifying the steep rise in fuel prices, saying ‘people who own bikes and cars are not starving and can afford to pay higher prices for fuel’. Alphons Kannanthanam invited sharp criticism from opposition Congress which took the opportunity to blast the BJP-led NDA government, calling it ‘anti-poor’ and ‘fuel-loot sarkar’.
Alphons Kannanthanam, a regular at the India International Centre (IIC) -- the capital's intellectual and cultural hub, was inducted into the government by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month. This is for the second time he has stoked a controversy. Immediately after assuming the charge of the Tourism Ministry, Alphons, who hails from Kerala, had said that people in the country are ‘free to eat what they want subject to national regulations’, adding that the BJP in Kerala never objected to the consumption of beef. Kerala, Goa are some of the few states where there are no restrictions on the consumption of beef.
The bureaucrat-turned-politician had begun his political journey by becoming an independent MLA backed by the CPI(M) in Kerala in 2006 but joined the BJP in 2011. A 1979 batch IAS officer, he quit his high-profile career and plunged into electoral politics by successfully contesting from Kanjirappally in Kottayam district. Though he was offered a second chance by the Left in the next assembly polls, Alphons, in a surprise move, turned down the offer, saying that he wanted to shift his activities to the national level. Later, Alphons Kannanthanam, known for his strong anti-corruption stance, joined the saffron party and went on to become the member of the national executive.
During his stint as IAS officer, Alphons served in different key positions. He shot into fame when he was the commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority during 1990s and his anti-encroachment drive against thousands of illegal constructions gave him the name 'demolition man'.
Born in a non-electrified Manimala village in Kottayam district to a World War II veteran, he pioneered the literacy movement in India as district collector of Kottayam by making it the first 100 per cent literate town in India in 1989. He retired from the IAS and was elected as an Independent member of the Kerala Assembly from Kanjirappally from 2006 to 2011.
Alphons is also a member of the committee set up to prepare the final draft of the National Education Policy, 2017. He has authored a book -- Making A Difference.
In 1994, he was featured in Time magazine's list of 100 Young Global Leaders. A member of the Roman Catholic Church, he is married to Sheela and they have two sons.
A practicing advocate. His induction into the NDA Cabinet is widely seen as a move of the BJP to make inroads in the Christian belt in the state.