Former bureaucrat Alphons Kannanthanam, the new Minister of State (independent charge) for Tourism, is confident that he will be able to capitalise on India’s “civilisational heritage”. “India has immense potential. We are a 5,000-year-old civilisation. We are much more than incredible. Our heritage is our USP and we have to devise ways to market it,” Kannanthanam, 64, told The Indian Express. A 1979-batch Kerala cadre IAS officer, he feels his home state “needs nothing more than tourism” provided it can generate jobs and maintain quality.
Kannanthamam has his job cut out with the latest mid-year Economic Survey noting that India has a lot of tourism potential that is yet to be tapped. As per industry estimates, the size of the Indian tourism and hospitality sector was $117.7 billion in 2014 and is expected to touch $418.9 billion by 2022. The cabinet berth came as a surprise. “I was on my way to Kozhikode and was at the Bangalore airport when I received a call from the Prime Minister’s Office asking me to come to New Delhi,” he said.
He had an eventful career as a bureaucrat, earning a reputation as a “demolition man” in Delhi and being credited with helping Kottayam attain 100% literacy. In 2006, he quit the civil services and won the Christian-dominated Kanjirappally assembly seat in Kerala as a Left-backed independent. He joined the BJP some years later and was inducted in the party national executive.
While his elevation is seen as part of a larger gameplan to make inroads into Kerala, it also involves the risk of costing the BJP its Hindu votes. Asked if the party will gain in Kerala after his induction, he said, “The prospects are very good. I enjoy good rapport with all sections of society across the board.” BJP Kerala president Kummanam Rajasekharan described the elevation as the Narendra Modi government’s Onam gift to Malayalees.