It’s around 11 am and there are a dozen people gathered at Palachuvadu junction in Kochi, listening to a man extolling the development initiatives of the Narendra Modi government in Kerala. Soon, BJP’s Ernakulam candidate Alphons Kannanthanam, once a bureaucrat known for his no-nonsense attitude, and now the state’s only face in the Union Cabinet, as MoS, Culture and Tourism, arrives.
Jumping out of a mini-truck, Alphons hugs the men and shakes hands with the women. Less than a minute later, he is off, without having said much, his campaign vehicle blaring a parody song describing him as an incorruptible candidate, set to the tune of a popular song from the Malayalam film Oru Adaar Love, starring the winking sensation Priya Warrier.
Click here for more election news
While this ‘reticence’ is recently acquired, given Alphons’s penchant of courting controversy with his off-the-cuff remarks, his campaign has attracted its fair share of attention for gaffes. The most well-known incident involved Alphons starting off his campaign from the wrong constituency, having headed to one next door to Eranakulam after landing at Cochin International Airport. Later, he had walked into the premises of a local court during campaigning.
Currently a Rajya Sabha MP, this is the 65-year-old Alphons’s first Lok Sabha contest (he has been an MLA). In Ernakulam, which covers parts of the city of Kochi, the state’s financial hub, he is up against two formidable rivals — P Rajeev of the CPM, who had a distinguished tenure in the Rajya Sabha, and popular Ernakulam MLA Hibi Eden of the Congress.
The BJP’s calculation is simple: getting the constituency’s Catholic votes behind Alphons, and adding it its own Hindu base. Alphons’s blemish-less record as a bureaucrat also stands him in good stead, the party believes.
Besides, interacting with voters comes easily to the Minister of State. As district collector of Kottayam in the ’90s, a mass contact programme that Alphons had envisaged had earned him an award from the United Nations.
Since he arrived in the last week of March, Alphons has been in Kochi, his days devoted to campaigning, after early-morning exercise.
Close to 9 am, he sets off in an open mini-truck and makes sure to interact with children. “You should study hard, have big dreams,” he tells a school student. A young man watching the roadshow smiles, “Alphons is a good man, but I’m not sure whether he will win.”
Alphons tells The Indian Express later, “My campaign has a personalised touch. I hardly talk politics. I listen to them and I make no promises. The way my heart functions is very difficult for some people to understand.”
Around 2 pm, Alphons makes a halt at Ponekkavu temple and joins in a festival feast. As people take selfies, Alphons eats unfazed, and then proceeds to wash his plate himself.
Later, delivering a speech from the temple dais, he says, “I studied under the light of a kerosene lamp, got 42% marks in Class 12. But with hard work, I topped the Civil Services exam and found a place in Time magazine’s list of 100 global leaders. I resigned my IAS post to become an MLA and now I’m a Union minister. I owe all to God.”
Around 3 pm, at a party worker’s home, Alphons talks about his “fumbles”, and calls it the handiwork of “morons with no brains”.
“I’m not coming with a Google map saying this side of the road is in Ernakulam and the other road is in Chalakkudy. I’m an outgoing person so whoever can vote for us (will vote for us)… I don’t even say vote for me.”
About entering the court while canvassing, Alphons says that as a lawyer he knows better. “Don’t I know when the court is in sitting? That news report itself said the judge wasn’t there at the time. So why are these morons putting out such statements?,” he says.
Alphons adds, “Some frustrated guy, sitting in an air-conditioned room with a mobile, WhatsApp — he has no job, the Congress and CPM have destroyed his future — he’s taking out his frustration on me and Modi. Frankly, I don’t care.”