Union Tourism Minister Alphons Kannanthanam spoke to Rajya Sabha TV’s Neelu Vyas for the show ‘To The Point’.
Here are some edited excerpts from the interview:
Was bureaucracy too small a playground for you, that you took to politics?
If there is a rebirth I would like to become an IAS. Bureaucracy truely empowers.
What’s the larger message behind induction of bureaucrats in the cabinet?
PM wanted people with administrative experience. Bureaucrats are people who are not only policy makers but they also take care of implementation. We give direction to policies. Very often the problem is that the ground realities are very different from what we pen down down on paper. But, a politician can do an equally good job. We all have to perform – that’s the message of the Prime Minister. All poor people have to have a share in the building of new India. Bureaucrats have experience in implementation. They produce better results but that does not mean that politicians do not work. Look at Modi ji – he is not a bureaucrat , but how well he governs with a vision and follows things on the ground.
Is the message – if you don’t perform you will be out?
That’s a message for everyone. If we don’t perform we will be out. That equally applies to me as well, who is a bureaucrat.
Your induction was done with the aim to expand the BJP footprints in Kerala?
Of course that’s the reason why I was inducted. Apart from tourism ministry, I have been entrusted with the job of bringing in more and more people towards BJP from Kerala. That’s a large political message…From 6 percent the BJP has reached 10.5 percent.
Christians have remained wary of BJP and its objectives. How will you bridge the trust deficit?
I have been in touch with priests, cardinals and bishops. I have an excellent relationship with them. They wondered why I joined the BJP. I said we needed someone with a backbone to manage India. When I saw Modi producing good results in Gujarat, I thought he was the one. That’s the reason why I quit Left and joined the BJP. I am here for the ordinary citizen. I have broken rules to help the poor but not for the rich. BJP beleievs in Saba Sath Sabka Vikas . Modi tells me to do what I believe in, which other prime minister would do that. No churches have been harmed, no Christians have been beaten up. That was a false campaign. BJP is on everybody’s side. Social media his full of incredible lies.
There is a spike in the number of cases of political violence, specially in Kannur. As a tourism minister are you not worried that it impacts the image of the Kerala, which is a such a big tourist destination?
Oh it does. Political violence unleashed by Marxist parties is creating a bad image. Keral-ites are known to be decent and civilized people . This is of course instilling fear in the minds of people. People do not like this kind of fear-mongering. Marxists cannot tolerate BJP entering the political sphere in Kerala. Look at the way the Centre is helping the poor people. We can work together with the Left. There is political intolerance. There is a huge political vacuum in Kerala. Congress is corrupt, left is intolerant. BJP will bring in development politics. People of Kerala want change. We have been painted as right of right but we are left of Centre . This govt is committed to poor.
How will you take tourism beyond the incredible India level?
We will soon come out with a national tourism policy. PM himself has briefed us on this, and we will incorporate the suggestions. We will also have an open house with all stakeholders like touirsm guides, tour operators and so on. Our aim is to increase the footfalls of foreign tourists. We will hand over some heritage sites to the corporate sector .
The potential of tourism is under-leveraged. Is there enough investment?
Cleanliness is a big issue. It is perceived that India is not clean. So Swaccha Bharat will boost tourism potential. All of us will have to contribute to cleanliness. Singapore was a big slum, but now its one of the cleanest places. We will launch more projects. Building more toilets is another issue which we are dealing with. Sanitation is a big contributor towards tourism. All these campaigns are helping tourism sector. We can only nudge people. Local bodies have to ensure that things are implemented.
There are no tax breaks for the tourism sector? Is India also planning on those lines?
We are planning on those lines. Hotel rooms above 7500 are taxed. But we need to give tax breaks. We need to give infrastructure status to the tourism sector. Hotel industry needs infrastructure status. These are things under consideration. National tourism policy should be ready in a couple of months.