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'Politicians need not be corrupt at all'

Last updated on: March 23, 2011 18:07 IST

Image: Alphons Kannanthanam
Photographs: Courtesy Alphons Kannanthanam
As an Indian Administrative Service officer, Alphons Kannanthanam shot to the limelight when he made Kottayam the first town in India 100 per cent literate. He was the district collector then.

He became a national hero when he demolished illegal buildings in Delhi as commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority and reclaimed land worth more than Rs 10,000 crores (Rs 100 billion). After that, he was dubbed the 'Demolition man'.

He resigned as an IAS officer and stood as an Independent candidate in the 2006 Kerala assembly election with support from the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front. He won the seat by a wide margin.

In this interview with's Shobha Warrier, he discusses why he wants to enter national politics and why he is meeting Bharatiya Janata Party President Nitin Gadkari.

As the 'demolition man', you took on the establishment and the political system. Why did you decide to join the same political system in 2006?

I had eight more years to go in the IAS; my batchmates had already become chief secretaries two years earlier. I was a topper and would have become chief secretary two years ago.

I thought if I had to do what I wanted to, it was the right time. With God's grace and people's love, I have got so much in life.

Please ...

'I would like to reborn as an IAS officer'

Image: Alphons Kannanthanam
The interview with former IAS officer Alphons Kannanthanam continues:

I studied in a Malayalam medium school in Manimala, a village that did not have electricity. I scored only 42 per cent in my final exam.

From then on, I decided that I was going to change the world. After that, I became a topper everywhere. I taught myself English and I taught myself everything.

I was a topper at the IAS examination. I had decided then that I would be an officer with a backbone, and I was one for 27 years.

The country is run by politicians as it is the political executive who takes the decisions. As an administrative officer, I could only implement them.

Did you feel helpless as an IAS officer?

No, I was very happy doing what I did. If there is a rebirth, I would like to be reborn as an IAS officer!

I thought I should move to a better framework where I could be part of the decision making. I was going to a different level from being the executor of the policies taken by politicians to a decision maker myself.

'I tried to interpret the rule book for the people. So they voted for me'

Image: Then Kottayam collector Alphons Kannanthanam teaches an elderly person
How was the experience as a policy maker?

I converted my constituency -- Kanjirapalli -- into a model constituency for the country. The finance minister said in the assembly that if all MLAs worked like that, there would a miracle happening in Kerala.

How did you manage that?

I came with a complete model to be a model politician. People spend a lot of money, supply liquor and abuse their rivals. But I have not done either of the three.

Yet I won on the 32nd day after my resignation from the IAS with the largest majority.

Was it because of your image that you could win?

Yes, but it was my image as the Kottayam collector. That is where I began my work on literacy. Remember I was the collector 20 years back! But they still remembered what I did then. It basically means good work is remembered always.

Of course, my demolition work in Delhi had an impact. The fact that I fought the system to set things right had an impact.

Anybody came to me for help, I would help. I tried to interpret the rule book for the people. So, people voted for me.

'Politicians need not be corrupt at all'

Image: Alphons interacts with slum dwellers in Delhi
The interview with former IAS officer Alphons Kannanthanam continues:

It basically proves that politics can be clean, doesn't it?

In the last five years, I haven't taken a rupee from anybody. Even though I am from that area, I haven't had a meal with anybody.

Politicians need not be corrupt at all.

When you decided to plunge into politics, why did you decide to take the support of the Marxists?

It was they who asked me if I was willing to enter politics and be their candidate. It was their choice and not mine.

So joining politics itself was their choice?

Yes, they asked me. I was in a very powerful job then. They asked me if I was willing to stand as an Independent candidate with their backing.

My family was dead against it, but finally I convinced them and got into politics.

How long did you have to think about it?

I took a week to convince my family. On the 32nd day, I won and it shows politics can be very clean.

'I was out from 6 am to 10 pm in my constituency'

Image: Alphons takes part in a clean-up drive in Delhi
Do you feel you succeeded because you contested in Kerala?

In 1994, The Times of India did a poll when I was the Delhi Development Authority commissioner and they found that 89 per cent people backed me.

If I had stood in elections then, I would have won easily. Who gets 89 per cent of the people backing you?

Even a person like T N Seshan got only 69 per cent when a poll was done on him.

If you do a good job, people everywhere are willing to appreciate it.

Why do you want to move away from politics now?

I am not moving away from politics. I have done one tenure and did so successfully. I got Rs 350 crore (Rs 3.5 billion) into my constituency. I was out from 6 am to 10 pm in my constituency doing things.

We did everything in record time. It has become a model constituency.

I am 57 now. I feel I still have 10 more years left in me. According to me, India has much bigger problems than Kanjirapally had. It is a well off place, but in India, half the people are starving.

Millions of children die every year before reaching the age of one.

I feel with my kind of experience, I will be able to help nationally if somebody wants my service.

As a politician?

Yes, as a politician.

'V S Achuthanandan is a fighter'

Image: Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan
We get the impression that you refused to contest the election because the CPI-M denied V S Achuthanandan a ticket...

Both happened simultaneously, that's all. They (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) had not finalised the list when I turned down the offer.

Refusing at the last moment is not correct. When they were discussing and before they announced the list, I decided not to stand.

What is the reaction from the CPI-M?

They are completely shocked. I have had an excellent relationship with the Left in Kerala. They have treated me in a very dignified way. I feel very sad.

You said you made Kanjrapally a model constituency. Why not make Poonjar (the constituency the CPI-M offered him) the same?

I would have won easily there too. How long am I supposed to do the same thing again and again?

If I can bring food to every table in India, why don't I do that instead of changing the face of one constituency after another?

I don't have that much time. I am not a 30 year old; I am 57. I feel my knowledge and experience should be used across the country to bring about change.

How do you rate V S Achuthanandan as chief minister?

He is a fighter. He fought for causes, which he felt were right.

'Nobody should be an MLA or MP for more than 10 years'

Image: CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat
Ae you happy with the way he was treated by his party? He was denied a ticket first and then given it.

I have a difference of opinion here. Yes, people do like him.

The world today is ruled by young people. What is the advantage of being young? Young people can talk about change, they can talk about opportunities.

I feel it is time we move away from the older generation. I am of the opinion that nobody should be an MLA or MP for more than 10 years.

I think we must give opportunities to young people who can come up with new ideas. Then they will be able to make the country better.

Can you name any such young political leader in Kerala?

You have to bring them up, give them chances.

I have seen very bright young people in my constituency. I used to give such people a chance to function. I don't look at them as potential threats.

But if you look at the age of the leaders who are standing in the elections, it is 92, 87, 78, etc...

It is a shame. Look at some of the leaders who can't talk and can't walk, but want to contest the elections. It is a shame.

They have done whatever they could. Now, it is the time for the young to work for the state.

'MLAs and MPs in Kerala only attend weddings and funerals'

Image: The Smart City project
So you don't agree with having 87-year-old V S Achuthanandan as leader?

My question is not about VS or anybody else. I am talking about youth coming to power.

We have not allowed the young leadership to come up, and it is the same for the LDF (Left Democratic Front) and the UDF (United Democratic Front).

Why do Keralites have to go outside to work? Because they have no opportunities within the state. We don't have the leadership who is ready to create opportunities for them.

You take the case of the Smart City. It took ten years for it to get sanction. Not a brick has been laid there.

I am extremely unhappy with this kind of things. Whether the UDF rules or the LDF rules, there is no big dream for Kerala.

Do you feel politics is about self development and not the development of the state?

It is all about winning elections. MLAs and MPs in Kerala do only one thing: Attend weddings and funerals. They are all out in the morning with wedding cards! People are happy when an MLA comes to their house.

'By and large the governance in India is pathetic'

Image: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
Do you think there is any other state in India where there is model development?

I have worked in many places. I think by and large governance in India is pathetic.

I was in Bihar for the elections. Nitishji (Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar) is doing a good job there. India has to dream bigger.

When Kerala itself has to grow, why do you think pan-India?

Kerala is a lot better than other states. Keralites are not starving. I don't see a single person starving here.

But in the rest of India, 50 per cent of people go to bed without a single meal a day. Half the children do not go to school.

India has much bigger problems than Kerala.

How much can you achieve?

I have always done it and I don't see any reason why I can't do it hereafter too.

Is there any truth in the reports that BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) President Nitin Gadkari contacted you?

Yes, he did. We had a long conversation over the phone. I am going to Delhi to meet him on March 24.

I want to be in national politics and want to work on one issue --development that reaches the people, not just the slogan.

If their idea of development matches mine, and if there is a room for collaboration, and if we can work together together ideologically, I will consider (aligning with the BJP). That is the whole idea behind the meeting.