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Pinarayi Vijayan Got me Into Politics, I'll Work With Him to Stop Political Murders in Kerala, Says Tourism Minister KJ Alphons

KJ Alphons, who was once an independent candidate backed by CPI (M), speaks to News18 on beef, his personal equation with BJP's arch rival Pinarayi Vijayan, and how political killings in Kerala have maligned the image of a peace-loving state

Aishwarya Kumar, Suhas Munshi

Updated:September 13, 2017, 1:00 PM IST
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Pinarayi Vijayan Got me Into Politics, I'll Work With Him to Stop Political Murders in Kerala, Says Tourism Minister KJ Alphons
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan with Union Tourism, Electronics & IT Minister Alphons Kannanthanam. (Twitter)
Just a few days in office as tourism minister, Alphons Kannanthanam said that tourists don’t come to India to eat beef. Alphons, who was once an independent candidate backed by CPI (M), speaks to News18 on beef, his personal equation with BJP's arch rival Pinarayi Vijayan, and how political killings in Kerala have maligned the image of a peace-loving state. Edited excerpts:

Your comments on eating beef in India created quite a stir. You first said BJP has no problem with people eating beef, and then that foreigners should eat beef in their own country before visiting India. As a tourism minister and a BJP leader from Kerala, what are your views on the subject?
I was misunderstood. What I meant was that nobody comes to India with a purpose of eating beef. That said, India is a democratic country. People of the country will decide what to wear and what to eat. This is very clear. One can’t be more liberal than that. These are non-negotiables in a democracy.

There are news reports which indicate that Kerala BJP leadership is not too happy with your elevation.
That’s not true. Look at the reception I received when I was in Kerala. It was massive. All state leaders were there and were very happy.

In 2006 you contested elections as a CPI(M)-backed independent candidate and now you are with the BJP. What made you change your political association?
I’m pro-poor person at heart. Call me Left, Right or Centre it doesn’t matter to me. It is true that I fought as an independent candidate backed by CPI (M), but as a citizen of this country, I had begun to wonder, sometime in 2011, the direction in which India was headed. One slice of India was being sold out every day by [UPA] ministers. Scandals, scams, money laundering were the order of the day. I realized we needed a strong leader for India and the only one I could spot was Narendra Modi. His stint in Gujarat was proof of his leadership abilities. That’s how the switch happened.

After assuming your role in the Union Cabinet, you had a lunch with Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala CM. What sort of rapport do you share with him?
I have a fantastic personal equation with him. He is the one who got me into politics. He had seen my work as a bureaucrat. So when I expressed my wish to join politics, MA Baby [CPI(M) politburo member] set up my meeting with him. It took Pinarayi Vijayan 10 seconds to hand me a ticket for Kanjirappally. In politics, it’s important to get along with everyone. We can have political, ideological differences and that’s what democracy is all about. We must, in the end, get along well in administration.

Political murders in Kerala have been going on for years. How will these killings end?
We have to sit together and decide that we can’t let this happen. So many young people are losing their lives and it is bringing bad reputation to Kerala, which is a beautiful and peace-loving state. We need discussions, and that is one of the reasons why I maintain a good relationship with the CM.

How do you look at the charges of lynching and intolerance against the BJP?
In a country of 1.3 billion, there are some people who are nuts. Who go about doing such criminal things, after which the so-called liberal media blames the PM or the BJP. This is extremely unfair. The PM has said that these are criminal acts and those indulging in it must be booked.
Also, before BJP came to power in 2014, there was widespread propaganda that mosques and churches will be destroyed, lives will be in danger. Tell me how many churches, mosques have been burnt down? We can’t put the blame on the PM or the ruling party for a section of the society which is crazy and nuts.

Recently a Kerala BJP leader, in a series of tweets laid down “historical facts” about how a church in Arthunkal was actually a temple. Then we have Yogi Adityanath questioning the symbolism of Taj Mahal. How do you view such comments?
They are respected leaders. But my view is that we have to learn from history. If we go back in time, what will we do — take revenge? Millions of Jews were butchered, so do we now go and kill Germans? No. History exists and we can’t rectify the wrongs of that. Accept both defeat and glorious moments.

Of the three ministries (tourism, culture, IT) whose MoS you are, which do you find the most challenging?
Tourism is my main charge. I want people across the world to experience and feel India because we are such an incredible civilization. I want them to go like ‘Wow, this country is great.’ I am a junior minister in IT and it’s a complicated sector with data, AI, digital payments. I’m still learning a few things there.

Are there any immediate goals in tourism that you are looking at?
Starting next month, we’ll be visiting site after site to see how we can attract tourists there — be it by cleaning, lighting it up or developing eating places around it. We want money to come in too — that is one of the objectives of tourism.

Considering general elections due in 2019, how much time do you think you’ll have in terms of understanding the ministry and working on the same?
We really don’t have much time. Not just because elections are going to happen, but also because India is a young country and it cannot wait. We have a lot of catching up to do. And, of course, I would be required by the party to travel to Kerala and Meghalaya (where I’ve been made poll in-charge).
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