SILVY MAXI MENA talks to Alphons Kannanthanam
“I HAVE NEVER jumped a traffic light in twenty-five years of my driving.” says Alphons Kannanthanam, who brought the ‘High Range 500’ car rally to the state of Kerala in the year 1982.
He was to become famous when he hit the front pages of newspapers in 1992, for demolishing 14,300 illegal structures at Delhi, facing much opposition from powerful political leaders. His family too was threatened during this period. His by – the – book behavior has been termed ‘lack of discipline’ by some of the politicians. At present, he is the Land Use Commissioner of the State.
“I have a strong belief that I must do things courageously and that is the fundamental part of my system,” says Alphons.
“I look upon certain angles of Jesus Christ’s life. If he is God, he can do anything and whatever he did will not have become great. But, if he is a man, like any of us, then it is amazing… and I look upon Christ in such a way, so that I get inspired by his courage, the courage of conviction and his way of believing in things strongly.”
Revolution takes place when we do the smallest things in a unique way which produces results which have a good effect. This message is being given in the book which he is going to publish in the name, ‘Ten Principles of Existence’.
As an example, Alphons points out the way in which he was able to make the literacy campaign at Kottayam town a grand success, as also the construction of the cancer hospital at Kottayam Medical College, accepting contribution from almost 8.2 million people.
Alphons dreams about Kerala as a wonderful state with great potential and amazing people but is dissatisfied about its performance, when compared with other states. “We are nowhere when compared with other southern states. Our attitude must change. We have to do things properly and think about new ways so that we can do them in a unique and scientific manner, which produces good results. We don’t have to destroy anyone to become smarter. I always try to do things in the best way, so that nobody should defeat me in that particular thing.”
“If we have such a dream and are able to share that with others that will be the first step towards progress and prosperity. That is what ‘Janasakthi’ is trying to do. Started in 1994 in Delhi as a national movement the organization aims at radical changes. People in a democracy should be aware of what is happening in their own panchayat.”
“I am a tough person, but not hard at heart. When I was suspended in 1996 for an article which I wrote against the then Prime Minister about corruption in the Government of India, I had to go through tough times. Another incident which shook my mind is the time when I demolished 14,300 illegal structures at Delhi facing the opposition from a D.C.C President. Even my family was threatened. But, when you are in a mission you develop a special attitude that we can live only once and that life should be a meaningful one. Fear will never touch us even as a remote feeling. You are born to make any difference and once you overcome fear, everything will become all right in your life. My father always wanted us children to think for ourselves and travel in the self-made path.”
Alphons was the eldest of nine boys in a large family. His name comes from his father’s boss who was a British Major, killed in the battle of Kohima. Born in Manimala at Kottayam, Alphons had his schooling at St. George School Manimala. According to his father’s wish, all the children after their schooling should leave their native state and Alphons went to Delhi and finally become a J.N.U. student. It was in 1979 he was selected for the I.A.S and was one of the toppers.
After the training at Mussouri, he took charge as the sub-collector of Devikulam. It was the best part of his life. He got married to Sheela and their elder son, Akash, was born at this place. He used to drive and happily says that the covered five lakh kilometers in two years.
Do you think that you have become more powerful after being selected for the I.A.S.?
“Helping someone helpless, is the symbol of power for me. If a person becomes happy after meeting me I think that my power is rightly used. This attitude of mine has helped me to extract the maximum possible output from many individuals in their efforts. When you have the habit of telling someone that you are very smart, he or she will be forced to become smart. My younger son Adarsh, who is planning to go to United States for his studies, says that he is trying hard to keep himself smart because his teacher keeps on saying that he is smart. I can inspire people in such a way to be in action and word ‘power’ has so much meaning in my life.”
Alphons always uses his power to enforce law by striking at the strongest and not at the weakest. At Delhi, it was a fight against a powerful political leader. “When my subordinates saw me staying there with them at the time of demolition, they too were inspired to fight against injustice.”
As Alphons was away from his native state for long eight years he wonders at the way Kerala has become communal. “During election time each constituency is reserved for a particular religion and the selection of candidates are also according to the religion which they belong and not because of their efficiency to turn the power wheel.”
“North Indians accept a person from what he does and don’t have the communal bias. Lot of people appreciated me when I was at Delhi and the media also gave great support. But here many of the interpretations which some of the newspapers bring are false. Media should be strong enough to demolish the communal bias and not to support it.”
What is your concept of a leader?
“Leadership has to come up with ideas. Can you point out a single leader who can share his dream with the people around him? It is easy to govern a state like Kerala because people understand things quickly. A leader should have that potential to make fundamental changes. Our neighbouring state Karnataka is progressing day by day. Everyday something new is happening. Every minister comes up with new ideas and they work like executives. They have to sign everyday. Nothing like that is happening in Kerala. A leader has to inspire his followers by making them understand that any job is an opportunity to do dramatic things and in my words any opportunity is a miracle and we have to use them properly.
Do you think that ‘Jansakthi’ will become a success as an organization?
“An organization always needs money for its functioning. We don’t collect money and it is always a problem. Even if somebody gives, I am hesitating to accept it. When you join Janasakthi you don’t get anything in return for what you do. It is only giving or fighting. Moreover, it is not a political party.”
Are you confident about a change in the social situation of Kerala?
“I am always an optimist. The change will certainly occur. If the political leaders become professional and if they are able to share their dreams with the people everything will be all right. Whenever I go to colleges for attending functions, I ask the youngsters not to enter politics at a tender age. You have to do something and become successful in your life and if you can point out the good things which you have done in ten years you can become successful in politics.”
Alphons brings in the example of George Bush Jr., who was an outcast as a youngster. But he was able to put his life in order and became successful in life in about eleven years and the man who was not well-known became the President of the United States. If the youngsters are confident to say ‘Here I am and I have done things’ they can win in their own lives.
Amidst his busy life, Alphons finds enough time for his variety of interests like trekking, mountaineering, car racing, etc.
“If you can organize time, you will have enough time for everything you want to do.” He loves western music, especially rock music, and has a great interest in Indian classical dances, and he himself is a good dancer.
“I love fast driving, but I don’t have a fast car. I ask my kids, Akash and Adarsh, to present me a sports car if they become millionaires. I always think of myself as a youngster and I can spread that enthusiasm in my work also.”
Though Alphons became an I.A.S officer, he still has other dreams. He always wanted to become a lawyer or a politician. “I always wanted to come into politics but who will give me a seat? Politicians are scared about me and they say that I am not disciplined. I have public support, I do things efficiently and I am also a good orator. I want things to happen and I want people to do miracles. What others say to do in ten years, I would like to do in ten months. But, for many of the political leaders I am a danger.”
If you become the Chief Minister of Kerala, are you confident of governing the state efficiently?
“Governing a state is not different from governing a department. Principles of governing are all the same. I am confident that I can put the staff on fire in six months’ time and when you are able to do things efficiently where is the place for corruption? You must have a dream and should be able to share it with people. Everything I have done only needs common sense and commitment and it is not even necessary to have great efficiency.” Alphons Kannanthanam remembers the courage of Christ while he was crucified. He becomes more and more stronger when he gets crucified in the official carrier for doing good things. “Christ died for his belief. But, I will not. I don’t want some stupid guy to kill me. I have to live for my mission.”