The arrival of Union Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam as the NDA candidate has turned what would have been a straight fight in Ernakulam into a three-way contest. Undeterred by criticism, in an interview by Express Special Correspondent Manoj Viswanathan, Kannanthanam claims he is fighting the Lok Sabha polls to win and people will vote him considering the performance of the Modi Government.
Q: Do you think you will be able to reach beyond the traditional vote base of the BJP and win the Ernakulam seat?
A: It has been barely a few days since I started my campaign, but from the sparkle in the eyes of the people, I am confident of giving a tough fight to my opponents. I am sure the people ignore petty politics and cast their votes for development considering the performance of the Modi Government. From toilets to Direct Benefit Scheme to free power and LPG connection, the NDA has achieved what others couldn’t do in 60 years.
Q: Ernakulam is a Christian-majority constituency. Will you be able to lure Christian voters to the BJP fold?
A: I am a practising Christian and I have sanctioned Rs 85 crore for 133 religious institutions in Kerala from the Tourism Department. While 72 temples were provided Rs 42 crore, we gave Rs 2.5 crore to 41 churches. Has any Congress Government provided such support to religious institutions in the past?
Q: But there has been mistrust among the community and the BJP has not been able to allay the fears?
A: There were mistakes, but the party also took steps to correct them. There were incidents which alienated the community from the BJP. But you should remember communal riots were the order of the day during the Congress regime. How many communal incidents occurred during the past five years? There was a campaign in 2014 that Modi will persecute Christians if voted to power. Did anything happen? People must have freedom of choice to eat what they want.
Q: As Union Minister from Kerala, what is your achievement?
A: I have sanctioned tourism projects worth Rs 550 crore for Kerala. We sanctioned Rs 70 crore for the Sree Narayana Guru Pilgrim Tourism Circuit. The amount will be utilised for the complete development of pilgrim centres like Sivagiri mutt, Chembazhanthi Gurukulam, Kunnumparam temple and Aruvippuram mutt. I have sanctioned two cruise terminals at Kochi port. Another terminal for bigger cruise ships is being built. This will usher in a new age of tourism development in Ernakulam.
Q: Will the candidature of Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad affect the prospects of the BJP?
A: He is coming to Wayanad as he realised it will be difficult to defeat Smriti Irani in Amethi. The Congress and the CPM are in alliance in West Bengal and neighbouring Tamil Nadu. They are fooling people by fighting each other in Kerala. People will understand their ploy and vote wisely.
Q: The trollers have been mocking you for seeking votes in Chalakudy constituency recently.
A: I am a minister of the Modi Government and I campaign for the party across the country. I campaigned in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Andhra Pradesh during the past week. I travelled from Nedumbassery to Aluva in a bus and requested the commuters to vote for the BJP. I also talked to the people waiting at the bus stop. It is my responsibility and I don’t find anything wrong in it. If the trollers think they can fool Malayalees by spreading such silly allegations, they are wrong.
Q: Do you think the Sabarimala issue will help the BJP?
A: The police action at Sabarimala has hurt the sentiments of not just the Hindu community but all Keralites. The CPM tried to deny religious freedom, foisted cases against the protesters and put them in jails. The BJP tried to protect the devotees’ rights and their sentiments will reflect in the election.