Daily Archives: September 2, 2012

Celebrating An Honest Politician

More than any other treasure that I have unearthed during my stay in this country, I have found that nothing delights me more than when I unexpectedly discover that rare breed, that elusive subject – an honest-to-goodness honest politician.

A Surprise Element

I found such a surprise last week in the Times of India’s guest write-up in it’s editorial column. The column was called:

Politics can be clean

Neither corruption nor handouts are required to succeed.  

Naive and noble thought, but not in India, I surmised.  As I began reading this short opinion piece it kept me enthralled – for the sheer simplicity and credibility of it’s message. Because it was obviously written by someone who had lived through what he was saying.  How come I didn’t know the name, and didn’t know the man? Perhaps I just haven’t lived here long enough.

Who was this writer?  I had no earthly idea who “K.J. Alphons” was; it was the first time I had seen the name.

So of course, off it was to my favorite research destination and tool…the web via google, where I found some great information worth sharing.

Meet Mr. Alphons

I felt like anyone would when they discover a real life hero in the midst of a billion people (plus or minus a couple of million). Thrilled! And ready to get on his bandwagon.

Here is one very neat description of this (almost) lone warrior – 

“Take one portion of courage, one point of integrity, one portion of dynamism and add a pinch of foolhardiness and you have Alphons.”     

-The Hindustan Times

A Remarkable Bureaucrat

His background is that of an IAS  (Indian Administration Service) officer  who accomplished much in various posts during his 28 year career in the civil service. Just a couple of these are highlighted here –

  • He demolished 14310 illegal buildings in Delhi , and reclaimed land worth Rs. 10000 crores, as Commissioner, Delhi Development Authority (this earned him the moniker Demolition Man) – without requesting or requiring any permission from his political bosses.
  • He pioneered the literacy movement in India, by making Kottayam Town the first 100% literate town in India in 1989, as District Collector, Kottayam (that’s 100% percent, folks!).
  • Further, Kottayam District achieved a quality of health index better than the United States of America, when he was in the same post.

Based on his many accomplishments at the time, in 1994, Time named him to their Global 100 – Time’s roster of young leaders for the new millenium.

A Candid Critique of IAS

Read his opinion piece in Tehelka on his experience with the IAS, The best job I ever quit, where he both praises and admonishes the civil service. It’s a great piece of brave writing! And because, as usual, I know you won’t wander over there, here are a couple of outstanding excerpts:


“…The truth is: if you bend they will kick. In a democracy, the political executive is supreme. They are accountable to the people. They are accountable to parliament and the assembly. They have to get re-elected. But the role of the political executive is to take policy decisions. It is the job of the bureaucracy to implement the policy decisions. Why have the bureaucracy allowed the political executive to trespass onto their turf? Simple: lack of a backbone.”


“…To be able to stand up, one needs to have personal integrity, both financial and intellectual. What percentage of ias officers are financially honest? Some people believe that over 60% of ias officers are financially corrupt. A good percentage of officers have impeccable financial integrity. How many of this group have intellectual integrity? Possibly one percent. It is not enough to be financially honest; it is equally important that you do not allow others to make money. An ias officer is the chief security guard on behalf of people to guard the nation’s wealth. I don’t loot, but allow others to loot [my edit:does that sound familiar to any of you??]. I don’t know which is a bigger crime.” 

Aah and Then, Politics!

After almost three decades, he resigned from IAS in 2006 to join politics with the conviction that he could make a bigger difference there. Isn’t that the truth?  These are precisely the kind of people that India needs as political leaders!

In his first foray, he contested and won an election to be an MLA in Kerala – winning  with one of the highest majorities in the state, while spending less than $5,000 on the entire election campaign! It was a clean election campaign where not a drop of liquor was served (fyi, elections in many parts of the country these days mean gifts of liquor bottles and worse/more to the voting public – in exchange for their vote).

This is why he states so clearly that it is possible to run a clean election and be a clean politician. He’s proved it.

Once he won that election, he vowed to remain clean. As an MLA, during a tenure of less than five years, he was able to get $80 million into his constituency for various development projects that would serve the citizens.

At every step of the way, during his life, he has asked himself the question, “where can I make the most difference?”, and then he’s taken the leap.

His latest leap was taken when he thought that he could be of more service to the country on the national stage if there were any takers. He has since joined the BJP and says he now has a simple agenda –

“I want food on every table. I want every child to go to school. I want every able-bodied man to have a job”.  

Not a bad agenda for someone who has proved at every stage in his life that he can get things done. With integrity.

[As an interesting aside, in an interview on the occasion of this leap, when Mr.Alphons was asked if there was any state in India where there was model development, guess what his answer was?  He said and I quote: “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”].  🙂

Thrilled with this “Discovery”!

What a thrill it has been to “run into” someone like him in India – a highly effective administrator and an honest politician. In case this is your introduction to the man too, meet Mr.K J Alphons aka Alphons Kannanthanam.

It’s unlikely that I will forget this name now. In fact, I will be watching eagerly for his next achievements in service to the country and its children (in all meanings of that word).

This man has a lot (more) to give this country and he wants to make a big difference. I sincerely hope he gets the chance to do so.  And if any country needed someone like him, heck, it’s India.

As I said before, more than any other treasure in this country, I have found that nothing pleases me more than when I discover that rare and precious individual, an honest politician.

So, celebrate him, I must!



Photo credits:

Children: By http://www.flickr.com/photos/90417577@N00/ [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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