Ernakulam: After capturing power in four gram panchayats, including one for the second consecutive time, India’s first corporate-backed political party, “Twenty20” is hoping to win the Kunnathunad Assembly constituency, a taluk in Ernakulam district, in the Assembly elections. All the four gram panchayats, where Twenty20 has won in the recently concluded local body elections, come under the Kunnathunad Assembly seat. The four gram panchayats where the Twenty20 governs are Kizhakkabalam, Mazhuvanoor, Kunnathunad and Aikkaranad. Meanwhile, in Vengola panchayat, the party is the single largest party.
Twenty20, which is a corporate social responsibility wing of the Anna-Kitex group, has fielded Dr Sujith P. Surendran from Kunnathunad, while Congress has given ticket to V.P. Sajeendran, who is the two-time MLA. Advocate P.V. Srinijan (CPM) and Renu Suresh (BJP) are the other candidates. Ahead of the elections, several known celebrities such as actor Sreenivasan, film director Siddique joined the Twenty20, and the latest entrant to the party is former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s son-inlaw Varghese George, who was working abroad. He is married to Chandy’s eldest daughter, Mariya. Sabu M. Jacob, the chairman of Twenty20, formed the CSR wing in 2012 with the intention of developing his village Kizhakkabalam. Sitting at his office, Sabu Jacob told The Sunday Guardian, “My father M.C. Jacob always told me that your village and state should grow along with you. With the aim of giving back to society, I started Twenty20 in 2012. I used to approach politicians across political lines, with the request to make our villages modern, equipped with all the modern amenities. They used to ask for money from us and do nothing for the betterment of the state and villages. At that moment, I decided to start my own political party and give options to the villagers in 2014.” Twenty20 won the 2015 local body election in Kizhakkabalam, securing 17 out of 19 seats.
In 2012, Twenty20 established a supermarket with the same name in the panchayat and supplied subsidised essentials to villagers. The opposition alleged that the Anna-Kitex group was using the CSR funds to induce voters.
He further said, “The politicians believe that the development of the state is their right. So they asked us to donate money to them, for which we did not agree. Had they been honestly working for the people, there would not be any need for us to enter politics.”
Talking about his governance experience, Sabu Jacob told The Sunday Guardian, “When we took over Kizhakkabalam panchayat in 2015, it had a debt of Rs 39 lakh. After five years, we had a bank balance of Rs 13.57 crore. During the five-year rule, we had to approach the High Court 42 times because the state government would block our developmental projects by transferring officials or through some other means.”
The Sunday Guardian also spoke to some residents of the constituency to understand the mood of the people ahead of the elections.
Kuttan, a 27-year-old photographer from Kizhakkabalam panchayat, said, “This time the mood is in favour of Twenty20 candidate Dr Sujith P. Surendran. In the last five years, they have done some good work. This road (Kizhakkabalam main road), where you are standing, was laid in the last five years. Previously, people could not walk on this road.”
This is the opinion of other villagers in the panchayat as well. Sanal, an auto-rickshaw puller in the panchayat, told The Sunday Guardian, “We will vote for those who help us. Twenty20 has helped us in several ways in the last five years.”
Aikkarnad is the neighbouring panchayat of the Kizhakkabalam, and the party has won 14 out of the 14 seats in the panchayat. Raju, a labourer in the panchayat, told The Sunday Guardian, “Most of the people in the panchayat will vote for Twenty20 in the upcoming elections. They have a complete majority in this panchayat in the recently concluded elections, so I think this will benefit them. The news of their work in Kizhakkabalam has been spreading in neighbouring panchayats like wildfire.”
As the party has complete majority in all the four panchayats that come under the Kunnathunad constituency in the recently concluded local body polls, the Twenty20 seems confident of winning this seat and mark its official entry into Kerala Assembly.
Talking to The Sunday Guardian, Twenty20’s Kunnathunad candidate, Dr Sujith P. Surendran said, “Since we have formed our panchayat in Kizhakkabalam, there is a sense of fulfilment of basic needs among the common people. If you go to Gods Villa, the people who are staying there are those who had no pucca houses 10 years ago. Using its CSR funds, the Anna-Kitex group constructed houses for 40 families.”
Gods Villa is a colony constructed by the Kitex group from its CSR funds for the poor people in the panchayat.
Talking about governance, Sabu Jacob listed out four plans. He said, “Initially, in Kizhakkabalam, we used our CSR funds and also panchayat money for developmental work. This was my Plan A. Now my Plan B is to use the panchayat’s fund for the developmental work as we have a surplus after five years of governance.”
He further said, “As we have decided to spread our wings in other parts, we will use our Plan C, where we will use our CSR funds in other regions. Once we decide to contest in Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram and if win the election, we will ensure that the budgeted money for the city is used in a transparent manner.”
He also said that he started using the CSR funds for the development of his village much before the CSR Bill was passed in Parliament in 2015.
Actor Sreenivasan is one of the celebrities who joined the political party after the local body elections and is a member of the advisory panel. Sreenivasan told The Sunday Guardian, “I am supporting this party. I have not joined this party. I am a citizen of this state and when I see around, for the first time, I feel that there is a political party that is helping and serving the citizens. And if we have such a political party in our society, I cannot stop myself from supporting the party.”
He further added, “Until now, we have seen only professional and corrupt politicians. But Twenty20 is different. Last time also politicians from different parties had approached me to contest the elections. At that time, I said ‘I am an organic farmer and my hands get dirty. However, I don’t want to do politics and make my hands dirtier’.”
“Once Twenty20 wins Kunnathunad Assembly, we will ensure that there is utmost transparency in the allocation of funds for developmental work in the Assembly segment,” he said.
However, everything may not be so hunky-dory. V.P. Sajeendran, who is the two-time MLA from this constituency, told The Sunday Guardian, “Local body elections and Assembly elections are different ball games. Twenty20 won the local body polls last year by inducing and luring the voters as they promised essentials at a subsidized rate to the villagers. Once this kind of scheme is out of their business, they will close their shop and sit at home.”
He further said, “As an MLA of this constituency, I have ensured that the people get essentials to all the households during the pandemic. We have initiated a few projects in the constituency, but it has been stalled for now due to the elections. Once the results are declared, we will begin the projects and expedite it.”
It will be interesting to see whether Twenty20 provides alternative politics for the people of Kerala. For that, we have to wait for the 2 May results.