Kerala: The political rise of ‘apolitical’ Twenty20 in Kizhakkambalam

Twenty20 has recently been registered as a political party, which gives the party leadership the authority to use anti-defection law against members.

In 2015 local body elections of Kerala, Twenty20—an “apolitical” collective floated by the Kitex Group under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, sprang a surprise by winning the Kizhakkambalam panchayat sweeping 17 out of 19 wards. The Congress which had reigned supreme in the previous election suffered humiliation in the hands of the collective, by winning only one ward.

This time around too, Kitex Group’s Twenty20 has once again rebuffed naysayers by not only regaining Kizhakkambalam, but also extending its mandate in three more panchayaths during Kerala’s local body elections this month. They won a whopping 18 of the 19 seats in Kizhakkambalam, all 14 seats in adjacent Aikaranad, 13 of 19 seats in Mazhuvanoor and 11 of 18 seats in Kunnathunad.

“People in Kizhakkambalam assessed the administration over the past five years and this is the reward people showered on us for our works. The LDF, UDF, SDPI and Welfare Party were united in attacking and destroying us,” Sabu Jacob, the chief coordinator of Twenty 20 told the News Minute.

Registered as a charity organization until recently, the collective expended vast resources to get this far. For each ward, a committee of 100 members including master of social work (MSW) graduates were hired. Smart cards were given to the residents for use in stores run by Twenty20, to procure things at subsidized rates. More was promised to the electorate. 

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However, the results and the apparent spending may not be representative of the successes of Twenty20 in government administration or it having lived up-to expectations. 

Former panchayath president KV Jacob, who had been with Twenty20 since its beginning and quit from the party’s 5-year stint from 2015, said that there’s no democracy in the party. He said much of the decisions are made by the chief coordinator Sabu Jacob and that the members are little more than subordinates. 

In an article in The Federal, it was reported that the members who get elected are paid a salary on top of their government honorarium (INR 15,000 for just the members). 

Lalu Varghese, a former member of the 11th ward of Kizhakkambalam, representing Twenty20 was quoted in the article, saying, “We did not have freedom. We were not allowed even to attend funerals of people belonging to rival parties. In panchayats, we used to co-operate with everyone irrespective of political affiliations. For anything and everything, we have to take approval from Sabu Jacob.” 

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In the same article, MV George, another ward member who quit the party also said, in-spite of their expectation what they had “witnessed is a complete shift into an authoritarian and autocratic practice.”  

He also said that the smart cards given to the residents were subject to the whims of the company. Dissent or non-compliance is absolutely not tolerated and smart cards will be blocked without prior notice.  A similar level of alienation is meted out to workers and leaders of opposing parties.  

Twenty20 has recently been registered as a political party, which gives the party leadership the authority to use anti-defection law against members. As a charity organization earlier, it had fielded candidates as independents.

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