It is said that all it takes is a generation for today’s fringe political ideas to become tomorrow’s mainstream thinking. For example, if you had told someone in the late 1970s that a generation hence the BJP will be a mainstream political party, you would have been laughed at. And yet by the turn of the century, the BJP was running the country. In that vein, the open corporatisation of politics that has happened in Kerala over the past few years should make the rest of us in India wake up and take note because this could be the precursor of how politics shapes up in the rest of the country. As this piece in the Indian Express notes, it all started seven years ago: “Kerala’s largest private sector employer, KITEX registered Twenty20 under the Charitable Societies Act in 2013 as fallout of a longstanding legal battle with the Congress-ruled Kizhakkambalam panchayat. In June 2012, the panchayat had refused to renew KITEX’s licence on the ground that it was contaminating water bodies from its dyeing and bleaching units, despite a High Court clean chit. Later, when the Kizhakkambalam panchayat also obstructed KITEX’s charitable activities and a fair held by it, Managing Director and Twenty20 Chief Coordinator Sabu Jacob decided that KITEX, a Rs 1,200 crore company, primarily into manufacture of garments, would itself contest the panchayat polls as part of its CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities.
Five years after it tasted success, sweeping the Kizhakkambalam panchayat, Twenty20 has proved itself more than a fluke. In the recent elections, it won three more panchayats in its home district of Ernakulam — Aikkaranad, Mazhuvannoor and Kunnathunad — apart from retaining Kizhakkambalam. This victory is sweeter, an acknowledgment of the work done by Twenty20.“
The most interesting aspect of what KITEX is doing is that its management is not coy about its motives. Here is what Twenty20’s MD Sabu Jacob has to say about the party’s recent triumph in Kerala: “The panchayat had closed down our fair because it had that power vested in it. We decided to usurp that power,” says Sabu.”
So why did the people of Ernakulum district vote for Twenty20? Answer: the proactivity of the party compared to the lethargy of the traditional parties: “During the coronavirus lockdown, the organisation coordinated distribution of sanitisers, masks and food kits, following this up with membership drives in Aikkaranad, Kunnathunadu, Mazhuvannoor and Vengola panchayats. This helped Twenty20 enrol 26,500 people in two months, apart from its existing base of 8,500 members in Kizhakkambalam.
In the panchayat elections, Twenty20 swept Aikkaranad, winning all its 14 wards, gained a clear majority in Kunnathunad and Mazhuvannoor, and emerged as the single largest party in Vengola, where it won all the 10 wards (out of 23) that it contested. The Mazhuvannoor and Kunnathunad panchayats were earlier held by the Congress-led UDF.
Former Mazhuvannoor panchayat president and local Congress leader Anu Varghese reasons, “The main attraction for Twenty20 seems to be material offers, including subsidised provisions. The middle class does not get any benefits, unlike people from lower economic strata. Hence, given an attractive offer from a corporate world, the middle class has shifted loyalty.”
However, attributing Twenty20’s success to just what it did during the lockdown or the sops it offers would be an oversimplification.
The Kizhakkambalam panchayat stands out as a success story in the area — with its supermarket where consumer durables are available on instalments and subsidy; its free ambulance service; its new, widened roads; its rejuvenation programme for water bodies, and its free provision of agro-machinery for farmers, among other measures.“
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