A Corporate-Backed Party in Kerala May Diss Congress, Help CPI(M)

Twenty20 party, supported by Anna-Kitex group, has fielded candidates in 8 constituencies in Ernakulam district. 

Updated
Kerala
4 min read
Sabu M Jacob, Managing Director of Anna-Kitex group, founded and supported a party, Twenty20, which is now contesting in Assembly polls.
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What indicates an area’s growth in Kerala? Land prices. In Kizhakkambalam panchayat of Ernakulam district, the land prices are soaring – all thanks to an electoral venture launched by a local businessman, Sabu M Jacob.

Siyad Abdul Khader of Magical Properties, a land brokerage firm based in Aluva, told The Quint, “People are moving from unaffordable places like Kochi and Ernakulam to localities like Kizhakkambalam where governance is good. This has upped the prices in these localities which are 25 Km away from Ernakulam city”. Land prices in Kizhakkambalam has doubled in the past seven years from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh per Cent (one Cent is 435.6 sq ft).

First Assembly Contest

Jacob, the Managing Director of Anna-Kitex group, had adopted Kizhakkambalam village in 2014 and launched a political party, which, according to him, is ‘apolitical’. The Twenty20 party, with Mango as its election symbol, contested panchayat elections in 2015 and wrenched the administrative block from the hands of Congress-led United Democratic Front. The party retained power in 2020 local body polls winning 18 out of the 19 seats.

In the 2021 Assembly elections, the party has fielded candidates in eight out of 14 constituencies in Ernakulam district which is a Congress bastion. The constituencies include – Kochi, Kothamangalam, Kunnathunadu, Ernakulam, Muvattupuzha, Perumbavoor, Thrikkakkara and Vypin.

Will the privately sponsored Twenty20 make an electoral impact in Assembly elections? In the closely contested race in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, Communist Party of India (Marxist) thinks that Twenty20 will help it win at least five constituencies as the votes of both Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress will split in favour of the new entrant.

Pollution Clearance and Twenty20

The story of Twenty20 started in 2010, four years before it was officially launched. That year, Kitex wanted pollution clearance for its factory in Kizhakkambalam panchayat, Congress insiders who were part of the panchayat’s governance told The Quint.

“The garment unit could have polluted the village. The Congress could not have supported the venture,” an elected representative who was part of the governing council of the panchayat said. Jacob did not back off. He launched Twenty20 as a part of Kitex’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

“Now the factory has clearance in the panchayat. They would not want the Congress or any other party, including the CPI(M), to govern the panchayat,” a local CPI(M) worker said. However, the Congress representatives in the panchayat observed that Jacob had warmed up to the CPI(M). “As Twenty20 will harm Congress’ chances, the CPI(M) is not actively campaigning against them. It is a tacit understanding,” a Congress panchayat leader said.

Satheesh Kurup, campaign manager of Twenty20, brushed aside the claims, accusing the Opposition of distorting facts.

“The MD stays in the same panchayat with his family. Why will he stay in a polluted place. The company has pollution clearance.”
Satheesh Kurup

What Attracts Voters?

A supermarket located in Kizhakkambalam panchayat revealed why voters trusted the party. Here groceries were way below the market price.

The most expensive rice in the market, priced at Rs 450 per kilogram, was being sold for Rs 85 here. From milk to lentils and vegetables, the prices ranged between Rs 5 and Rs 14.

“In Kizhakkambalam we prioritise the needs of the people over poltics,” said Sabu Jacob, at a media conference held in March. A voter in the panchayat, who had been a Congress supporter in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, told The Quint, “In local governance, the panchayat is above all other areas in the district. Even houses of residents are revamped using panchayat funds”. The voter, who wants to remain anonymous, added, “We are not sure that this support will continue even in Assembly polls.”

Kurup said that the Jacob entered politics, “with good intentions”. “He wants to help people,” he said.

Assembly Polls Fought on Different Terms

In Ernakulam district, which has been continuously electing the Congress to power, the public in Kizhakkambalam could continue to vote for national parties because they offer more stability than a local party with little presence in the rest of the state or country.

“Assembly polls are fought on the basis of different equations. During these polls, parties are selected based on state level concerns. In the 2016 Assembly polls, Twenty20 did not contest because they were aware of the fact,” a Congress leader said. As exit polls predicted CPI(M)’s triumph, a party representative said that Kizhakkambalam will not buck the state trend. “We are confident of winning the constituencies even though the party is giving us a tough fight,” said Madu Lal, a local CPI(M) worker.

However, according to Jacob, Twenty20 has a chance. “We have the backing of several personalities who are known among Kerala’s civil society,” he had said in a media conference in March.

Actor and director Sreenivasan and director Siddique support the party. Will such support help the party in a polarized contest where the contention between United Democratic Front and Left Democratic Front has been Sabarimala women’s entry.

Candidates of Twenty20 were not available for comment on either Sabarimala or Citizenship Amendment Act when The Quint contacted.

Will ‘Apolitical’ Governance Trump State Politics?

If the local body polls were to be considered, Twenty20 has a winning chance at least in Kizhakkambalam and Kunnathunadu. However, surveys conducted in Ernakulam district indicate that Twenty20 will occupy third place in five out of eight constituencies the party is contesting.

In four out of these constituencies, LDF is expected to win over Congress. “Twenty20’s presence will clearly help the CPI(M). As for the Congress, the party is a spoiler,” explained Sajeev Kumar, a senior journalist and political observer.

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