The Twenty20, a corporate house-backed political party, has decided to contest eight seats in Ernakulam district in the upcoming Kerala assembly elections. The outfit has had success in local polls in the area and emerged as a talking point due to its corporate affiliation, which is unique in the political arena. So how did it start? When did it land in limelight? Here’s the lowdown on Twenty20:
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS TWENTY20?
It began as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) wing of Anna-Kitex, a well-known industrial group based in Kizhakkambalam in Ernakulam district, some 26km from the Kochi airport. It is unique because the Twenty20’s electoral foray means a corporate entity is directly taking part in polls.
HOW AND WHEN DID IT START?
After the death of group founder MC Jacob in 2011, his sons, Sabu M Jacob and Boby Jacob, organised a free medical camp to carry forward their father’s vision of contributing to their village, Kizhakkambalam. The camp was a success, and the idea of the Twenty20 gradually took shape from there. Then there was a denial of a licence to a Kitex garment plant by the local panchayat. The group says the proposed plant fulfilled all criteria. After that, the group launched a charitable mission in 2013, investing around Rs 28 crore in two years for development in panchayat areas, a test run of sorts with an aim to create a credible alternative to established political parties. The mission was registered as a charitable society. To avail of benefits offered by the Twenty20, a family needed to register with the mission, which then issued an identification card based on incomes.
HOW DID THE EXPERIMENT GO?
The mission introduced a three-tier system to ensure transparency in its projects. The move made sure all projects were cleared by an 18-member executive board. Before proposals reached this committee, they had to be cleared by 17 ward-level executive committees and a 200-member ward-level working committee (this practice still continues, even after its panchayat election success). It set up drinking water projects for the benefit of 1,200 families, provided an education kit for students, distributed laptops for students at 50% subsidy, set up stalls to distribute vegetables and groceries at half the market price, and distributed thousands of high-quality saplings of coconut, plantain etc. It fully sponsored surgeries for about 2,000 people — some of them in serious condition — in the panchayat. The total spending by Kizhakkambalam gram panchayat in the four years from 2011 to 2015 was Rs 22.4 crore, less than half of what it spent between 2013 and 2015.
HOW DID ITS POLITICAL JOURNEY BEGIN?
The Twenty20 began gaining wide popularity with a section of CPI(M), Congress and CPI workers joining the outfit. Some members of the AITUC, the trade union wing of the CPI, even publicly displayed a Twenty20 badge on their shirts when the political entity was launched in 2015 with an aim to make the panchayat the best in the country by 2020. Then came the 2015 panchayat elections. Candidates fielded by the Twenty20 sprang a surprise by winning 17 of the 19 seats in Kizhakkambalam, trouncing both CPM-led LDF and Congress-led UDF.
WHAT HAS BEEN ITS USP?
The Twenty20 promised to make Kizhakkambalam an alcohol-free village during its panchayat election campaign in November 2015. It kept its word by closing down the only liquor outlet in the area. With CSR funds, the Twenty20 appointed trained volunteers, mostly postgraduates in social work, to supervise the functioning of the panchayat in every ward. Pictures of good roads and housing projects in panchayat made it a darling of a section of people in the state. It has since implemented several projects, including a classy supermarket in 2017, in over 1,300 square metres. It sells goods at massively discounted rates to residents with identification cards. Elected local body representatives of the Twenty20 also receive a monthly honorarium of up to Rs 15,000 from the corporate group for their services, in addition to the salary they get from the government.
HOW DID IT EXPAND BASE?
Sceptics thought it to be a “one-time wonder”, but the Twenty20 experiment proved successful. In the December 2020 local body elections, it contested four neighbouring panchayats and registered a thumping victory in three of them, while retaining Kizhakkambalam. It won the panchayats of Mazhuvannoor, Kunnathunad and Aikkaranadu by eating into the vote share of the LDF and the UDF in Ernakulam district. Besides, in the 23-ward Vengola, it played a decisive role in forming the panchayat, winning eight of the nine seats it contested while becoming the single largest party.
WHO ALL IT HAS FIELDED IN ASSEMBLY POLLS?
Jose Joseph, the son-in-law of Kerala Congress leader and former minister PJ Joseph, will contest the Kothamangalam constituency. He is an associate professor at the Kalamassery medical college. Sujith P Surendran, a university teacher in legal studies, will contest Kunnathunadu; Chithra Sukumaran, an entrepreneur, Perumbavoor; CN Prakash, a media person, Muvattupuzha; and Job Chakkalakkal, a retired professor, Vypin. Terry Thomas Edathootty, a doctor and vice president of the Indian Dental Association, Kerala Chapter, will fight from Thrikkakkara; professor Lesli Pallath, an educational expert, from Ernakulam; and Shiney Antony, an entrepreneur and a social worker, from Kochi.
Meanwhile, industrialist Kochouseph Chittilappilly has been appointed the chairman of the Twenty20 advisory committee with actor Sreenivasan and director Siddique as members of the panel.
HAS THE JOURNEY BEEN SMOOTH?
In February 2019, it was struck by an intra-party feud. KV Jacob, the then president of the Kizhakkambalam panchayat, quit, mentioning differences with the leadership, especially the Anna-Kitex management. The former Communist party member alleged that the panchayat body spends funds on projects and services that are approved by the leadership of the Twenty20, and not according to the merit of issues. However, the leadership dismissed this allegation. There have been allegations of corruption as well. But the party managed to put them to rest.