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November 09, 2015

Development Driven Politics

A Corporate entity won the village panchayat election held in India defeating mainstream BJP and Congress parties.

Local garment manufacturer, the Anna-Kitex Group of Companies, is one of the largest private sector employers in the State of Kerala. In the recent village panchayat polls held on November 5, the group fielded 19 candidates in all the wards in the Kizhakkambalam village, winning 17 of the 19 seats. It also contested district and block level local polls.

Kizhakkambalam is a village situated 22km from Ernakulam and houses the textile manufacturing group’s production units.  

The company fielded candidates from its platform called “Twenty20.” In an interview with Indian Express in the months leading up the elections, the Managing Director of the Anna-Kitex Group Sabu Jacob, who is also the chief coordinator of Twenty20, spoke about the group’s political venture. He recollected that the platform was formed in 2013 for implementing their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives with a goal to make Kizhakkambalam village a model panchayat by 2020. “The Anna-Kitex Group is the single largest source of tax for the panchayat... Twenty20 had even planned an alliance with the CPI(M), but that did not materialise,’’ said Jacob. He elaborated that the Twenty20 selected candidates after reviewing public opinion about them. 

Twenty20’s popularity in Kizhakkambalam swelled after the Anna- Kitex Group  invested around Rs. 28 crore, out of its approximately Rs. 1000 crore turnover, over a period of two years to bring about significant development in the panchayat, thus emerging as a reliable alternative to the entrenched political parties in the area. Jacob said that, since the inception of Twenty20, the Anna-Kitex Group has invested in numerous infrastructure and development projects including improving road networks, providing affordable housing for the poor, water supply schemes and other community development projects. 

“The Left and UDF have been ruling the gram panchayat till now. However, they have done nothing for us. Today, Anna-Kitex Group gives us groceries at half the price. They constructed 458 houses and over 600 toilets for the poor, repaired public roads, conducted medical check-ups and sponsored surgeries. Under the leadership of Sabu M Jacob, we selected our candidates, and carried out a phased campaign. The results speak for themselves,” said Biju Athanipparambil, an autorickshaw driver and Twenty20 executive member in an interview with TOI.  

“The Congress-ruled panchayat was opposing the development initiatives of Twenty20. I have quit the CPI and joined this group. Our candidates belong to all communities — Hindus, Muslims and Christians. They were all linked to political parties earlier, but have joined this group which promises overall development,” said a candidate, K V Jacob.

Controversy has been stirred by the political opponents of Twenty20. They publicly challenge the organisation’s professed aims, claiming that they are a farce for Kitex’s underlying business agenda, and further allege that Sabu Jacob is known for his autocratic ways. Sabu responded that, “Allegations against Twenty20 and Kitex Group are baseless. I am not an autocrat and this is not a facade... We are here because people are fed up with political parties’ poll promises.” The opponents also accuse the Kitex Group for having violated pollution norms with regard to their factories and have ignored dealing with the same. Denying these allegations, Sabu Jacob said the issue of effluent treatment had been examined by various government agencies which have given a clean chit to the company.

However, Jolly Baby, president of the outgoing panchayat, said: “They want to gain control of the panchayat for the smooth operation of their company. We had denied licence to them, citing contamination of water and wetlands. By gaining control of the panchayat, the group wants to have the final say in such matters.” However, he admitted that the company had implemented several projects in the panchayat.

A Times of India article reported that, following their electoral victory Sabu revealed that Twenty20 plans to carry out several projects in the panchayat in the proceeding five years, with a budget of around Rs. 300 crore. They plan to involve other companies for corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, reducing dependency on the panchayat’s plan fund.

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