New Delhi: Addressing the crowd at Kizhakkambalam near Kochi, Kerala, Sunday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal raised his fists in the air, as he raised slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai, Inquilaab Zindabad and Vande Mataram, announcing the arrival of a fourth political alliance in Kerala.
The People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA) will share Kerala’s political landscape with the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), besides the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
It is a tie-up between the Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Kerala’s homegrown Twenty20, a political party born out of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) wing of Kitex Garments — the second largest manufacturer of kids’ garments in the world, headquartered in Kerala.
Speaking in Hindi, Kejriwal announced to the crowd that, after bringing change in Delhi and being given a chance in Punjab (a reference to the party’s victory in the state’s assembly elections this year), it was now time to change Kerala.
With Kejriwal on the dais was M. Sabu Jacob, managing director of Kitex and chief-coordinator of Twenty20.
Talking to ThePrint Tuesday, Jacob said AAP members reached out to him shortly after the party’s victory in Punjab. Since then, he added, he has been in touch with the party, including planning this event with Kejriwal.
About Kejriwal, Jacob said he realised after their very first meeting — following the Punjab election victory — that they both were like-minded. Kejriwal is very simple and easy to talk to, he added.
“There are many similarities between Twenty20 and AAP. Both the parties are anti-corruption. Our mindset is 99 per cent same,” said Jacob. “Also, neither of us (Kejriwal or he) is a politician. One is from business and the other was from the civil services (Kejriwal). We were forced to enter politics.”
In July last year, Jacob, a resident of Ernakulam district, opted to move a Rs 3,500 crore project out of his home state and took it to Telangana. The reason? Kerala, often referred to as “God’s own country” because of its abundant natural beauty, had become “devil’s own country”, claimed Jacob, blaming the change on numerous economic and political issues.
Senior AAP leader and Delhi minister Gopal Rai told ThePrint that the party’s plan was to spread across the country and Kerala was a part of that journey.
Medical camp to politics, 69% votes in gram panchayat polls
Kitex Garments is an off-shoot of the Anna-Kitex Group, which was founded in 1968 as a unit manufacturing aluminium utensils at Kizhakkambalam village by M.C. Jacob, Sabu Jacob’s father. The garments company was incorporated in 1992.
The village where both the industrial unit as well as the Twenty20 are now based, is also the birthplace of Sabu Jacob.
Explaining how Twenty20 came into being, Jacob said that, in 2012, his company conducted a medical camp in the village and found that people were facing major medical, housing, water and electricity issues.
Following the camp, a survey was conducted by Kitex, which revealed that 242 families in the village had no toilet facilities and 225 families had no electricity, among other issues, he claimed. The estimated population of the village in 2011 was 23,186.
While politicians from across the political spectrum were initially extremely helpful, everyone later disappeared, alleged Jacob.
“I wanted to move this forward to create a model village.”
In his attempts to do so, Jacob said, he “upset those in power”.
That’s why, on 28 August 2014, Twenty20 decided to contest gram panchayat elections the following year — metamorphosing from a CSR unit to a political party. According to Jacob, he chose the name Twenty20 because he believed he could improve the situation in Kizhakkambalam by 2020. There’s no cricket reference to the name.
In the 2015 gram panchayat elections, the fledgling party shocked everyone and won 17 of the 19 seats in the Kizhakkambalam gram panchayat, with 69 per cent votes. In the next panchayat elections in 2020, Twenty20 won in Aikkaranadu, Kunnathunad and Mazhuvannoor, in addition to Kizhakkambalam.
However, in the 2021 state elections, the party failed to win a single seat and lost in all the eight assembly constituencies of Ernakulam district, including Kunnathunad, considered their stronghold.
While alliance talks with the AAP started only recently, Jacob said he had known of the party for a few years, as they had sent a team to study Twenty20’s model in 2018.
During his stint in power, Jacob claimed he has accomplished the cleaning of canals and ensured food security in all in the villages where the Twenty20 is heading the panchayat.
For Jacob, there is no difference between the “Congress, Communists, and BJP”.
‘Situation getting worse’
Asked about his decision to move a major business project to Telangana, Jacob said the “situation [in the state] was getting worse every day”.
“I tried my best to stay back here, but the situation was becoming worse everyday. The state is now devil’s own country. No one is investing in Kerala. There is no government support, many political issues (political rivalries), no incentives and no security. Anytime, anything can happen,” he said.
In December last year, over 160 of his company’s employees were arrested for allegedly assaulting policemen and destroying police vehicles on Christmas. Jacob pinned this to the government’s enmity against him.
While political observers in the state say that Kitex is an interesting management exercise — because of the way it has diversified into politics, the company funds the party — they don’t make much of the Twenty20-AAP alliance.
A former senior adviser to the CPI(M) government, who did not wish to be named, called the entire “experiment” between AAP and Twenty20 a sham and said he doubted it would sell among the public.
“Twenty20 runs on its platform of efficiency and delivery. Anything beyond its presence in the local government is extremely suspect,” he said.
‘Needs similar across country’
Refusing to divulge any future plans for elections, Jacob said they were yet to be formalised and would be revealed in the next 60 days. The next assembly elections in the state are four years away.
However, the main focus currently is to expand the presence of both Twenty20 and AAP at the booth level.
Shrugging off how national parties such as the BJP have failed to make a dent in Kerala, Gopal Rai said the AAP was only focussed on itself and its mission of providing basic necessities and services to the people of the state.
“There may be cultural differences, which are present across the country. However, people’s needs are common across the country and our focus is on that,” said Rai.
The party also contested the Goa state elections earlier this year, but won only two seats in the 40-member assembly.
The AAP is now trying to spread its reach in Gujarat, which will hold polls later this year.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)