The Kerala local body election results announced on December 16 marked the surprising surge of an apolitical forum backed by a corporate group in the Ernakulum district of the state.
Twenty20, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative of Kitex Garments based in Kizhakkambalam, 20 km from Kochi city, has not only wrested Kizhakkambalam village panchayat, that it had won for the first time five years ago, but also won three more neighbouring village panchayats in the district.
The other three panchayats that the apolitical outfit won are Mazhuvannur, Aikkaranadu and Kunnathunad, according to the state election commission figures.
Twenty-20 shot to limelight in the 2015 Kerala local body polls when it won 18 of the 19 wards in the Kizhakkambalam panchayat. This time, the outfit had candidates in four more panchayats
In Kizhakkambalam panchayat, the fledgling outfit has won 18 of the 19 wards this time. In Kunnathunadu panchayat, Twenty20 won 11 wards out of the 16 it contested.
The highlight in all the four panchayats that the Twenty20 won is Aikkaranadu where its nominees bagged all the 14 wards. In Mauzhuvanoor, the forum's candidates won in 15 out of the total 19 wards in the panchayat.
In Vengola, the fifth panchayat, the forum’s candidates could win eight of the 11 wards it contested.
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The success of the apolitical forum, many say, is a strong message for established political parties of Kerala. No wonder, the LDF and UDF fielded common candidates to defeat the corporate group’s nominees.
“The win in other panchayats is a recognition of the work we did in Kizhakkambalam,” Sabu Jacob, managing director of Kitex garments and chief coordinator of Twenty20, told Deccan Herald.
Jacob’s father founded Kitex Garments, and its associated Anna Group, in Kizhakkambalam in 1992. But it grew over the years as an enterprise with an annual turnover of Rs 1,000 crore, according to a report published in Mint in January this year, making it one of the world’s largest infant wear producers. The company also supplies to global brands such as Walmart and Amazon.
In 2013, Kitex rolled out the welfare arm, 'Twenty20', fully financed by its corporate social responsibility funds. Three years later, the outfit captured power in Kizhakkambalam Gram(a) Panchayat.
Many say it was the Kitex group’s welfare steps and developmental initiatives in Kizhakkambalam, their home village, that helped it spread its electoral footprint in neighbouring villages. The group opened a supermarket in Kizhakkambalam where products are sold at subsidised rates. The group also improved road networks, ensure water supply in all settlements, including those of backward sections of society, a report in Indian Express said.
Overall, in the Kerala local body polls, the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) was way ahead of opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) with wins in more than 514 of the 941 gram panchayats, 10 of the 14 district panchayats, 108 of the 152 block panchayats and four of the six corporations.
In municipalities, however, LDF could won 35, ten less than UDF’s 45.
The polls were seen as a litmus test for the three parties LDF, UDF and the BJP-led NDA ahead of the next year’s assembly elections in the state.