Actor and Director Sreenivasan, an iconic figure in Mollywood, has joined the Kitex company-backed Twenty20 party as one of its advisors. Along with Sreenivasan, a clutch of other well-known personalities including V-Guard group founder Kochouseph Chittilappally and director Siddique too publicly expressed their support by aligning with the party.
Twenty 20 came to power in Kizhakkambalam Panchayath in Kochi in 2015, and in the 2020 local polls, the party bagged three more panchayaths. Subsequently, the party has announced its plan to contest in the upcoming state polls. With the likes of Sreenivasan and Chittilappally coming on board, Twenty20 has strengthened its team.
In an interview with Moneycontrol, the 64-year old actor shared his views on Kerala’s political scenario, the Left government, upcoming elections and his association with Twenty 20.
Edited Excerpts:Why did you decide to join Twenty20?
Until now, what I thought is that if Twenty 20 is something confined to a panchayath, there is no point for me to get involved in this. But, when I heard that they are going to contest in state assembly elections, I decided to support them.
Should one see this as a formal entry of actor Sreenivasan to active politics?
For many people, politics is a profession. For me it is not. As I said, joining Twenty20 as an advisor is my wish to support a larger cause. Whenever I get time, if I can do anything to support them, I will do that. Beyond that one shouldn’t read into this. In fact, I haven’t even taken membership of the party and I don’t think I ever will.
What’s your idea of working with a political party?
Even if there is an iota of goodness in society, we should support that. We haven’t seen that all these years in any of the traditional political parties. There has never been a movement like this in Kerala. At a time when there is nothing good to expect from the existing political parties, joining this movement is a relief to me. This is not for any personal gain but for the hardworking and suffering population of the state. It is my wish that things should change so that Keralites can live here in a much better way. For that the political culture should undergo a major change. Politicians have destroyed that culture and brought us to this pathetic situation.
Is it a governance failure of the Pinarayi Vijayan government?
Consider what Kejriwal (Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal) said: even those who are illiterate buy buses and run a profitable business. Here, institutions like KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corporation) run by IAS officers and big ministers operate in crores of rupees of losses. The only thing all governments have done to this state is pocket public tax money. By development, they mean the development of the politicians. There is no development for the people. Janangalkku oru mannankattayum illa
(nothing for the people).
Recently, industrialist Kochouseph Chittilappally too spoke on the same lines …
Yes. And we have been suffering from (misgovernance) for years…various types of corruption. Can anyone with some common sense tolerate all this injustice any longer? Now, there is a new trend, which I haven’t seen in the past. In the television channels, political parties have nyayeekarana thozhilalikal (Justification workers). Every evening, they appear on television screens and begin justifying their political party’s actions—no matter what. Remember, all these people have their relatives in government services. So, they can continue the ‘justification work’ every day.
Around 30 years ago, you wrote a political satire film, Sandesham, which exposed political tricks. Have things changed since then?
Yes. The big change is large-scale corruption. In Sandesham
, corruption was not a subject because politicians were not as corrupt then as the ones today. Today, corruption has spread like cancer from head to toe.
So you are saying politics have worsened since then …
Yes. No doubt about it. Today, every politician steals public money whenever they get a chance. And they will go up to the Supreme Court to find an escape route from the punishment. They will use the same taxpayers’ money that belongs to Keralites to pay their lawyers. If there are cases against them, they are spending government money to have Supreme Court lawyers to argue for them ... even to save political murderers … oru rakshayumilla (there is no hope).
I couldn’t tolerate all these anymore and that’s when I saw this (Twenty 20). And I supported them. I don’t want any personal gains. Ee kallanmare onnu ozhivayikkittiyal mathi (I only want to get rid of these thieves).Will you make another political movie like Sandesham reflecting the new political reality of Kerala?
I wish to surely do that. But I haven’t got a clear idea, for what it will be, until now. I will try for that.
Will you contest elections at any point?
No. I will not. There are people who have the ability to contest elections. I’m someone with so many wishes in life, but lack the ability to achieve many of those. I feel people who are more able and talented should come forward as public representatives …
Kerala is a state with high-quality human capital. But still no development …
Those youngsters who are talented and skilled leave the state at the first opportunity. The state doesn’t benefit from their service.
Why doesn’t this scenario change?
The main reason for the talent exodus is the politicians of Kerala. Take for instance, even in states like Uttar Pradesh, I heard there are only around 17 people on the PSC board. but here, for a small state like Kerala, we have around 24 PSC members. Why did the government appoint these 24 people? Their salary will be around one to one and half lakhs per month. For doing what? These people have been appointed by the ruling party. They are party men.There are charges on back-door appointments…
Yes. On the top of all these, back-door appointments are rampant leaving the PSC as mere spectator. These postings are not based on merit. Those who are meritorious will not get government jobs today through Kerala PSC.
Is this a new form of corruption?
The prevailing practice is that the party gives jobs to a maximum number of people belonging to that outfit. This helps to bring all families linked to these people in their vote bank. These people thus become party publicists across the state. Only those people who benefit from government jobs are in the party cadres today.
A new form of quid-pro-quo?
Yes. A kind of politics that we haven’t heard about so far in Kerala.How is Twenty-20 different from other political parties?
Some people told me that Twenty 20 is a corporate party and Kochouseph Chittilappally and Sabu Jacob (Twenty20 party founder) are corporate bosses. They say the Twenty 20 government will work for corporate interests. My answer to them is this: these are people who have already earned money from their businesses. At least, they don’t need to steal public tax money. They are willing to do real work for the development of the state.
What is the root cause of corruption?
The root cause of corruption in Kerala is that politics have become an easy way to make money for those who have neither money nor power in their lives. It’s like what we say in Malayalam, alpanu artham kittiyal ardharathrikk kudapidikkum
(when a silly/idle person gets money, he will show off). Such people have so far ruled Kerala and ruling even now. The politics they practise is politics of exploitation of common people. That’s why I lost faith in them.
So you have lost faith in all other parties?
Yes. I have lost faith. And we have been witnessing such corruption for years. If I had faith in any of the political parties, I would have gone to that party. In democracy, elections have lost meaning. They have become only an expensive exercise. In the last local body elections, one person sold Rs 10 lakh worth personal property to contest, I heard. He did that probably hoping that he can make a minimum of Rs 50 lakhs once get elected.
What is Twenty 20’s plan of action?
This election is a test for Twenty 20. Only after we understand and assess how many voters support this movement in Ernakulam, we will plan to expand further to other parts of the state. They are likely to field eight candidates this time.
How was the initial response?
The response, especially from young voters, was very encouraging since the day we announced memberships. There was a big rush to join the party. That is the kind of hope the new generation has on this movement.What should be the prime goal of Twenty 20?
To improve the standard of living of the average Keralite.
Will you compare the Twenty 20 movement in Kerala to the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi in 2012?
My wish is that Twenty 20 should grow to at least that level. I always discuss with the party the kind of efforts put in by Arvind Kejriwal to build that party. But, we still don’t know to what extent that model can be replicated here. At least, that’s the hope.
What’s your view on the Kerjiwal government's performance?
Kejriwal is a leader who practised the good politics he preached. Despite implementing schemes like free ride for women, water, electricity at lower rates, Delhi government finances are in good shape. When a question was raised on the source of money for all these schemes, Kejriwal said he doesn’t buy aircraft for personal use, as the chief minister of a state recently did spending Rs 190 crore on an aircraft for personal use. That reply explains everything.
This is probably the first time that many prominent personalities come together in Kerala to form a political alternative. Would you call this a historic event?
At this stage, we can only hope that it will come to that. We don’t know how this model will evolve. I must say I’m getting personal messages even from unexpected corners--people affiliated with other political parties--wishing success for Twenty 20.
How do you assess the Pinarayi Vijayan (Left Front) government’s five years?
Giving jobs to own party people through backdoors—that is the only major ‘development’ agenda this government has presented in the last five years. This government also changed fight against COVID-19 as a big political campaign and a poll plank. The Vijayan government pitched it as if they performed better than all other states in India. They used the epidemic for political gain. Also, this government has spent the highest amount of money on newspaper advertising to promote the government's achievements. We see full-page newspaper advertisements almost on a daily basis. Can’t this money be used for the well-being of the poor, say for housing? The state is neck-deep in debt. The per capita debt has shot up to Rs 55,000. What kind of governance are they talking about?
But other parties too are not so different from this practice.
True. Recently, I saw four full-page advertisements in leading Malayalam newspapers by Piravom MLA Anoop Jacob advertising his achievements in the constituency. I understand, each paper will charge around Rs 20 lakh for this. Remember, we haven’t even started the election process. If someone is spending Rs 20 lakh today, he must have seen a way to recover at least Rs 50 lakh from this later—it is common sense.
There was a statement from a local CPM leader that you don’t have a clear political stance …
When I was clueless about politics, SFI (CPM’s student wing) appealed to me. When I got a bit wiser, I liked KSU (Congress party’s student wing) and as I got a bit more intelligent in life, I started following ABVP (BJP’s student wing). Now, I have developed some common sense and I support Twenty 20. Does the constitution bar me from changing political views? (laughing)
Loss of political integrity has been cited as an issue in the state …
These people, who call them leaders, have lost all political decency. Appo kanunavare appa ennu vilikkunna alukalnu ivarokke.. (Meaning—they are political opportunists.) It’s people like this blaming me about my association with ABVP, that too long ago, you see. The LDF government has now allocated Rs 5 crore and land to build a memorial for KM Mani, against whom they levelled major corruption charges previously. What political decency and moral right they have to question my political affinity?
Do you have any comments on Jose K Mani’s entry to LDF?
I have no comments to make on this. But I recall, I had a friend named Ashokan who was an interior designer. Many years ago, once when he went to Pala to do interior work of KM Mani’s new home, Mani told him not to do expensive beautification work on the front-side of the house and focus on other parts so that people will not see the kind of money spent on this.
There was a controversy on Deep-Sea fishing contract. The government said the company entered into MoU without the ministry’s knowledge.
It is the same government which said it was unaware about Swpana Suresh (gold smuggling case key accused), who without any qualification, drawing Rs 3 lakh salary a month under its nose. So, this statement on deep-sea fishing contract is very much believable…(laughing)
You recently said one Kerala-based TV channel deleted your questions while interviewing CM Pinrayi Vijayan..
Yes. That’s true.
What was the question?
It was about why the Left opposed the Express Highway project in Kerala. I asked the CM when Dr MK Muneer (former UDF minister) tried to launch the Express Highway project in Kerala but the Left parties opposed it asking how will it benefit the poor? I asked--the Left has been striving hard for uplifting the poor in the state for years. Won’t those people buy cars and use the same Express Highway when their income levels improve? I asked Pinarayi Vijayan this question.
What was the response?
Vijayan laughed a lot. Then the channel deleted the question itself from the interview. But, I spoke about this in a different channel later.
How can we tackle corruption in the society?
Children need to be taught about values from early stages. We must study how preliminary education is designed in developed countries. People with high educational qualifications should teach small children.
You faced some backlash for saying this in Kerala …
Yes. Anganwadi teachers staged a dharna in front of my house for openly speaking about these issues. They said I insulted them and I should apologise. I never insulted them. I only said primary teachers should be well educated. That’s how it is in many developed countries. Our education system is flawed and that’s one major reason for a corrupt society. I have said in one of my films--each person has limited needs but the problem begins when one aspires to live like others. This should be taught to kids at a young age.
Is religion causing disharmony?
Yes. Let me tell you an example. Finland is considered to be among the happiest countries in the world. For many people in that country, there is no concept of religion and to my understanding, even the concept of God. Most crimes happen in countries where there are religions. In the absence of this, people live happily. Look at some of the Sacandinavian countries.
Were you approached by any other party?
Yes. The Kerala LDF offered me an assembly seat last time. I refused.
You were seen as a Left sympathiser.
If that was the case, I would not have written Sandesham thirty years ago. My place is Pattiam in Kannur. That is an LDF stronghold. My father was a communist party worker. Those days, there was a leader I respected a lot—Pattiam Gopalan, who was also a Parliament member. He was a very good personality, a poet and a great leader--very different compared with the Communist leaders today. After his death at the age of 42, the party leadership became directionless. After that, I became ‘allergic’ to this party.
What you think about E Sreedharan joining BJP?
People like E Sreedharan should have joined Twenty 20.
He said BJP is the most secular party now..
That is something he understood and something I can never understand. I heard that he has been given big offers that he couldn’t refuse at this age. I don't know if it is true. People, no matter how good they are, can fall for such offers. This could be such a case. I wish he joined Twenty 20.