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Home > 2021 > Twenty 20, A Dangerous Trend from Kerala | Sukumaran C V

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 3, New Delhi, January 8, 2021

Twenty 20, A Dangerous Trend from Kerala | Sukumaran C V

Saturday 2 January 2021, by Sukumaran C.V.


Kerala may perhaps be the most political state in India. But in the recently concluded local body elections, the people of four panchayats in Ernakulam district of the state proved that Kerala can dangerously be apolitical too. Kitex Garments, the company that pollutes the surrounding water bodies and paddyfields in Kizhakkambalam Panchayat was denied licence by the panchayat governing body 8 years ago. Then, the Kitex Garments-Anna Aluminium group CEO Mr. Sabu Jacob, in accordance with the Companies Act, 2013 that makes it mandatory for the corporate companies to spend 2% of their average net profit for social services, formed the charity organization Twenty20 to utilise the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) fund of the corporate group. The business group does have an annual turnover of more than 1000 crores. That means the group can use huge amounts as CSR fund. And in the 2015 local body elections, Sabu Jacob fielded candidates in all the wards of the Kizhakkambalam panchayat under the aegis of Twenty20 and captured 17 wards out of 19, routing the Left and Right political combinations, and formed the very governing body which denied him licence!

In the 2020 elections, Twenty20 repeated its victory in Kizhakkambalam by winning 18 out of the 19 wards and captured three more local bodies anew. The company CEO managed to have this feat by distributing freebies to the people using the CSR fund! Twenty20 distributes its own ’ration’ cards to the people and the cardholders get everything for a minimal price from the hypermarket [Twenty20 Bhakshyasuraksha (food safety) Market] run by the Kitex-Anna group! The culture of running after whatever that is available free is encouraged by both the UDF and LDF political combinations in the state and it makes the people apolitical. This freebie culture is skillfully exploited by the Kitex CEO in 2015 and yet the rulers and politicians didn’t mind the dangerous trend. Now the canker is spreading far and wide; and the politicians sense the danger and start criticising the apolitical Twenty20, but they are not ready to critically examine the reasons that facilitate Twenty20 to keep winning. They are unwilling to look inwards and see the enemy within that strengthens the apolitical trends Twenty20 subscribes to. They don’t know criticising Twenty20 without addressing the rot within that prepares the soil for such outfits to grow will only make their criticism counterproductive. The politicians and political parties have yet to learn that the enemy is within.

In 2015, the Panchayat President ousted by the Twenty20 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.” [1]

But a newspaper report that praises the initiative of the company says: “Kitex Garments which exports quality apparel items to international brands such a Mother Care, Walmart, Jockey and Kohl’s has been denied a permanent licence by the Kizhakkambalam panchayat despite fulfilling all criteria...the group has launched a charitable mission that has invested around Rs. 28 crore in the last two years to usher in unprecedented development in the panchayat and to emerge as a credible alternative to the entrenched political parties in the area.” [2]

The ‘unprecedented development’ is nothing but distributing freebies among the people and virtually purchasing the votes and thus the control of the local body too. What we saw in Kizhakkambalam in 2015 and in Kizhakkambalam and other three surrounding panchayats in 2020 is democracy being sabotaged democratically, using the mechanism of democracy itself!

In relation to the Writ Petition WP(C). No. 21782 of 2012 (W) filed in the High Court of Kerala in 2012 by the company (M/S. Kitex Garments Ltd.) against 17 respondents including the Superintendent of Police, Aluva Rural, Ernakulam (Respondent 1) and Kerala State Pollution Control Board (Respondent 17), the court says that the 1st respondent has filed a statement stating thus: “1. The Kitex Garments Ltd. is a garments manufacturing company and its main factory is situated at Choorakkode near Kizhakkambalam within Kunnathunad police station limits. There exists dispute between the company and local inhabitants over the pollution of nearby ditches and PVIP canal allegedly due to the flowing of the untreated effluent water from the company containing hazardous chemical elements, and liquid containing human excreta, for over a long period. The local people formed an Action Council about one and half year back, demanding to take steps for urgent solution to the pollution."

A news report published in The Hindu in 2012 says: “Addressing the media, the action council members said the local residents of Choorakode-Chelakkulam areas in Kizhakkambalam have been protesting against the extensive pollution caused by the company in the last 100 days. The council alleged that the company not only discharged effluents in to the Periyar valley canal and paddy fields in the neighourhood, but also consumed water to the tune of more than eight lakh litres per day.” [3]

The company, instead of solving the pollution it causes, distributed freebies and virtually bought the voters. The only one ward in which it failed this time is the one where its factory is located. It means that the people of the same local body are ready to look the other way while their fellow beings suffer from the pollution caused by a company if the company gives everything they want freely!

The governments are generally unwilling to take stringent action against the companies that pollute the environment. Nitta Gelatin India Ltd (NGIL) is a company promoted by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation in technical collaboration with the Japanese gelatin manufacturing company, Nitta Gelatin Inc. Situated on the banks of Chalakkudy river at Kaathikkoodam, it manufactures Dicalcium phosphate (DCP) from crushed animal bones using hydrochloric acid and water (6500m3 per day). The company draws such huge quantities of water from the river and dumps the toxic effluents to the river making it highly polluted. Often and again the fish in the river are seen floating dead in large numbers.

“On 29th 30th and 31st May (2013),there was large-scale fish kill in the river for a 20km stretch below the effluent discharge point of this firm. Massive protest followed and people from downstream panchayats also became part of this agitation... The industry has been polluting the land and air in the surroundings and is discharging huge volume (almost equal to the in-take) of polluted effluents into the Chalakkudy river via a concrete pipe of 750m length. The foul smell from the industry can be felt for a radius of about 2kms (and even beyond) according to wind direction. As a result, majority of people around NGIL have various respiratory diseases. The number of cancer patients is also very high. Water in the nearby wells is contaminated. The effluent is polluting the Chalakkudy river.” [4]

On July 22, 2013 when more than 3000 people gathered in front of Nitta Gelatin at Kaathikkoodam in a peaceful protest, the police under the then UDF government brutally attacked them and more than hundred people were seriously injured. In this incident we saw a democratically elected government acting in favour of a company that pollutes the environment denying the people their right to have fresh air to breathe and fresh water to drink. In the 2015 local body elections, while the same government was in power in Kerala, we saw Twenty20, the charity hand of a corporate company that pollutes the surroundings, capture power in Kizhakkambalam panchayat winning 17out of 19 wards! In one case we see a corporate company helped by the democratic government(s) crushing people’s protest and in the other case we see a corporate company purchasing the people and democracy! In both cases the environment suffers and ultimately the people lose.

In 2020, the Twenty20 sustained Kizhakkambalam by winning 18 out of the 19 wards and captured three adjoining panchayats too: Mazhuvannoor (13/19), Kunnathunad (11/19), Aikkaranad (14/14)! [5] And the CEO of Kitex Garments says that Twenty20 will field candidates in the upcoming Assembly elections too!

Around Kaathikkoodam, Nitta Gelatin continues to pollute the Chalakkudy river; In Kizhakkambalam, Kitex Garments continues its air and water pollution. But the LDF government that came to power after defeating the UDF government in 2016 too favours not the people but the company/companies. Both the LDF and UDF are routed by Twenty20 in the four panchayats in which it won. But no political party in Kerala is seen really bothered by this apolitical phenomenon that is detrimental to democracy. The reason is almost all political parties are doing what Twenty20 is doing to the people and environment. Political parties favour the companies by accepting enormous ‘party funds’ from their owners; Twenty20 utilises the fund directly distributing it among the people and muffling criticism and generating praise! Imagine the democratic ethos of the political parties and what they inculcate in the people! (The panchayat members in Kerala get monthly honorarium of Rs 7000, Panchayat presidents get 13200 and vice presidents get 10600. Apart from this, Twenty20 gives Rs 14000 to its ward members, Rs. 25000 to the president and Rs. 20000 to the vice president. And Mr. Sabu Jacob says that Twenty20 distributes extra monthly remuneration to check the temptation of being corrupt. It is a direct hit at the politicians who thrive taking politics as their livelihood means.)

The political parties and the people of Kerala often boast themselves of being the most educated and most progressive people in India. And it is in this most educated and most progressive state the most apolitical and hence the most dangerous phenomenon of a charity organization hijacking democracy for keeping the business interests of a corporate company is being enacted. And the general public and the political parties don’t seem to be bothered at all. It reveals that the much hyped ’most educated’ and ’most progressive’ tags attached to Kerala are mere sham.

The phenomenal success of Twenty20 is praised by many. Dr. G. Gopakumar, the former Vice Chancellor of Central University of Kerala, was recently heard saying participating in the News Hour debate of a prominent Malayalam News Channel: "I won’t say Twenty20 is apolitical, it is a politics of rejecting politicians."

The victory of Twenty20 should frighten all democrats and every political party that believes in real democracy because it points to the dangerous rot within Kerala, within our democracy. Political parties should reform themselves to cleanse the entrenched corrupt practices that are exploited by Twenty20 to make the people believe that political parties are corrupt and corruption hinders development of the people, and the politicians develop at the cost of the people.

Actually, Twenty20’s people’s development is a mask to cover the pollution of the company and under the mask the company and its business develop. But the residents of Kizhakkambalam praise Twenty20 wholeheartedly. The food safety market was opened exclusively for the residents of the Kizhakkambalam panchayat and all the residents irrespective of caste, creed and political affiliation are the beneficiaries. The food safety market of Twenty20 provides provisions for half the price and since the Covid-19 pandemic, the people have been receiving 80% discounts. When I mentioned the dangers of the apolitical Twenty20, I was vehemently opposed. The politicians are parasites and they squeeze the entrepreneurs like the Kitex garments and create insurmountable hurdles to make them their dependents, people say. What people want is better living conditions and under the governance of Twenty20, people are well off and better than they have been under the governance of the politicians, I was told. And the company provides employment for thousands of local residents with better pay and allowances. These are the opinions I could gather from the people of Kizhakkambalam. I myself saw that the infrastructure development inside the panchayat area is far better than that of the panchayats run by the political combinations in Kerala. From what I have seen in Kizhakkambalam, and heard from the supporters of Twenty20, I am pretty sure that it is the politicians and their ’way of doing business’ not for the people’s well being but for their own, and the corruption and nepotism that are all pervasive under the governance of the political parties, have driven the people to select and elect an apolitical innovation of an entrepreneur to govern them. If the politicians are not ready to indulge in self-criticism and see politics is a means to serve the people instead of serving themselves by exploiting both the poor and the rich alike, in future, democracy will directly be run by corporate companies without the politicians as the intermediaries. Twenty20 has successfully demonstrated that a corporate company CEO can govern better than the politicians. What is being enacted in Kizhakkambalam seems to be a kind of Owenism. Of course, the Kitex company CEO is not like Robert Owen. He has his business interests, but he serves the people’s interests through Twenty20 better than the politicians and hence the people prefer Twenty20 to the political parties. I think that he may be serving the people’s interests better than the politicians only to protect his business interests, but the people don’t agree and ask me whether the politicians ’serve’ the people without having their own interests. As I am not a politician I can’t answer the question. But I don’t think that the politicians can honestly answer the question in the affirmative and that is where the success of Twenty20 lies.

(Twenty20 has its own office and there are three phone numbers ending with 2020. When I called them to know about their modus operandi from themselves, their response was not cooperative. The person who attended the call was not ready to answer my questions and cut the call asking me to visit their FB page!)

We have heard about the dictatorship of the proletariat, but we haven’t heard about the dictatorship of the corporates, even if the democracies of the world are more or less controlled by the corporates. What we see in the ’democratic’ victory of the Twenty20 in Kerala, where in 1957 the Communist party was elected to power for the first time in the whole world, is a kind of dictatorship of the corporates.

Outfits like Twenty20 are as dangerous as communal politics is.

[1The real story of Kerala local polls is how a private company won a panchayat, The News Minute, November 07, 2015

[2Kitex gives T20 a new spin in Kizhakkambalam, Times of India, June 11, 2015

[3Residents allege pollution by Kitex, The Hindu, Sept.30, 2012

[4Nitta Gelatin Protests: Police Brutality on a Peaceful Protest, India Resists, July 22, 2013

[5Twenty20 scripts victory in three new panchayats, The New Indian Express, Dec.17, 2020

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