Political parties are principally formed according to ideology. Every party, be it the Congress, CPM or the BJP, have a politics of their own and their candidates try to represent people through such politics. However, giving a jolt to all these parties and their political beliefs, a corporate organisation has taken the reins of a gram panchayat in Kerala by winning the majority of seats in the recently concluded local body elections. The corporate takeover of a panchayat in the state is a first of its kind. However, it tells of things to come.
The Kizhakkambalam panchayat is situated 22 km away from Kochi. Elections in the panchayat were being watched closely by the entire state as a corporate company had fielded candidates against political parties here. The ‘corporate party’s’ success is unprecedented; it bagged 17 of the 19 seats in the gram panchayat.
Sneaking in on the democratic electoral process, the Anna-Kitex group, a company valued at Rs 1,200 crore, launched a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative by the name of Twenty20, which fielded candidates in all the 19 wards of the panchayat. All other political parties, including the prominent CPM-led LDF and the Congress, drew blank in the unexpected electoral trounce. Meanwhile, the two seats that remained went to an independent candidate and to a Socialist Democratic Party of India (SDPI) representative.
The corporate collective has also won two seats in the block panchayat and fought well in the district panchayat. According to MP Suresh, one of the winning candidates and a member of the Twenty20 executive committee, the win is for their ‘good work’ in the panchayat for the last two years. “We have been ruled by the UDF for the last five years and they have not done anything to improve our living standards,” says Suresh. “When the company came forward to help us with their CSR initiative, the government tried to topple it. But, people have shown full faith in the Twenty20, which is reflected in the polls.”
Suresh recounts the benefits that the company has offered to the public: groceries for half the price and various medical camps for the people. “They have also built 458 houses and toilet facilities for the poor. They repaired roads and brought drinking water facility to the village. The company had spent close to Rs 24 crores in the last two years for the well-being of the people,” says Suresh. Sabu Jacob, chief coordinator of the Twenty 20 and the managing director of Kitex group, says that the csr initiative was started in 2012 to fulfill his father’s dream of improving the society. According to Sabu, his father, MC Jacob, wanted to build an Ayurveda hospital for the people of the village. “But corruption has spread deeply in the functioning of the panchayat,” says Sabu. “Many of our initiatives were opposed blindly. However, we overcome all those difficulties and brought about a massive change in the village.”
Sabu says that Twenty20 was formed with the aim of making Kizzhakambalam a ‘model panchayat’ in the country. “I know it’s difficult but we will work hard to achieve the goal of turning this panchayat into a model panchayat till 2020,” says Sabu. He also wants other corporates in the country to follow his example in order to bring about ‘change’.
Meanwhile, political opponents have branded the Twenty20’s initiative as a ‘selfish business interest’. CPM local secretary PP Baby says that the company has won by influencing the people with might and money. “This is only a temporary victory,” says Baby. The company has also been accused of polluting the village by dumping waste from its factories.
Sabu, however, denies the allegation saying that if such things were true then people would not have voted for them. “People have lost their faith in political parties. If they would have done what they are supposed do, a collective like Twenty20 would not have come up,” he says.
It is indeed the failure of political representatives that has provided opportunity for such corporates to enter politics directly. However, corporates are primarily driven by monetary interests. If the trend catches up, then the public may have a new menace to deal with; that of the corporatisation of democracy