Twenty20 testing political waters in Kerala

The Kizhakkambalam-based organisation is fielding candidates in Ernakulam and Chalakudy constituencies for the Lok Sabha elections; while it claims a strong organisational network in five districts, both the Congress and the CPI(M) say it has no influence other than in the Kunnathunad Assembly segment

April 02, 2024 11:37 pm | Updated 11:37 pm IST - KOCHI

Illustration

Illustration | Photo Credit: Satheesh Vellinezhi

The upcoming general elections pose a unique challenge to Twenty20, a non-profit organisation based at Kizhakkambalam, whether to confine itself to local politics or spread its wings across Kerala.

No other formation faces the challenge of proving to itself and others that it is a force to be reckoned with. The organisation has decided to focus on two Lok Sabha constituencies, Ernakulam and Chalakudy, which are held by the Congress. Though the Twenty20 has fielded candidates in the two constituencies, political analysts do not expect the organisation to stage a political coup. Yet, the outcome is likely to provide the organisation with the much-required political reality check. It will also offer the organisation a chance to make introspections into its political strategies, including the decision to walk out of the alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Though the organisation, led by Sabu M. Jacob, managing director of garment makers KITEX, had announced the formation of the People’s Welfare Alliance with AAP in 2022, the bonhomie did not last long and it pulled out of the alliance last year.

Conflicts with CPI(M), Cong.

Of late, it has been engaged in a bitter political slugfest with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], though the relationship between the two organisations had never been a smooth affair. It has also rubbed the Congress on the wrong side. The organisation had been nursing a grudge against Congress leader Benny Behanan, MP, who won the 2019 election from Chalakudy. Though the outfit had publicly declared that its members would vote against Mr. Behanan, the call failed to leave any significant impact and the Congress leader won with a margin of over 1.32 lakh votes.

“The Twenty20 is contesting to help the CPI(M) by gnawing away at the traditional United Democratic Front (UDF) votes as it did in the Kunnathunad Assembly constituency last time. It harbours an ill-will against Mr. Behanan and hence has fielded a candidate in Chalakudy,” said Congress leader and former legislator V.P. Sajeendran, who lost in Kunnathunad in 2019 by a thin margin. That time, the organisation had garnered around 42,000 votes which used to be polled in favour of the UDF, said Mr. Sajeendran. The Twenty20 has no influence in the other Assembly segments in the Parliament constituency and is incapable of influencing the poll results in Ernakulam and Chalakudy, he said.

The strained relationship between the outfit and the ruling CPI(M) had recently touched a low ebb when Mr. Jacob dared Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to arrest him. P.V. Sreenijan, MLA, the CPI(M) representative from the Kunnathunad Assembly constituency, took the fight further by filing a few police complaints against Mr. Jacob.

Eye on next polls

Mr. Sreenijan feels that the organisation is testing the political waters with an eye on the next Assembly and civic body polls. “They know very well that they cannot win the election. Yet, the organisation would use the general elections to keep its flock together and ensure that its members do not vote for any other political party,” he said.

“The organisation banks on voters who vote for apolitical formations. Barring Kunnathunad, the Twenty20 is not a force to be reckoned with anywhere,” he asserted.

‘Steady growth’

However, Mr. Jacob sounded confident and stated that the results would prove that the organisation has arrived in the political arena in a big way. “We have around 12 lakh members and a strong organisational network in five districts. We bagged a significant share of votes in the 2021 polls. Since then, the organisation has been steadily growing. We are the change the people of Kerala have been waiting for. The poll results would prove our detractors wrong,” he said.

It remains to be seen how the organisation, which failed to win any seats in the 2021 Assembly polls, but came third in a few constituencies, would fare in the general elections. While those at the organisation hope that the voters would receive its politics of welfare with open hands, its political opponents quickly dismiss it as a non-serious player.

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