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Collective, volunteers: In Kerala local polls, no politics is new politics

From state capital Thiruvananthapuram to commercial hub Kochi, unconventional non-political movements have fielded candidates for the local body elections to be held in three phases on December 8, 12 and 14.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: November 25, 2020 12:15:11 pm
Volunteers for V4Kochi in Kochi. (V4Kochi Facebook)

A SOCIETY registered by former AAP volunteers; a group of professionals, businessmen and residents’ associations backed by retired bureaucrats; a coastal collective based on a successful corporate model; a group of voters united by water scarcity.

Across Kerala, a state that is sharply divided along party lines, apolitical is the new political — at least at the grassroots level.

From state capital Thiruvananthapuram to commercial hub Kochi, unconventional non-political movements have fielded candidates for the local body elections to be held in three phases on December 8, 12 and 14. All of them depend on crowdfunding and hope to claim the electoral space available at a micro local level, where familiarity and accessibility matter the most.

“This is a new trend in Kerala. People have realised that traditional political parties, which are engaged with state and national issues, cannot be actively involved in local issues. Local issues demand people who are accessible and familiar to the common man. At the panchayat level, people want basic civic issues to be resolved and do not care so much about political affiliations,’’ says Prof G Gopakumar, political scientist and former Vice Chancellor of Central University of Kerala.

For instance, V4Kochi, which is registered as a society, has fielded candidates in all 74 divisions of the Kochi Municipal Corporation. Most of its leaders are young, and many have been AAP volunteers.

“Traditional parties have grown irrelevant and obsolete. We want to eradicate them from local developmental politics and take democracy directly to people. We are advocating for transparency in governance and eradication of corruption,” says Nipun Cherian, V4Kochi campaign controller.

“V4Kochi is mobilising resources via crowdfunding through bank transactions. There will be complete transparency in working. People are looking for an alternative to CPM, Congress and BJP. We are evolving as a political outfit of the 21st Century,’’ says Cherian, 34, who is an engineer and entrepreneur.

Kerala has experimented with one such model before, when candidates put up by Kerala-based KITEX Group’s corporate social responsibility wing Twenty20 won the local body polls in Kizhakkambalam panchayat on the outskirts of Kochi in 2015. This time, Twenty20 is gearing up to contest in four more village panchayats.

“When Twenty20 took charge in 2015, the panchayat was in debt of Rs 39 lakh. After five years, the panchayat has a surplus of Rs 13.57 crore. We have improved efficiency in functioning. There is zero corruption and we provide provisions at 50 to 70 per cent subsidised rate,’’ says Sabu Jacob, KITEX managing director and chief co-ordinator of Twenty20.

Twenty20’s success has spawned several similar models. At Chellanam, a coastal village panchayat in Ernakulam district, a group of voters has floated a separate “20-20” and hopes to address the perennial local issue of coastal erosion that displaces several families every monsoon.

“This movement began a few months ago. We are contesting in all wards as a mark of protest against all political parties that have neglected the development of this village. We have formed groups in all wards and picked candidates. Most of our members are youngsters who are looking for a change,’’ says Pavizham Biju, a businessman who is one of those behind the movement.

In Kottayam municipality, there is another 20-20 contesting in five out of 50 wards. At Vadakarapathy panchayat in Palakkad, a local movement that emerged from a people’s protest against water scarcity is contesting 10 out of 17 wards. At Kottur panchayat in Kozhikode, those who resisted a proposed mining project are now in the electoral fray.

In the state capital, noted technocrat and former state planning board Dr G Vijayaraghavan is one of the promoters of Thiruvananthapuram Vikasana Munnettam (TVM). With “development” as its main poll plank, TVM is contesting in 14 of 100 divisions of the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation.

“Political parties do very little for the overall development of a city. In Thiruvananthapuram, issues of the middle class are neglected. A lot of people in the city do not vote during elections due to their disillusionment with politicians and the system. We would like to see such segments vote for our candidates,’’ says TVM spokesperson S N Raghuchandran Nair, who is managing director of SI Properties Kerala Pvt Ltd.

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