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Sabu M Jacob interview: ‘People are supporting Twenty20 because we are different from other parties’

"Other politicians are looking for power and money. We are not into that. Our aim is to develop the country and work for the welfare of the people. In this election, if people say they don't need Twenty20 and that LDF-UDF is enough, we'll say okay. I don't have any regrets."

Written by Vishnu Varma |
March 4, 2021 2:43:05 pm
Sabu M Jacob interview Twenty20 KeralaHead of Kitex and chief coordinator of its CSR wing-turned-political party Twenty20. (Express Photo)

In 2015, history was created in Kizhakkambalam in Kerala when a corporate firm-backed political party wrested control of the local panchayat winning 17 of the 19 wards. Twenty20, the CSR wing of garments exporter KITEX Group, not only repeated its success in Kizhakkambalam in last year’s local body polls, but also expanded its footprint to three neighbouring panchayats. It also announced its intention to make its debut in the Assembly elections.

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The Indian Express sat down with KITEX Group MD and Twenty20 chief coordinator Sabu M Jacob to make sense of his plans.

In India, corporate firms largely avoid coming into conflict with political parties. You, as head of Kitex and as the chief coordinator of its CSR wing-turned-political party Twenty20, jumped into the fray in the 2015 local body polls in Kerala and captured power in Kizhakkambalam panchayat, fighting against established parties. What prompted you to make the move?

Sabu M Jacob: It’s wrong to say that we are against (political parties). Most businessmen go with political parties with some sort of adjustment.

In 2012, my father passed away. He would always say that when we build a business in a village, that village must grow too. So my elder brother and I decided to fulfil his dream, to make this village a developed one. Initially, we started working with the community. When we did an extensive survey, it revealed shocking results.

We found 282 families living under blue tarpaulin tents, in abject conditions with people and animals sleeping together. This was in one panchayat in Kerala. We found 240 houses without toilets. There were 225 houses without electricity, small kids studying under street-lights and kerosene lamps. There were drinking-water issues. In a colony of 30-40 houses, families were depending on one tap with one-hour water supply in a day. There were families living by without proper food, eating once in three days.

With so many issues, we decided to make a detailed plan, to solve them in 7-8 years. That’s why we named it ‘Twenty-20’. It was Mission 2020.

The idea was to make a model village that can be replicated in other parts of India. When we started working, politicians realised they were losing importance, they started objecting. At one point, we realised that without power, it was difficult to develop the village. That’s how we contested elections in 2015.

I thought we would contest, take over power of the panchayat and implement projects. But unfortunately, even after winning 17 out of 19 seats, political parties consolidated power and they used officials in trade unions to try and destroy our operations. But in most cases, we approached the courts and overcame issues.

Every time we did developmental work, they opposed. This time, we contested elections in neighbouring panchayats too. This was one of the worst elections we faced. Just like parts of north India, they (rival parties) captured booths right from morning. Around 1100 people couldn’t vote. This changed our minds again and we decided to contest Assembly elections too.

What have you done in the last five years in Kizhakkambalam that helped you win three other neighbouring panchayats? How important was the heavily-subsidised supermarket in your term in power?

Sabu M Jacob: Unlike other political parties, we offered a corruption-free (regime). That was the major aspect. We controlled unnecessary expenses. We worked according to a long-term plan. We conducted scientific studies (while executing projects) and there was a systematic and disciplined implementation.

These things made us popular. It was not just food security. We have almost completed the basic needs of the village and now we will use this period to move to luxury like shopping malls, swimming pool, health club etc. If we get a third term, there won’t be much to do for us here. It will be a sustainable village. They wont need any further support.

How many seats are you planning to contest in the Assembly elections?

Sabu M Jacob: For us, finding the right candidate is a very difficult task. In the 2020 panchayat elections, we contested 92 seats. Around 65% of the candidates were post-graduates, 30% were graduates and 5% with diploma or technical qualification. Even at the panchayat level, we wanted qualified people to come in.

For Assembly election, we should find qualified, knowledgeable people, preferably youngsters. We can make compromises if we find a retired IAS officer or a retired judge, their knowledge will compensate for age. If we get the right person, then we will contest.

Have you found the right candidates for any seat?

Sabu M Jacob: Yes, for some seats, we have got. It may take 3-4 days for us to finalise on the number of seats.

Will you ally with any party/coalition in future?

Sabu M Jacob: Many political leaders from different parties have come to us and had discussions. But we are not going to support any party or take support from them. People are supporting Twenty20 because we are different from other parties. Once we come to some sort of understanding, officially or unofficially, it will finish the credibility of the movement.

Is there a plan in future for Twenty20 to contest all 140 seats and perhaps even try to form a government?

Sabu M Jacob: I didn’t have any intention to come into politics, I was forced into the situation today. We thought of just making a model village, unfortunately, politicians created issues and we are forced to contest Assembly elections. Everything depends on people’s support.

If the people need us, we are there. Other politicians are looking for power and money. We are not into that. Our aim is to develop the country and work for the welfare of the people. In this election, if people say they don’t need Twenty20 and that LDF-UDF is enough, we’ll say okay. I don’t have any regrets.

But, if people give us an absolute majority wherever we contest, that’s an indication that they want a different system. We have to work on that.

Do you see yourself contesting an election in future?

Sabu M Jacob: I’m currently the president of Twenty20 party. I feel someone sitting in the president’s post and contesting election at the same time is not right. My presence is not required right now. You cannot predict the future, if the situation requires my presence, yes (I will contest).

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