Triumph of the Mill

How a corporate charity won panchayat polls in a Kerala village

01 January 2016
Sabu Jacob, the managing director of Kitex Garments, waves a flag during an election rally in Kizhakkambalam.
shijo cherian
Sabu Jacob, the managing director of Kitex Garments, waves a flag during an election rally in Kizhakkambalam.
shijo cherian

On an afternoon in early December, as the rest of Kizhakkambalam was deep into its midday lull, there was a flurry of activity on the village’s outskirts, at a shed roughly the size of a basketball court. A massive blue-and-white sign at the entrance read “Twenty20 Kizhakkambalam.” Outside, three men unloaded a truck full of white plastic bags, each containing about six kilograms of assorted vegetables and stamped with a royal blue logo reading “Twenty20” in Malayalam. These were placed on iron shelves inside, to be sold to Kizhakkambalam’s residents at a subsidised price of Rs100. At market rates, each such bag would cost Rs200. Almost every family in the village I spoke to shops at the store.

In the rest of India, “Twenty20” summons up images of cricket pitches and cheerleaders, but Kizhakkambalam’s residents might sooner associate it with a local charity founded by Sabu Jacob, the chairman of Anna-Kitex Group—a Rs1,200-crore corporation headquartered in Kizhakkambalam, and widely known in Kerala as a garment manufacturer.

Twenty20’s stated mission is to “make Kizhakkambalam a model village by the year 2020.” Since it was started, in 2013, the outfit has built tanks to provide drinking water, sold food at subsidised rates, and run a free 24-hour ambulance service, all funded by the Anna-Kitex Group. In October, 19 members of Twenty20 contested local panchayat elections as independent candidates. The outfit promoted them under its own logo, and Kizhakkambalam voted 17 of them into power.

Zeenab Aneez is an independent journalist working out of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Keywords: elections charity Kerala corporate Panchayat Kizhakkambalam Anna-Kitex Group Twenty20
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