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Twenty20 fails to wrest Chelakkulam yet again

Outfit alleges trade-off between UDF and LDF amid charges of pollution caused by garment unit

For all its dominance, Twenty20, the corporate-backed outfit that swept Kizhakkamabalam panchayat in two successive local body polls, has failed to wrest the ward, which, incidentally, houses its major garment unit that is reportedly pivotal to its export business, both the times.

Chelakkulam, Ward 6, had bucked the trend in 2015 and did so again this time, despite the outfit expanding its sphere of superiority to three more nearby panchayats. On both occasions, UDF-backed Independents won.

“My victory is a response of the people against the polluting ways of the company. Nine years of my experience as a Community Development Society member gives me the confidence to perform my job and strike strong positions whenever warranted,” said Asma Aliyar, the only non-Twenty20 member in the 19-member council.

However, Twenty20 chairman Sabu M. Jacob struck a defiant posture, alleging alleged trade-off of around 200 votes between the UDF and the LDF for ₹10 lakh in the ward, without which, he claimed, the outfit would have won by 400 votes. He even went to the extent of alleging that the beneficiaries of cash-for-votes were even made to pledge on their sacred religious texts that they would vote accordingly.

“The LDF’s disparity of around 200 votes in the ward and block and district panchayats exposes the unholy nexus between the two fronts,” said Mr. Jacob, who further underplayed the loss at Chelakkulam, saying that the company’s units were spread over three wards, and that Twenty20 had won even the ward where the company’s processing plant was located, despite allegations of pollution.

P.H. Anoop, a member of Chelakkulam ward in the last term, shot down charges of vote-trading, saying if that was the case, the CPI(M) candidate would not have polled 132 votes. He added that the defeat of Twenty20 candidate by 105 votes as against 37 last time, despite the outfit enrolling 213 fresh names in the voter’s list, proved how the electorate stood united to defeat the outfit.

“Excessive groundwater exploitation and discharge of waste water polluting the environment remain the scourge of the ward. During my term as member, I had to face discrimination from the governing committee dominated by Twenty20 and had to even seek court intervention to get a drainage work executed. Since the block and district panchayats were ruled by the UDF and the local MLA is also from the front, I could fend off the discrimination, including in fund allocation,” said Mr. Anoop.

Mr. Jacob, however, slammed charges of discrimination, mocking that if that was the case, he could have approached the appropriate authorities while he was still a member rather than levelling allegations now.

Nijo Purackal, a voter, said Twenty20’s defeat in the ward in successive polls was testimonial to how the much acclaimed development model could not sway the electorate when it was denied basic needs like clean air and water.

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