While Kerala is en route to its 15th Legislative assembly elections in April, there are more changes this year than last time. Since 2016, a few key players, who might have a bit of an influence in the changing political landscape of Kerala, have entered the venue. Since the formation of the coalition fronts — UDF and LDF — Kerala has managed to elect both fronts alternatively since the 80s. Many political pundits also see this as part of the democratic culture in Kerala. Now the state is quite popular on the national level due to its success in the health/education sector. The political culture of alternating governments is also said to have a bearing on the said development in Kerala.
The difference in this election is the rise of the apparent ‘apolitical’ parties in Kerala. This includes the allegedly “corporate-funded” outfit Twenty20. Kitex group headed by Sabu Jacob is behind the idea of this apolitical front. It was started as a welfare arm of the firm in 2013 aiming to transform Kizhakkambalam into a paradigm model. By 2015, Twenty20 captured power in Kizhakkambalam in the LSG elections and soon the word on the Kizhakkambalam model reached far and wide.
Just like a local politician working his/her way up the political ladder, from Local bodies, here we have Sabu Joseph and his ‘party’ Twenty20 ready to up their game in the coming assembly elections. Recently, many big names like Kochouseph Chittilappilly, actor Sreenivasan, director Siddique joined its ranks declaring that they are ready to prepare Twenty20 for the upcoming elections.
Since Twenty20’s inception in Kizhakkambalam, the mainstream parties are constantly trying to label the party as ‘apolitical’ or having no political ideals or ideology. This is in fact foundationally wrong. Twenty20 flaunts ‘Libertarian’ ideals but they are not saying it aloud. In fact, they want to be labelled as ‘apolitical’. In India, libertarianism doesn’t have any ground to stand on. The business elites usually rally behind mainstream political parties and wait for their interests to be taken up by the outfits accordingly. This is not because democracy is new to India but neoliberalism is.
In the US, they have a libertarian party and being a libertarian is complicated with the whole divided ideological scene there. The basic ideology of libertarianism is being socially progressive and being economically liberal. The libertarians abhor regulation. They demand full freedom and a free market devoid of regulation. Their conviction is that freedom and the free market can solve any contradictions in society or rid of all things plaguing our society. Individualism or the individual is their foundation.
Now let’s take Kerala — a state where unemployment levels are much higher than the national average. The state also has a whopping Rs 3 Lakh Crore plus public debt. The state is now notorious for borrowing crores just to pay off salaries and pensions. Another relevant feature is the consumerist attitude of Kerala society.
Kerala is also a state where there are no big industries. Looking further one can understand how fertile the soil is for the growth of libertarian ideology. As for the alternating governments of both fronts, they have failed in creating more jobs, reducing public debt or reducing taxes. The controversial scandals and corruptions became highlights of alternating governments. Therefore, people are discontent and this is a fact. The average middle-class swing voter is fed up with the routine hypocrisy of mainstream parties. The perversion in the system has created the perfect contradiction for the rise of an alternative in libertarianism.
This is well reflected in the Kizhakkambalam model and Twenty20. It is obvious that corporations can manage finances better than the state. There would be no denial of the fact with the increased borrowing; we will need to have corporations bail out the state shortly. One should also understand that the state’s official economic policy now is based on Keynesian principles — increased government expenditure, low taxes to increase output — but corporates would want to change this to true neoliberalism.
Shifting the focus from the party to its new members, this is also the perfect context to discuss Sreenivasan and his libertarian politics. This has been evident from his movie Sandesham but the left-Liberal thinkers branded the movie as ‘apolitical’. Even in his latest interview with a news channel, Sreenivasan says that democracy is not perfect and it’s full of problems. This is where the controversial essay from 2016 by Andrew Sullivan entitled “Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic” becomes relevant. Sullivan says, “But elites still matter in a democracy. They matter not because they are democracy’s enemy but because they provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself.” He says that the people have “to protect this precious democracy from its destabilising excesses”.
Here, the activities of mainstream political parties in Kerala are represented as “destabilising excesses”. The narrative of “too much politics” or “too much democracy” or “too much regulation” (in libertarian terms) is exactly what made Twenty20 in Kerala possible. People like Sreenivasan believes a small class of elites like himself, Chittilappilly, Sabu joseph can rig the system, not to help people better their dreams of democracy but for dismantling the same democratic institutions for their profit.
There is a reverence for engineers and entrepreneurs among people and it is this that gives them confidence when they rope in people like Chittilappilly. Twenty20, as they claim, are trying to bypass the messy, elaborate, and complex structures of power relations between the ruler and the ruled. However, as history proves, by doing so, they are likely to reproduce the same structures that they are claiming to be fighting against. What they are trying to foreground is Convenient Capitalism without regulation, which exactly takes us back to libertarian politics. The difference that they offer from mainstream parties is not advancing progress but advancing capitalism without any regulation.
All the talk about egalitarianism and social good in their public relations and marketing campaigns is bogus. What they hope for are wealth and power; after all, they are libertarians in that matter. Ultimately, Twenty20 is a group of elites who believe society could be run better by a corporation, which is of course, not at all a solution to our problems.
Now what remains to be seen is Twenty20’s performance in the elections. The cards are still not on the table as many are yet to understand what the "party" is all about. The Left liberals’ branding of Twenty20 as the ‘apolitical’ group is only complicating the already existing confusion. For Twenty20, however hard they try to conceal it, it’s very clear that libertarian politics is the driving force behind them. Other groups like ‘V for Kochi’ now renamed as ‘V for Kerala’ are also there among the new players.
The influence of libertarian politics in Kerala in this election will have an everlasting effect unless the mainstream parties could inform the people of the real danger that these tendencies possess. The mainstream political parties should also make the people feel that they shouldn’t take them for granted and that Kerala needs them. Meanwhile, the mainstream media should also refrain from presenting these corporate-led organisations as ‘apolitical’ so that people are not misled.