'Charity King' Firoz Kunnamparambil, the man who literally invented social media fundraising in Kerala, has always been controversial. A social media star for quite some time, his claim to fame is raising money for the poor seeking medical treatment. Or for the homeless seeking funds for building a home.
A driver and mobile shop owner before his avatar as a charity man, Firoz has been known as a Muslim League follower. He was the driver of Kalathil Abdulla, an MLA from Mannarkkad, north Kerala.
His entry into politics has been widely speculated. However, no one thought that would be on an Indian National Congress ticket in Tavanur, located in Malappuram district of northern Kerala.
Firoz has the phenomenal talent to raise millions of rupees in a matter of hours, with just a smartphone and a social media account. There are scores of beneficiaries who would vouch for his timely support that helped them tide over difficult times or save the lives of near and dear ones.
The modus operandi is simple: he posts a Facebook live video with the hapless person narrating his or her ordeal, the amount required etc., and Firoz asks his followers to donate money to a specific account set up for the purpose.
His army of followers responds immediately - and he has a massive fan base in the Middle East, all of them overseas workers from Kerala, according to media reports. Within hours the required amount is raised and often ten times the original sum is reportedly collected in the account. The reason behind such abject loyalty of his followers, however, is still shrouded in secrecy. And so is his dealing with the surplus funds collected in many cases, say his rivals.
Lack of transparency
There were allegations from some of the so-called beneficiaries that he put pressure on them to transfer funds to other accounts. There were questions raised about the wealth Firoz has amassed in a short span, and the car and luxurious lifestyle adopted by the jobless man. And each time he has announced he is fed up with all these annoyance and is stopping charity work – only to return to it after some time. The source of his new found wealth, including home and luxury car complete with exclusive number plate, is his friends and well-wishers, he claims. Obviously, there are insinuations of links to money laundering networks, but nothing has been proved yet. The campaign against him has only increased after his entry into politics.
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Trouncing minister Dr KT Jaleel in Thavanur is a prestigious issue for United Democratic Front and Firoz’s entry is considered a masterstroke to turn the outcome in UDF’s favour without much legwork. A professor of history, KT Jaleel is no lightweight. He burst into the political scene as a giant killer in 2006 defeating Indian Union Muslim League stalwart PK Kunjalikkutty. And there was no looking back ever since. In the elections of 2011 and 2016, he was elected from Tavanur as a Left-backed independent candidate. For Firoz, the match is not expected to be as easy as doing charity with people’s money over a Facebook post.