Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Kerala Model

Check the social statistics given below…

Infant mortality rate: 15.6 per thousand
Birth rate: 18.2 per thousand
Death rate: 6.4 per thousand
Fertility rate (Average number of kids per woman): 2.1
Literacy rate: 91%.

You might mistake it for the social indicators of a developed country, until you read the economic statistics of the region. But I am talking about 'God's Own Country', Kerala. With a per capita income of $572, it doesn't even come in the top 10% of the states in terms of per capita income. The social indicators of the state have made people believe that it is possible to have a socially egalitarian society in a financially poor state. So much so, that there is even a term coined for it by the social scientists: The Kerala model. Not surprisingly, Kerala has always been a darling of anti-capitalists and anti-globalization advocates. But wait till you hear the other side of the story.

About 25% of Kerala's income comes from the remittances of its expatriate community. That is the official record. The actual figure might be around 30-40%. People have been migrating out of Kerala looking for work at an alarming rate. A very high percentage of the technocrats educated in Kerala, find jobs outside the state. There are hardly any engineers who can find jobs in Kerala. They migrate to the neighboring states or western countries. The lesser-educated ones find jobs in the Gulf regions. The problem is very acute in certain regions of the state where 15-20% of the population has moved to the Gulf regions. Sadly, most of them can't take their wives and families along with them, making it a social issue as well.

More disturbing than the statistics itself is the fact that the majority of the Keralites seems to have accepted the status quo. Malayalees seem largely unaware of the fact how much the world has been changing around them. You don't expect that from a Malayalee who devours newspapers, making Malayalam newspapers the largest circulated newspapers in India. However they seldom report anything other than petty political rivalry. Political and communal rivalries have become the biggest entertainment for the Malayalees. Everyday they are treated to the drama that rivals a daytime soap opera. The only differences being the actors are often old and not attractive in any sense. Maybe, the declining standard of Malayalam cinema has contributed something to that! Politics has become so divided along the lines of communalism and casteism that economic development is not a political issue any more. Nor does it ever make it to the headlines of the newspaper.

Even though this is true for the whole of India to a certain extent, the problem in Kerala is much more acute. A glance through the business columns of any Malayalam newspaper would prove my point. The business news in Kerala is pretty much about a new jewellery shop being opened in one of the towns or about the promise of a BMW assembly plant that people have been expecting in Kerala for years now. Rarely does financial news of the state make any headlines. No political party or even public forums have highlighted the fact that Kerala has been falling behind in industrial development. There has not been any major industrial investment for the past decade or so. The older companies like FACT and Mavoor Gwalior Rayon are either running at a loss or have already closed shop. Take for instance, the very first technological park in India: the Trivandrum Technopark has only some 55 companies employing 6000 professionals. Contrast this to Bangalore with hundreds of companies employing hundreds of thousands of employees. Traditional industries like fishing and cashew processing are in dire straits. There are hardly any exports from the state other than its people.

Militant trade unionism with the backing of the Communist Party of Kerala is probably the biggest impediment to any kind of development of the state. The Communist Party has so much influence in Kerala that the portraits of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels adorn almost every barbershop and street wall in Kerala. Probably Kerala might be the only state in India, which has more number of posters of Karl Marx than Gandhi. I do not know where the Communist Party looks for its ideological support particularly with both China and Russia going the capitalist route. In any case a quote from Deng Xiaoping that could come in handy for the Communist junta in Kerala would be, “It doesn't matter what the color of the cat is as long as it catches the mouse.” There is a famous saying that, “Yesterday's communists are today's social democrats.” However it doesn't say anything about today's communists. Probably they are supposed to be museum artifacts. Communists in Kerala are still going strong. The break of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union or the betrayal by their Chinese colleagues has not had any effect on them. I guess they still have a Fidel Castro to cling on to. Wonder whether Fidel Castro knows that he has some fellow comrades in the southwest corner of India. The tight grip of the communists is so strong in Kerala that it is probably the only place where the newborns are still named after Lenin and Stalin.

The intelligentsia in Kerala is synonymous with a bunch of left-leaning octogenarians who have no idea in which way the world is moving. A Libertarian or even a right of the center voice is non-existent. Even if there is one, it is often drowned in the cacophony of parochial politics. However, in many states in India there has been a push for more economic reforms and a more business-friendly climate if not for more lassiez-faire economics. At the very least, there is a debate on whether the big state-owned industries have become a money drain over the years. A debate, which would even remotely imply this, would spur a statewide hartal (bandhs, you see are technically banned in Kerala by the High Court) with several state corporation buses getting destroyed. The silence of the so-called intelligentsia against hartals is deafening. States like Karnataka and Tamilnadu have been in the forefront of economic reforms, mainly due to the consensus of the political parties with regards to the economic policy. When would the political parties in Kerala start caring about the economic direction of the state and not which organization gets the new private medical college or engineering college?

This is not to say that the Congress-backed United Democratic Front (UDF) has done much better. Even though they can't be accused of drastic violent methods often used by the communists, they are too busy pleasing the church, mosque, the Nair Society and countless other societies representing the castes and sub-castes across the state. And thankfully, the tiny state of Kerala has many. All there is in the UDF is a mumbo-jumbo of different subsections of Christians, and sub-castes of Hindus, all bickering to get into power. And to spice it all up, there are prominent politician fathers trying to get their sons and daughters into politics, and sometimes the people are also treated to the drama of the son turning against the father or the father against the son. The trend is so prominent that there is even a special word coined for it in Malayalam. True, a similar situation exists in almost all the states in India. However, most of the states still manage to attract investment, either foreign or domestic. Kerala in all this mish-mash, forgets about economic advancement.

There are many who claim that Kerala has perfected the art of coalition politics. At first glance it might seem true. Not one political party has been able to garner a majority to govern alone. It's true that for the most part the coalition has ruled for five years. However, in the seesaw of coalition politics what has been missed is economic direction. There are only populist decisions being made. There has never been any tough economic decision taken by the Government. The state spends about 70% of its budget on salary for its employees. There is nothing left for any infrastructure development. The word 'privatization' is more taboo than serving beef at an RSS convention. Unemployment is so rampant that there are people waiting for close to 10 years for the Public Service Commission to recruit them. If unemployment is around 30%, underemployment is far worse. Nowhere in India would you find science graduates driving auto rickshaws or Math postgraduates working as bus conductors. With no offence to bus conductors, I wonder where he uses his calculus between pulling the bell and tearing the tickets. Haven't you heard about the Malayalee who made tea for Neil Armstrong when he went to the moon? Ever wondered why he was there? Now you know.


Blogger rajeeshvp said...

Gud...go on

January 10, 2005 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger aveenkris said...

Hi praveen,

Your thought's exactly match some 100 blogs in internet on same matter.And that is the only hope left.....We mallu's are atleast realised the issue and badly need some change...It is high time we take some practical step.....What do you say?

October 8, 2005 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Arunima said...

chanced upon your blog. I belong to a state in the North-east of India, Manipur where the government cannot pay its employees regular salary.

We have all the problems faced by Ketrala and also the problem of insurgency.

Manipur is also beutiful but we cannot even promote tourism as people are killed left, right and centre. Most Manipuries too are outside the state and many Phds are just lying idle in the state.

November 7, 2005 at 4:36 AM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 15, 2005 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Brijesh said...

I fully agree with your views. Kerala politics as it exists now really sinks. It is high time this is changed

November 15, 2005 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Vee Vee said...

Well written, let me tell you what , if there is job for all College pass out in Kerala, who will work for political parties, who will line up in their Jatha,

for me I always felt that Kerala is full of educated idiots.

Where they don’t vote for merit, always x or y party wins. I even felt that even if they contest a piece of rock or wood then also people will vote.

Sadly I am also part of the state, It’s high time to change the name “Gods own country” to “Fools own country”

June 5, 2008 at 1:54 AM  

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