Friday, September 7, 2007

Kerala must change

Today's New York Times has an article on Kerala: Jobs Abroad Support 'Model' State in India. Click here to read the article.

The Trivandurm datelined story by Jason DeParle starts off thus: "This verdant swath of southern Indian coastline is a famously good place to be poor." The author says: "It (Kerala) is poor, even by India’s standards, with an annual per capita income of $675, compared with $730 nationwide. (The figure in the United States is about $25,000.)"

My understanding has been that the large majority of Keralites don't live in poverty. It could be so in a few in interior villages, but that's too few when seen in the whole context of the state. If Kerala is poor, then what about many other states, which are actually poor?

People in Kerala have enough income, and to know that, all it takes is a drive through the interiors. Most of the families are more than self-sufficient financially. On the contrary, I think, it's the flush of funds in Kerala that has made Keralites complacent and resistant to any change.

The author follows up the "poor" statement above with: "But Kerala’s life expectancy is nearly 74 years — 11 years longer than the Indian average and approaching the American average of 77 years. Its literacy rate, 91 percent, compares to an Indian average of 65 percent, and an American rate (the United Nations estimates) at 99 percent."

The author also says: "Talk of the Kerala model began after a 1975 United Nations report praised the state’s 'impressive advances in the spheres of health and education.'..... Amartya Sen, a future Nobel laureate in economics, wrote widely on Kerala, arguing (in a book with Jean Dreze) that its “outstanding social achievements” were of “far-reaching significance” in other countries."

The dramatic opening sentence of the NYT article is misleading as the thrust of the article isn't poverty of Keralites. It's about how there's lack of employment opportunities in Kerala and how Keralites are going outside the state in search of jobs. If the author thinks that lack of employment opportunities in Kerala hasn't rendered the state poor, that, I think, is misplaced.

The Socialist policies have done Kerala a world of good. The author has to accept that fact. But where I would agree with the author is that today's socialists and Leftists can't live in the past, which they are doing. That's the problem with Kerala. This is where Kerala, its politicians and people have to change.

Migration to another place in search of work, per se, isn't bad. Today, in the globalised world migration happens in all directions. Look at the number of foreigners coming to India for
training in IT and on work. Keralites began to migrate to other places because the small state didn't have enough jobs for the large number of employable people, and at the same time, the rest of the country had a shortage.

Now the scene has changed. Many hitherto poor and educationally backward states have caught up, leaving Keralites with more competition outside the state too. That's why, employment opportunities in Kerala, should now be in focus.

The issue is not migration, the issue is lack of employment opportunities. The current policies not just that of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, but of the ruling Communist-led Left
Democratic Front) aren't entrepreneurship. Besides, there is the Leftists baggage from the past, which sees entrepreneurship in poor light. This has to change.

Looking at a pan-India level, lack of development is not a Kerala-specific issue. The contribution of anachronistic policies of the Leftists is only one part of the problem. Since Kerala has a Leftist
government, for some, the state is an easy example. For example, the author says suicide rates (in Kerala) are four times the national average. But suicides aren't because someone is poor or because one member of the family had migrated. What about the rich -- who live with the whole family and all material comforts -- committing suicide?

What Kerala must do is capitalise (pun intended) on the achievements that socialist policies have delivered. With the momentum that the state has gained, it should lead India in many fields, and be a model to the world itself.

What politicians and policymakers, in particular, and Keralites, in general, must guard against is the danger of the state slipping back. For that:

1. Politicians, especially those in power, should look beyond themselves and their party. People's comfort and well-being should take precedence over party policies. If an accepted practice has to be reversed because that will serve people better, politicians should have the guts to do it.

2. Kerala must work against the high level of inertia. The attitude of "Why we should change. Let things be as they are" has to go.

3. Kerala must be open to modern economic concepts. They may not be panacea for all ills, but it has its pluses too, which Kerala's Leftists must be progressive enough to accept and put into practice. For example, trying to curtail private entrepreneurship, when state enterprises are
themselves are functioning below par is akin to being a dog in the manger.

4. Kerala's trade unions (belonging to both Communist and Congress groups) should change their obstructionist policies. The trade unions have served their time, and served well. Let us be fair and acknowledge that. Now they must change. For example, they should stop the practice of calling for strikes at the drop of a hat. Stopping others from working is not just a negative and perverse attitude, it achieves nothing in today's world. It's a defeatists approach that will only lead to doom.

5. Finally, Keralites must bother as much about their responsibilities as their rights.


  1. I hope this post becomes compulsory reading in Kerala schools.

  2. If Keralites are poor then what about Biharis? Kerala is infact a rich state with a lot of potential. I has some friends from the rubber-belt area of Kottayam, and they used to flaunt Benz, BMWs during our college days. Only if the politicos would change, the state will be transformed.

  3. hey this is not a question of political leadership changing, its a question of the attitudes of teh people.. In a democracy the leaders are the image of the people and their thinking..

    We mallus are a complacent lot and most of them apprehensive of changes - good or bad..thats why we get political leaders as they are.. Ever thought why we sit at home when some political party calls strike???

    hey and one thing, economically poor doesnt mean poor lifestyle, that wat kerala phenomenon is all abou!!

  4. You are spot on with your points. Better policies along with the changed mindset of people. Thats what we want...

  5. if our economy need to grow,entrepreneurship must be encouraged.Aim of education must be to create jobs.Thats why white people are still dominating.our people are damn capable,bur still we need to migrate other places for jobs.that means there is something really wrong with our current systems.