By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Kerala
Tourism is one of the major drivers of growth in Kerala Photos: Haris Kuttipuram
Why is India's most socially developed state - and one of the developing world's most advanced regions - an economic laggard?
This question about Kerala, known all over the world for its lush landscapes, sun-drenched beaches and idyllic backwaters, has been a subject of intense debate among economists and social scientists.
Kerala defies all stereotypes of a "socially backward" Indian state - swathes of people living in abject poverty, men outnumbering women because of female foeticide, internecine caste politics.
Many of its social indicators are on par with the developed world and it has the highest human development index in India.
It also has the highest literacy rate (more than 90%) and life expectancy in India, lowest infant mortality, lowest school drop-out rate, and a fairly prosperous countryside.
That's not all.
In contrast to India's more prosperous states, like Punjab and Haryana, Kerala can boast a very healthy gender ratio - women outnumber men here.
Life expectancy for women is also higher than for men, as in most developed countries. Thanks to a matrilineal society, women, by and large, are more empowered than in most places in India.
When it comes to low population growth, Kerala competes with Europe and the US. And all but two districts of the state have a lower fertility rate than that needed to maintain current population levels.
Women outnumber men in Kerala
All this happened because of the region's early trading connections with the West - the Portuguese arrived here in the 15th Century, followed by the Dutch and then the British - and a long history of social reforms initiated by the missionaries and the kings of two princely states that were later integrated to create Kerala.
And thanks to pioneering land reforms initiated by a Communist government in the late 1950s, the levels of rural poverty here are the lowest in India. Decent state-funded health care and education even made it the best welfare state in India.
Yet, today, Kerala is a straggler economy almost entirely dependent on tourism and remittances sent back by two million of its people who live and work abroad, mostly in the Gulf.
Joblessness is rife due to the lack of a robust manufacturing base - more than 15% in urban areas, three times the national average. More than 30 million people live in the densely populated state, a third of which is covered by forests
More people here are taking their lives than anywhere else in India. Alcoholism is a dire social problem - the state has India's highest per capita alcohol consumption. People migrate because there are no jobs at home.
Economists find this paradoxical given the fact that Kerala has met most of the UN's millennium development goals.
"Unlike many East Asian states, social development has not become an instrument in triggering economic development in Kerala," says economist Joseph Tharamangalam.
So the state has little money to fund health care and education leading to an explosion of expensive, private hospitals, schools and colleges, which the poor cannot afford.
Road networks are extensive, but the state has few highways. Electricity has reached nearly every village but the quality of service is poor.
Many believe that the skewed nature of the economy - it has been called the "money order economy" - is to blame.
Kerala lives off remittances and it lacks a manufacturing base. Economists draw parallels with the Philippines and Sri Lanka, which face similar problems.
The urban-rural gap is the lowest in Kerala
And Kerala has not benefited directly from the rise of its biggest service industry, tourism. Service tax is a federal tax which first goes to Delhi, and is then distributed among different states.
Kerala's biggest advantage - high literacy - has become a strange liability: the vast majority of educated unemployed have to go elsewhere for work.
Economists like KK George, who have spent a lifetime studying the "Kerala conundrum", say the state is facing a "second generation problem" of growth.
"Having fulfilled all millennium development goals, the state has no money left for higher investments. The central government is busy tackling poverty and illiteracy in most states, so doesn't have time or money for Kerala. And successive governments in Kerala have not been able to take it forward," says Dr George.
Economists say it is ironic that a region which benefited early from informal international trade - with the Dutch and the English - and its proximity to West Asia has failed to reap the benefits of economic liberalisation at home.
Some commentators say the problem stems from the fact that Kerala is an over-politicised and "over-extended state". The argument goes that radical unions, bolstered by successive communist governments, have acted as "pressure groups advancing particular vested interests".
Kerala has a modestly prosperous countryside
In the process, the general prosperity of the state has been neglected.
Also, analysts say, decades of militant trade unionism led by the Communists has led to a poor work ethic and an "estrangement" from private investments - a condition similar to India's other Communist-run state, West Bengal.
Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen says Kerala has to "learn from the world". Its famed model of development, which is still touted as the most inclusive one, appears to have hit the buffers.
"The Kerala model is grinding to a halt because the social and political groups having fulfilled their original agenda now have no new agendas. Society has lost its capacity to set collective goals. There are no more big dreams," says Dr George.
"The old change agents like the Christian church and their missionary organisations, social reform movements in various caste groups, trade unions and political parties are acting merely as pressure groups either to defend the status quo or to extract the maximum possible share of a cake that is not increasing in size."
Clearly, Kerala needs a new contract between the state and its people to move ahead and build upon its enviable gains.
Here is a selection of your comments
Greatly enjoyed reading your piece on Kerala. It is provocative enough for me to get exercised. We live and work to improve our well being and become happier. Measuring progress in terms of GDP today seems far inferior to looking at human development indicators, quality of life and happiness indeces which have been extensively developed in the last seven years or so. If a state/country is not subsidised by anybody and scores high on HDI, quality of life and happiness and low on GDP growth then is it good or bad? Kerala appears to be doing poorly in manufacturing but well in inward tourism and service exports (migration of skilled workers). That is a viable model, in fact showing the economy is highly advanced, heavily weighted in favour of the tertiary (services) sector and low in the secondary (manufacturing) and primary (agriculture and mining) sectors. What is wrong with a money order economy if it goes along with high HDI. Bihar remains poor in HDI and high on money orders from largely unskilled migrants. On the happiness index Kerala records high suicide, unemployment and alcoholism rates. I suspect it also has a high divorce rare. These are typical attributes of some Scandinavian countries which have a much better quality of life and social security than some south European countries but appear less happy than the latter. I would be happy to see the Himalayan and northeastern states largely banish manufacturing, pursue sustainable agriculture and thrive on sustainable tourism and money orders. Kerala has many of the social ills of far richer countries. What it has to do is not pursue manufacturing but try to have a goal in life. What do I do with the capabilities I have? The real danger in sitting around and surviving on relatives' remittances is that the purposelessness can lead to choosing wrong goals, as in Gujarat where the educated loafers have found a goal in communalism.
Subir Roy, Bangalore
Kerala has a lot of firsts - from social to political developments. But the thing I noticed, when I visited Kerala a while back, was the smothering effect of parochial politics, where the Marxists align themselves with overtly communal parties like the obscurantist Muslim League to leverage political vote-banks. The public sector has a stranglehold on the economy and is very unproductive, while the private sector is still in its nascent stage. The labour laws are too rigid and workers are too politicised. Strikes are the norm. What's needed is a culture of free enterprise and labour flexibility to release the natural entrepreneurial impulse in Keralites. Above all, there should be reforms in politics, the economy and encouragement of innovative ideas to exploit the advanced socio-economic factors in the state.
Sonny, London, UK
This is a very well-argued piece. Soutik Biswas has hit the nail on the head. Biswas's argument challenges the activists and politicians who emphasize only on distribution of resources and does not suggest how the size of the pie that has to be shared can be increased. Kerala is a typical case of efficient distribution with no corresponding model for increasing production that can be emulated. Social indicators, such as education and literacy are too often valued only for their intrinsic importance. But education also shapes our mentalities in crucial ways and the absence of employment commensurate to one's education may lead to frustration. Therefore measures for distribution and growth have to be taken simultaneously.
Sarasij Majumder, USA
I am a Kerala expat and I am all too familiar with the conundrum. The article sums up the situation pretty well, but I would like to touch on the issue of population density. Kerala has more than twice the average national population density. Moreover, it is a tropical haven with a lot of land designated under 13 protected areas as wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. Outside of these protected areas, Kerala can be considered as one big town with every nook and corner of the state connected with small roads. So land is at a premium here and any industrial and infrastructural development will almost definitely affect many peoples lives. With the recent explosion in real estate prices there will be immense resistance from people to relocate and no political party will have the backbone to take on that issue. Taking all this into account, the only real hope that I see in Kerala's development is in the service sectors like tourism, IT and maybe small scale manufacturing. However, developing the infrastructure to sustain such growth will still remain a challenge. Until then, Kerala will depend on the remittances and investments of expats like me.
Karthik Pillai, USA
The reporter is right about having a new contract between the state & its people. Kerala has always been a literate state and the poverty rate is negligible considered to North Indian States. Its our fate that we don't get jobs in our state. Keeping that aside, Kerala is still the most safe and secure place to live in India. It still attracts a lot of tourists around the year. Kerala still has the lowest abortion rate. We love 'baby girls' and thus women outnumbered men.
I have been to Kerala and I was struck by the poverty in Mumbai but could clearly see people in the smaller towns were happy. The main problem I noticed there was the weeds choking the backwaters. It was clear that the local government had not invested any money in keeping them clear. This has affected the fishing industry and also tourism, as more and more waterways are becoming impassable.
Hannah Bennett, England
A good article, could say a summary of various issues of a state with strong skilled labour force but with less opportunities at home to develop and exploit their skills. Little mentioned about closed down industries in Kerala during the late 70's and early 80's, which made Kerala not a favourable spot for the new industries. Keralites and politician has to rethink their strategy and become more industry friendly and welcoming state. This could reduce poverty and improve economy.
Davis Martin, UK
I really enjoyed reading this article about my native place. It gives a correct picture of the contemporary Kerala. Ideological bankruptcy of the left movement in the state is the main cause of this stagnation. Currently the left parties are struggling in the dark and they lost the trust of the Kerala public. The stalwarts of the movement who initiated the right direction for the social development failed to address the economic development aspects. The new generation does not have the vision to contribute for a sustainable society. So we are really in a pathetic state or almost like economically orphaned.
Sudheer NE, Kerala, India
Not being a Malayalee Soutik Biswas did a really good job understanding the problems in kerala. There is lots of jobs in kerala with excellent pay (A constriction helper get RS 400 a day). There are thousands of Tamil people and North Indians come here for job. For them Kerala is a mini gulf... Its realy really hard to find people for constriction and all labours works..
Main reason for this is prolonged Communist rule in Kerala. Communism failed over the rest of the world and so it has in Kerala. You can compare it to Cuba which shows better social indices sometimes better than even US. A huge input to the Kerala economy comes from expatriates in the Middle East - Persian Gulf countries. Otherwise it would have been bankrupt long ago.
SN Vyas, US
I agree with what this article has to say about Kerala (the state I come from). The existing political fronts (Communist led & Congress led) have done very little for Kerala's economic progress in the last few decades. Kerala desperately needs a powerful regional party, which can align with any front that comes to power in the Centre and extract the funds needed for Kerala. Post liberalisation the regional parties in other southern states aligned with the government at the Centre and got things done back home!
Vimal Kishen, UAE
Kerala has no manufacturing base as no one dares invest in Kerala- within 6 months strikes and go slow tactics will bring the industry to a grinding halt. Only government jobs are sought after as you need not work hard to earn your salary. No amount of inducements will work as industrialists know that when congress is in power, communists will instigate workers to strike and when communists are in power, congressmen play the same trick, with disastrous consequences. A Keralite works hard only when he crosses Kerala border- within Kerala he strikes work more frequently than he works.Unless the average Keralite realises this and corrects his path, there would be no salvation for this 'GODS' OWN COUNTRY'
Very True. Although there are manufacturing units in Kerala (eg: NEST ) who does manufacturing for GE,Airbus, Boeing, Hitachi,Toshiba ...etc , there isnt enough of them to make full use of the highly educated work force.
One point not mentioned in the article is that Kerala was the first state in India who attracted foreign investments as early as 1970's. Kerala had Keltron (india's first state owned electronics company) and attracted companies such as Toshiba to set up factories decades before Tamil Nadu and Karnataka started attracting industries.
It is not too long before the people realize that militant trade unionism benefits a select a few and dooms the rest
It would have been nice to mention the major achievements Kerala boast till now were the initiated by the Communist governments. The land reform movement which distributed the land to the poor from the high caste landlords in 1950's by the first Communist government changed empowered the working class people and the cent percent literacy campaign by the EK Nayanar's Communist government was the second major achievements. Even the first IT park in India (Technopark) was initiated by the Communists. I agree with the attitude problem of the people as they are more defensive and curious when it comes to any changes.
Having just come back from 3 week touring Tamil Nadu and Kerala it is very obvious the two states are miles apart. The infrastructure projects occurring in Tamil Nadu are bring it into the 21st century and the ability to travel on good roads all the way from Madras down to India's lands end at Kanniyakumari but then try travelling back up to Trivandrum and onto Kochi and its like travelling back onto unmade roads and sheer hell.
Everywhere you travel in Kerala the evidence of the Communist party is evident. Believe me I love Kerala having now visited the state on more than three occasions in the last five years and its the people that make it such a wonderful place with their warmth and happy go lucky approach to life.
David McInnes, Scotland
Kerala is one of the better governed Indian state but strangely Indian private sector is giving this state a miss by not establishing their new ventures. This state has every thing needed for new business ventures, Educated workforce, power & infrastructure. Opportunities are there. Perhaps with a little push from central government economic development of Kerala in new age businesses can be kick-started.
Mohammad Shoaib, New Delhi India
Great article, and clearly shows the effects of holding onto the relics of a Communist era.
Great read, i really enjoyed this great article. Its shocking to think that England's economy in the next year is set to collapse. Unemployment is at its highest.
Simon Dean, England
In my opinion, the economic & the educational progress achieved by this state could be attributed to factors like land reforms, western trade relations, missionary schools etc.
Now the challenge is to have a thoughtful political leadership with a vision above their political agendas. There should be orchestrated initiatives to leverage the English speaking skilled man power which is in high demand at a global perspective.
Kumar Nair, United Kingdom
A very good perspective. I am new to Kerala. Born and grew up in Tamil Nadu. Spent my professional life in Karnataka, NYC, Vancouver, Canada, Dallas, Chicago and Charlotte and 9 months back when I chose to return to india for good. I chose Kerala to make it MY HOME. I am mostly puzzled and at times irritated by the socio-economic scenario. My observation and inference from what I have seen is, many want the riches without hard work. A strong social development centric plan was laid out long back and now people are not just Averse, which is a normal reaction, but AGAINST change. One of the key elements of any developed world that I have witnessed - primarily north amercia - is the thriving nature of Small business and an ecosystem for entrepreneur to flourish. I have put in my hard earned money into one such business, helping my wife set up her business. The entire system of government sponsored social development fails miserably to recognize the need for small independent business owners. The way I see it, there is no need for large manufacturing plants, but entrepreneurship at SME level need to be developed. This would ensure the 'money order economy' is converted to a self sustaining economy. For everything Keralites depend on Karnataka or Tamil nadu to deliver. In my pursuit to enable my wife to have her own business, I have been advised to go to nearby Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, if I really mean business. And this is by many who have already moved to near by states and run their businesses. Signing off from Trivandrum (Captial of Kerala) Sundar
Sundar , India
Last October, I spent a week in Kerala on a houseboat. The people could not have been friendlier to us American tourists. I was amazed to see a coir factory operating in the same way it probably has for 100 years. Our guide explained to us about the dowry system and of how unwanted girl babies are disposed of shortly after birth. How does a society move forward with a culture that doesn't value female life other than as a marriageable commodity? Our guide said that the young people couldn't wait to leave Kerala to find opportunity elsewhere. As an American, and as a female, I found India a fascinating and perplexing place. Often, I felt like I stepped back in time or was on another planet.
Sara Wood, USA
On the social side it looks to me like the equality you mention dating from the 1950s (especially gender equality) leads the better social conditions. On the economic side, well, economics has nothing to do with the physical world so we will see crack appearing here and there as our money based system goes into collapse. That's only a surprise to economists! If the state wants to really befit on the gains it has made it should state to look at moving away from the money based system (as we all should).
Dr. Andrew Wallace, Sweden
That's right-I am one of those Keralites who have long moved away and found a living in Africa. I do visit Kerala at least once a year. What is happening in Kerala is an example where education has removed the blinds of ignorance; is that good?. With one of the highest literacy rates in the world, little has happened to promote economic growth. I have known people close down their factories simply because the labour union stands firm and demands a share of any success. No body (including a Keralite)would want to invest in a place that contains such risk. What Kerala needs is a new contract between people and themselves, and to allow market forces to prevail and manage a free economy.
Kenny Mathai, Nigeria
Kerala's economic struggling largely caused by its lack of innovation-most to do with education. Though Kerala's primary education is somewhat better than other states in India, it has problems with higher education. The higher education did not contribute much to the state's continuous development from the past. It is because the education system in Kerala largely controlled by Communist intellectuals and Catholic pressure groups-both are fighting for their supremacy in education and against independent thinking and creativity among the people of Kerala. This has caused the state left with absence of new initiatives or innovations or inventions. For example, the people in Kerala, though themselves claimed as supremely intelligent, nothing new has been designed or developed in the state which should come from liberal education. The educated community in Kerala always look for outside opportunities as economic migrants-it may contribute to the economy by NRI money, but left with shortage of skilled people who can create jobs and opportunities. This is the tragedy of the presence of communism in Kerala. This is also the tragedy of the presence of Catholic controlled-punitive and colonial-education in Kerala. Both these powers are against liberal values and thinking. As suggested in this article, a new movement against these establishments should come within the state.
Very good observation by the author. As correctly pointed out what Keralites face now is the result of over politicization of the state by all political parties. And now we have another serious problem with Islamic militancy which is deepening its roots in Kerala. We have to wait and see the future of this state as many politicians both congress and communists are supporting the Islamists for gaining few minority votes ignoring the dangers this minority group pose to whole of India.
Sanjeev Raghavan, India
Your assessment of Kerala is not fully factually correct. Today Kerala is on the top in south India because of the following true reasons:
1. Higher literacy is received by sending their students to neighbouring states mostly to Karnataka, because Kerala education system is riddled with cast politics.
2. In employment too, they employ political clouts to fix jobs in states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and so on at the expense of native job seekers in respective states. for example, in Bangalore International Airport, when airport construction work got started 4 years ago, there was underground activities within Kerala political masters deploy keralites there in large numbers and today it is the fact that Bangalore Airport employs maximum number of Keralites compared to native Bangaloreans who occupy just 5% of total jobs. And this is not a healthy trend in a language based polity.
3. In establishing industries, Kerala lags behind much because its communist policies. To offset that trend, they have started establishing businesses outside their state like in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhrapradesh etc. This is also a concerted effort to build their strong hold outside their state increase their per capita income at the expense of other states resources which is not justified given their traditional habit of investing the gains earned in other states in their home state Kerala.
4. There many more things like this which serves counter productive to the unity of nation.
P Shenoy, India
In my opinion, Kerala remains ahead of the rest of India in every way. As it is at a different stage of development it has a different set of problems. Most importantly, it is a sign of things to come for the rest of the states/country if they carry on developing with their current agendas. The politicians at the commencement of the current vision were relatively educated for the time. They remain relatively educated for that same era not for today. After taking care of the core needs they have yet to nurture their own and the states' imaginations. In my opinion, the congress or the communists are not capable of either.
Ishaan, Delhi, India
The above article must be published in all Malayalam Dailies so that all sections of Kerala People must understand where our God's Own Country has now reached. The politicians, economists and executives have to find a solution to tackle the issues mentioned in the article and lead the state and its people to prosperity. Some thing is to be done urgently otherwise all the other States will overtake us within a short period.
Cherian Thomas, Kerala
The whole mute point is whether capitalism in its full glory will actually benefit Kerala or not? Many of the State's social development advances can in some ways be attributed to the successive Communist govt. However, it has also lead to widespread lack of initiative to work in the local population and private companies hesitate to set-up due to aggressive trade unions. A by-product of the Communist era, this may not be suitable for economic development. However, a purely capitalist policy may change the social development that this State is now known for - the rich will only get richer and the poor, poorer. As we know from the example of other States in India, social development is not exactly a by-product of capitalism. A mid-way must be drawn but how?
Jayne Kuriakose, India
Completely agree with Biswas. Higher literacy levels did not help Kerala much. Lack of a proper "business culture" and the over influence of militant trade unionism destroyed any chances of getting a good job in Kerala. Money sent from abroad helped only to increase the local consumption (including alcohol ) as people stayed from investing it for business.
Anup , UK
Kerala could be demonstrating that the earth can only take so much. The current paradigm out of which this article is written is to look at development as a continuous, ongoing process where everybody gets richer and richer. I think planet earth can only take so much. Kerala could be a demonstration of what happens when the millenium goals are met. 15% jobless..My question is:are these people meaning fully engaged in society...are they volunteering? are they working in gardens, are they becoming reposible citizens.
Mary Kurian Dsouza, India.
Yes you said right...We are facing problem in economic sector.Lack of land and lack of investors are the main problem faced by the Kerala economic sector
Ansal Muhammed, Kerala ,India
Hailed from Kerala, this is very true. Remember the times when BMW and other major private firms wanted to set base in Kerala to manufacture their products and boost the economy. The state government, run by the Communists is a total catastrophe. Kerala has the highest number of strikes (hartals) or any public organization in the world (maybe). Our leader does not have proper education and talks like a total moron. Often mocked is the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, but their development model has often amazed Keralites and they currently boost the largest manufacturing hub in S Asia and has amongst the most power generating resources anywhere. God's own country - as it was once called does not seem to hold true any longer. Radical reforms or revolutions are hard here as the citizens are well brainwashed by the unions to sit back and do nothing to get paid. Nookukooli, or something called a supervision-tax, is the most ridiculous concept, where local trade union members can charge you for doing work in your own yard if your property falls under their residing area. And they can demand payment for doing nothing but just being there !! It is a pity that such things do happen and we go no further in advancement although we have the highest literacy. I feel what we need is education, rather than literacy.
Good and useful comment. This article need to be translated in malayalam and plastered in every nook and corner of kerala, bus stands, toilets, schools, govt. institutions etc. I am not against communists. but the Kerala communists & Congress, BJP has to be brought to an end, and some other new party should blossom. Please make a propaganda for a new type of party.
Being a keralite i can say that the state is surely over politiced which indeed causes the lack of quality and reliability of the service industry because of the frequent harthals n strikes. Trade unionism have reduced 'ethics' which should have been a chapter if trade was a book to a mere word in its glossary. The fact booming alcohol industry which is referred a dire social problem contributing more than 40% of revenues for kerala's annual budget is ironic. But as its clear that the education provided is helping a lot to remove the orthodox mentality that was there to development and changes, change from the present state is obvious though it may not happen tomorrow.
King Kumpz, India
I am sorry to say that your articles appear to be increasingly biased. Last week in your article about Arunachal Pradesh you took it against the Government for promoting development, while this week you say the achievement of Kerala is due to early reform movements with links to the Dutch and British. I think you got your history wrong as the far as I remember it was the Dutch and British that destroyed the local economy and destroyed local culture. Yes there are problems in India, but what is this one sided pile of rubbish that you keep reporting
The various labour unions have destroyed the entrepreneurial spirit. Labour unions have demanded for higher wages when it does not benefit the company, and soon after a company closes down. Yes, jobless again. The IT industry is doing well since professionals are not into labour unions (as of yet).
A recent introduction of a "tax" on homes depending on the building materials, was so strange. People have already paid the taxes on purchasing the items. Why the double pay? The people were indifferent to being vocal about the new house "tax". Later it was pulled off or stayed by the court due to a few brave souls who petitioned against it. How could people vote for such representatives to government posts? Waste of tax money and time.
And for the Non-resident Indians living in the Arab gulf region, its high time to recognize them as foreign workers as they don't have comparative settlement plans like their other counterparts from the US, Europe, Australia etc. They have a hard time to face up to the prospects to find sources of income for retirement age.
Kerala can face a new wake of foreign money if the landscape can be eco-developed. Due to lack of industries, pollution is so low, vehicle pollutions can be tracked. Research institutions can be built up since there is a large educated pool in the state. Educational excellence can come about if support of industry HO be around the region.
John Jacob, Saudi Arabia
I think Kerala also has lot of similarities to Sri Lanka. very high social indicators, high literacy rates, health conditions etc. Both places are also highly politicized. main theme apparently was on having an equal distribution and expenditure was focused on welfare spending. As a result there is not enough capital for investments in industry which has resulted in the stagnation. if an area is to develop lot of investments will have to be made. As there are no opportunities for the educated youth they have to look for elsewhere (abroad) for employment. Apparently there is no accumulation of capital among few people who will have the ability to invest in industry. fairly good distribution of wealth but perpetuates poverty .
Lal de Silva, Sri Lanka
As a native of Kerala, who has lived abroad for more than fifty years, but as one who regularly visits the state, I entirely agree with the contents of this article. Locals would add endemic corruption to joblessness as another problem.
Kerala needs a new goal such as building world class universities and liberal arts colleges which would attract international students who pays full cost recovery fees. It can be as beneficial as tourism for economic development. It can start with existing institutions and upgrading them to international standards.
Dr. Titus Mathews, Canada
In my view growth of manufacturing industries, particularly with pure private investment, is not likely to be the answer to Kerala's problems. where private investment could be more acceptable is in the service sectors: IT, education, health, hospitality and tourism. The state needs to have the vision to promote investment in these areas, for service export to the rest of India and abroad, particularly the Gulf region.
K.P. Balakrishnan, Kerala (India)
Kerala has not even exploited its tourism potential like Goa has done. Most of the tourism infrastructure is basic and mostly attracts backpackers who contribute very little to the economy. Kerala need theme parks like Disney, Universal studios; need to develop its hotel infrastructure by encouraging private investments; need to develop highways to better connect to Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore to attract local and international tourists. Its literate people will become an asset once again by managing tourists from all over the world!
Sajay Gupta, UK
I am among the 2 million Keralites living abroad for a livelihood. Thanks to Christian missionaries and early day reformists, as mentioned in the article we enjoy a high level of living standard in the state. It is a pity that only a handful of North-Eastern states are lagging behind Kerala in Economic Development in the country today.
The land reforms introduced by the communist government without any doubt was a trigger to the economy and the social development then and there, but it was an ill conceived act when the long term economic development is taken to account. Fragmentation of holdings made mechanisation impossible in the agriculture sector. It is famously said that 'less than 50% of the Kerala farmers are more than 50% farmers'. Majority of the farming community depend agriculture as a secondary source of income which led to the decline of the sector.
The successive governments failed to industrialise the state and cater to the needs of the educated majority. In my opinion instead of fragmenting the holdings through the land reforms the government should have had an industrial friendly attitude which on the other hand should have obviously brought home the same social development as the land reforms.
It is not too late for the state to rethink the policies as the once forgone opportunity is there at the doorstep by means of the IT revolution.
Romils Mathew, UK
There is nothing mysterious about the relation between the achievement of social development goals and Kerala's economic woes. If you compare Kerala's development to those of other Indian states, it is clear that these states have "benefited" from investment by multi-national corporations looking to hire cheap labor and freely pollute the environment. In Kerala, the people are not so willing to work for exploitatively cheap wages, nor are they as willing to see their environment destroyed. Large corporations would much rather look elsewhere to set up shop. Keralan businesses have difficulty competing with corporations that pay their workers so little etc. Hence fewer jobs available in Kerala.
Explain Kerala's current economic woes solely on the basis of state policy or culture fail to see the obvious: it can easily be understood when considered in the context of global capitalism.
Kerala is a notable example of how, for most post-colonial states, economic success in global capitalism is inversely related to success in health, education, and other social development goals.
John Mathias, USA
Kerala's biggest problem is politics, communists never let any development happen in Kerala and other parties are fighting each other all the time. So called party for the poor (communists) are the one starving the poor while their leaders are multimillionaires. There are few days in Kerala when there are no strikes or road blocks.
Denny Vettom, UK
Me being from the state of kerala, i have experienced all the facts explained in the article first hand. I feel the reason is not just the lack of economic development but the geographic and demographic factors that affect kerala. The state is overpopulated; there are no villages as such, there are just extended towns. agriculture is non existent as there is no land to cultivate. In the early wave of the Middle east boom lot of people moved to the gulf for higher income, then it became a way of life. Anything pertaining to poverty was looked down. People wanted to have a life style which is equivalent to the oil rich gulf countries. The fact that there is nothing to sustain the life style never entered the psyche of keralites. The virtually bi-party democracy thrived on dividing the population on ideologies and did nothing to curb the real problem. So we have a very very developed society with the highest literacy levels, best social amenities, best healthcare which is just a glass house where everyone lives as a living showpiece, to satisfy high ego levels.
I grew up in Kerala was educated in Kerala. Was involved in many social movements of the time. Today, the old leaders and young leaders are promoting and pushing the same old agenda steeped in the old days which doesn't fit in with today's reality.
Trade Unions very strong and are destructive force today, instead of moving their members up the economic ladder, they are keeping them where they are. Until, this myopia is dealt with an Eye Surgery, things will not change for Kerala.
Many private businesses left Kerala due to the combative stand taken by the union industry and they are not coming back.
There is an old saying, "Keralites work hard and achieve a lot but not in their state".
The article gives a feel that the state of Kerala inherited all its best aspects from the British and the Dutch reign and due to the Christian Missionaries. In fact there are various others factors for social reforms from within Kerala itself though the above said aspects are true to an extent.The Greatest Spokesperson of Advaita philosophy, Adi Sankara was from Kerala. Great sages like Sree Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swamikal also hailed from Kerala. Similarly the Kings of Kerala, especially Erstwhile Travancore , were broadminded and were great visionaries. On contrast to the Kings of Northern India,who were mostly plunderers / Lavish monarchs, the Kings of Kerala were very simple in their lifestyle and dealings with the common people. This is even evident from the respect that the people offer to the descendants of the royal family even today. In fact most of the Infrastructure facilities in Kerala including roads, bridges, water supply system and even the Banking system and industrialisation in Kerala were initiated by the Travancore Kings. 60 years of Democracy could offer much less in comparison
Kerala has grown much faster than other economies of Indian states due to its social, religious factors, no other state of India has a similar multi religious culture like Kerala and the local economy for time immemorial had been propped up by either foriegn trade in spices or other exotic commodities. Tourism and service industries are the only viable business for Kerala to keep clean "gods own country" intact. Availability of multi speciality hospitals and Ayurvedic Spa's not only caters to the foriegn " Malayalees" , they are the new found mecca for medical tourists from far and wide who visit Kerala for its affordable medical facilities.
Philip George, India
This article is full of contradictions and I do not think that highest literacy rate (more than 90%) and a high life expectancy in India, lowest infant mortality, lowest school drop-out rate, and a fairly prosperous countryside. Can all mean that its a failing state in misery and poverty. The author needs to travel more.
On a couple of occasions in this article you have credited Christian missionaries as change agents. Christian missionary activity in Kerala is not an exception. It is there all over India and for the same period of time. So why is it successful in changing the social status quo in Kerala only?
The key reason is that many "Hindus" in Kerala follow a matriarchal system where the women traditionally have a lot of power and ownership of resources. This has been a positive impact on society in the long term.
People are interested in political activities and ready to slog for years abroad rather than work for development in the state. Half of the work (Labours in construction, farming, agriculture, restaurants) is done by immigrants from TN, Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Bangladesh. A private company with local unions and politician link and with no financial planning has better chance in setting shops than respectable MNCs.
Lola Kutty, Dulbai
Being a Keralite, I also share the same concerns and how can we get out of this conundrum? Is it because of the lack of vision or execution of it by the gorvernment; for each election brings the opposition party to power and it has been so for many dacades now; and most programmes one government udertakes remain unfinished and left for the next government to finish off and still remains on their preference. Only a combined will of all social,political and religious groups can find a solution to this stagnant state of affairs. Every one should come out of their shell and fight against the negative forces which impedes our economic development. A collective effort should be there to grab the financial aid and other co-operation from central government and utilising it most effectively. I really agree with Soutik Biswas, and your article will serve as an eye opener to the authorities who has been given the power to take the right actions.
Suresh Gopalakrishnan, India
I used my palm to cover half the story after I'd read it once. The first half reads like there's absolutely nothing wrong with Kerala. It's a paradise, and people are obviously, happy!
Then comes the 2nd half. All's terrible. Economists, analysts and nobel laureates think it's all going to go wrong unless Kerala invites the pundits who know it all, know how to fix a country, or in this case, a state...where apparently nothing is truly wrong!
So I'm quoting 2 people I know.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," said the 19th Century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
"Don't listen to analysts" Warren Buffet, the greatest living investor in history.
Unfortunately, long before these experts took notice of Kerala, someone else introduced progress there some time ago. The signs are all there now - tons of plastic bags no one else knows how to get rid of.
So be careful advising God's own land, or as my wife who was there a month ago, says, "God's disowned land".
I am a Keralite; I completely agree with the arguments. This highlights a lot positive things. Drawback to this article is; this just illustrate the problem and almost no suggestions from the author except the last one sentence.. It would have been more eye opening if included with some suggestions (eveni f if was practically not feasible.)
Gireesh Viswanathan, USA
There is no mission or vision for political parties and casteism on its heights always. There is no set goals for the government as lead by mostly un educated people. The highest qualification for politician is LLB. No engineers or other literate can be a good leader. They have not seen out side world.
Most of the leaders believe they know everything and they are always right.
Media is another big problem in the state. Considering the size of the state number of channels and news papers are too high.
Best way to improve the growth is to out source the state government management to some good company rather than these fools ruling our state.
Sorry to say that I was an individual fully involved with these fools for many years. I have seen the out side world and realised my foolishness.
Now only praying to God please forgive them and put light into their heads to chase the darkness.
Santha Kumar, Singapore
Education in Kerala is defined by the abililty to read Malayalam(the state language). That doesn't get the educated malayalee anywhere. The public schools are in shambles. The graduates from these schools cannot compete in the global market. Local malayalees are basically lazy and are looking for white collar jobs. Dignity of labour and work ethics are unknown concepts. This is what ails the Kerala economy. Poverty is low in Kerala because of the richness of the land. Food is in abundance. Matriarchal system of inheritance has not done much for the status of women. Gender inequity is as high as anywhere in India. But most Kerala women are unaware of this and are happy to play the roles imposed by society. Stop romanticising Kerala.
Rita Gopalan, USA
I've visited the state. It reminds me of countries in Western Europe after WWII -- there was a lot of social organization that led to social progress and economic progress. Kerala has made social progress but it did not lead to economic progress. My opinion to this conundrum is that the Kerala leaders of the past might have been literate and functionally educated, but they were not advancedly educated in economics, science, engineering, etc. This is something Western Europe had after WWII -- leadership that was advancedly educated in engineering, construction, sciences (with American expertise). Hopefully, Kerala has developed a new generation of qualified leaders to take it to the next step in development. The government in Delhi also needs to devote resources to the State because its literate and stable population can yield faster growth than elsewhere in India. It could then become India's Hong Kong -- able to generate excess growth to power the rest of the country!
SV, NYC, USA
Being an overseas Malayali (for 42 years) and having worked in development for a long time, may I suggest that Kerala was ahead of most states in India, except perhaps West Bengal, in developing an equitable social contract for its people. However, the private sector only recently has begun to understand what it means to be socially responsible (corporate social responsibility). The Indian Government has not offered incentives for foreign investment that recognize the role of private companies in state development in the context of a balanced profits/social investment paradigm. As is well known, the Indian Government is dominated by the Northern States and the Southern Dravidian States are considered to be less than equal to say the Punjab etc. Thankfully Malayalis have been able to work in the Middle East and thus support the State through their remittances, though they do not have any tax incentives to develop the manufacturing base, whether primary or secondary industries!
Sam George, Cananda
I believe that when 90% of the population is educated, the region loses something that it has taken for granted all these years - Cheap Labour. With communist rule, unions are given more power than they can handle. Little do they realize that in trying to do good for the people, they have actually done the exact opposite. The fact that unions have so much power puts various industries at a disadvantage. Strikes are common in kerala as it is with West Bengal. While the intention behind dignity of labour is noble, it is impractical and leads to a stagnant economy. I am not embracing capitalism but at the same time I believe that it is necessary to maintain a balance between the two.
This is a paradox but I am told by some "wise men" in India that this is the price Kerala has to pay for all the social development. Successive communist governments have legitimised the militant trade union activity which has nullified any sort of industrial developments in the state, prime examples being BMW moving to Tamil Nadu recently and Kalamaserry industrial zone now a wasteland. Keralites are some of the hardest working people outside of the state but this work ethic is non-existent in Kerala. I can only describe Kerala as God's own country populated by devil's own people-which is a sad commentary for such a beautiful place.
Krish Kumar, Plymouth,UK
The article by the Soutik Biswas depicts the dilemma that the State of Kerala is in today. Political parties should rethink their strategies when it comes to welcoming businesses into the state. Industries shy away from Kerala due to strikes and various political hurdles they have to overcome. Truckloads of educated youth find it impossible to be gainfully employed in the state and migration to other parts of India and overseas is the net result. Corruption and other social evils should be brought to a minimum. Despite the high literacy, Kerala has not been able to promote itself due to some of the social evils. If the political parties and the general public are really keen on the betterment of the state we could see some results, if not this vicious cycle will continue. As a Keralite residing abroad, I'm saddened by the state of affairs in Kerala and some of the news that appears in the media. The obstacles in the development of IT Parks in the state is a prime example of the hurdles being placed. I wish them well in their endeavours
Santhosh Varghese, CANADA
I don't quite understand Soutik Biswas' new obsession with Kerala. First the article on alcohol and now this. He seems on a mission to throw dirt at Kerala.
I didn't think the alcohol consumption rates he mentioned were alarming. It's quite comparable to averages seen in North American and Europe. A big factor being the Christian community in this state compared to any other parts of India where religious sentiments might not favour alcohol consumption. India's unemployment rate is about 7%, so that's only 2 times higher in Kerala's urban areas. But how much higher is it in Kerala's cities in comparison to other urban areas in India? Why am I so offended? Because my family comes from Kerala. So it would be in my interest to have the facts straight.
Mimi George, Canada
Over politicised. This article is one of best views of Kerala and its economy. The reality is only one matter "over politicised" every time voters think that next party( current opposition party ) will change the on going problem in economy ,after they taken over they repeat the same thing again and the process repeat voters vote down the current ruling party and select the opposition party .this is the only State in India not trusting any political party fully ..
Green State ( Gods Own Country ) - As mentioned in the article, yes Kerala is a fully green state and it shouldn't be destroyed or modified it should. Keep like that .The IT firms and call centers are originally requested to build in green zone states But the Kerala GOVT was not in a way of accepting in any kind SEZ zone on that time. Still not far away if we start up we can bring some firms in Cochin or Calicut. Suggestion - Next 5 year or 10 year control by central government , voters will chose a third option in ballet to vote the parties or central rule.
The other ironic conundrum here is the proliferation of poor work ethic on account of cantankerous trade unionism. Anyone who has spent time in the Middle East knows that Keralites are an extremely industrious and dynamic people who add value to an employer's human resource department like no other. What the Kerala conundrum shows is that it's time for states and communities within India to take lessons from one another instead of constantly seeking to emulate the West. All other states can benefit from learning about Kerala's social advances and their outlook on the environment, and Keralites can learn a fair share from other industry oriented states like Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The idea of a utopian society is mythical. Analyse any society closely and flaws are bound to become apparent in some or the other aspect. The philosopher Aristotle believed that instead of having a blueprint of a perfect society, society should reach for the best possible system that could be attained
and this is what Kerala and its people have done. So what if Kerala's economy is driven majorly by tourism and not by industry (despite having the highest literacy rate in India). The state that did not achieve industrial glory is also home to some of the most enterprising minds anywhere in India who found ways to convert its inherent scenic beauty and its highlights into a now burgeoning tourism business that is growing in leaps and bounds. In fact it is safe to say that the lack of industry has helped preserve Kerala's fascinating landscapes. It is true that the lack of industry means lesser number of jobs within the state. - but instead of this having led to civil unrest, people found opportunities in other states and migrated across the world. So what if Kerala feeds off the remittances of more than 2 million of its expats settled across the world. Today the state probably has more expats per square mile than anywhere else in the country pumping much more money into the state than they would have been able to contribute by working within Kerala.
Rajeev Olickel, Kerala Travel Centre, UK, United Kingdom
Politicians should learn to differentiate between State development and the exercise of electoral politics. In fact, set backs which the State is been experiencing severely since all these years is that it has only pure politicians with vested interest focusing on electoral mileage and Statesmen sincerely looking forward to the long terms interest of the State are more or less hardly to be seen or even none.
Sunny Varughese, UAE
This article is very relevant in Kerala today. Yes the Kerala people enjoy better social standards of living when compared to other states in India. I saw that the author attributed these higher social standards in Kerala to its early connections with European traders in the 16th century. Sorry, I cannot completely agree to this point since the caste system existed in the state at its peaks till the end of the 20 th centuray. The caste and untouchability existed so worse in Kerala that prompted great Indian spiritual thinker and philosopher, Swami Vivekanantha to say that Kerla is a "Lunatics place". It was since the work of great social reformers like Sree Narayana Guru, Chattampi Swamikal and Ayyankali etc that social reforms and changes took place in Kerala during the begining of the 21st centuary. Sree Narayana Guru's teachings like, one caste, one religion, one God for man, Progress through education and Strengthen through organisation etc ran deep in to the social consciousness of Kerala's people. With out the hard work of all these social reformers the present social status of Kerala cannot be achieved. They empowered people's thinking for a better way of life and for this reason that, when we say about Kerala's social life, the works of social reformers is more significant than business contacts with early European traders. The problem now in Kerala's ecomony is mainly due the inefficient way of governance. It could be better. Corruption is a big problem, laws are more violated than respected for eg. the driving conditions in the state roads. The politicians are more concerned with their party and family business than common man's welfare. I never saw a politician in Kerala saying Kerala's people that "I am committed to improve your lives and living conditions, I am committed to bring development and prosperity to the state, I will not be corrupt". On the contrary, we can see many Western Politicians telling their people that they are committed to improve the living standards of people. Politicians of Kerala lacks this fundamental feeling for people and takes more selfish attitude either to their party or to their business.
Untill, a change happens in this mind set of politicians to serve for the people, create them opportunities for a better lives, situation in Kerala will be no better.
Many times, its not the problem of money to do things, but its final destination that its not reaching to the deserved.
Gijo Raj, France
The problem with Kerala is its politicians. They do not want Kerala's youth to have any employment. So they put all kinds of roadblocks on any plan to bring jobs to the state. Why? Because their power rests on the backing of the people. They need a following who will shout Ki Jay to their meaningless slogans, fawn on them, and depend on them for everything -- jobs, admission to schools, permits, etc. If people are employed, they will not be at the beck and call of these goondas masquerading as politicians. Malayalis are hard working, industrious, and entrepreneurial. But not when they are in Kerala. When in Kerala they are lazy, with a sense of entitlement. Do you know that the Kerala government permits labourers who merely watch others doing a job to get paid just as if they themselves had done it?!!!! Kerala will improve only when its people wake up to the trickery of its politicians.
In Kerala, all the development happend because of individual success. The Govt did not make much progress toward the people of Kerala at all. The private sector/and individual are carrying the weight of failed govt policies. Llook at education, the govt failed give quality education in Kerala. Today 85% of the students attend private schools. Most College students end up going to college/university in other state for higher education. State govt depend on alcohol tax to function (40% of state revenue). If there is a state govt that failed in India it is Kerala.
Chat Aickareth, India
I like the article. But couldn't agree with a lot of assumptions made by the author. He said all this achievement in Kerala were happened by the long trading connection with the west!!. I can't agree with this. Kerala started developing after the independence and also before by many revolutionary kings not by the west. Early communist activities also helped the literacy in the state. Literacy eventually helped the state to progress. Tourism only cannot never uplift the standard of a state, a clear example is Rajasthan. where the west came in this story. Is the author trying to please the west.
Excellent article. Captured pretty much the essence of the happenings in God's own Country. Just want to add that unions need to rethink their role in a global economy. I am sure Keralites as enterprising as they are will find a way.
Looking forward to my Kerala trip in June.
Jacob Manimala, USA.
One can't help but wonder if this is what we have to look forward to in Western nations that have rampant interventionism that leads to creeping socialism. Things look good for a while, but eventually they decline. You cannot continue to get fruit when a socialist ax is laid to the capitalist root.
Brett Johnson, USA
New goals: 1. Really good road infrastructure like the ones build by the malaysian company (who got driven out for sad politics).
2. Better current voltage, which I assume should be solved once kudankulam nuclear station is in place.
3. Focus on establishment of research driven institutions and companies rather than manufacturing. This should help maintain the ecology from pollution.
4. Proper instructions to people on how to drive especially on highways.
5. Full implementation of e-governence and better use of websites and technology. The current website is very difficult to go through.
The current problem:
1. Bad politics by both opposition and ruling party.
2. Use of university of students in wrong method in politics.
3. Focus more on work than strikes.
4. Finding a better way to protest peacefully rather than regular strikes.
Most of all Good roads with clear road signs. Every one of us who lives in kerala wants this badly. Please if BBC can compile and make a document with suggestions and take it to Malayalam media it would be really useful.
Thank you indeed for your perfect analysis
Muhammed Aslam, India
Kerala has an extensive network of roads but no real highway. The plan for an Expressway was ditched by the current government that was opposed to this idea when this was proposed by the previous government. Some of the arguments were that this would "divide" the state into two and that there was no need for traffic to go at such high (60 miles) speeds! The Smart City project which when completed could have brought in tens of thousands of jobs to the city of Cochin has languished with the current government for several years now. Again this project was initiated by the previous government, and so the current communist government finds it unpalatable. Kerala is a state where everything gets politicized. The state needs leaders that are more pragmatic and less ideological, both in the government and among the opposition. Until and unless its politicians change their attitude to development projects, Kerala would continue to languish economically.
Kerala is a more communist state than any other states in India and the Trade unions are very powerful. This is also a reason, why small and medium scale investors are afraid to invest here.
I'd be interested to know what the long history of trading contacts with the west have to do with Kerala's present condition. A long history of contact with the west is more likely to result in poverty and problems, as in (say) Sindh or Bengal; and the greater the contact, the worse it is, those two regions being among the clearest examples. The high literacy and other benefits are known to be due to the social reforms carried out by the princely states in the early twentieth century, something that notably did not occur in parts of the subcontinent ruled by Europeans.
IM Chengappa, UK
Scandinavia reached a similar position in the 80's, yet has managed to maintain prosperity through adaptation and searching for products for niche markets it can produce. We should not draw the conclusion that Kerala is economically failing.
David Stein, USA
Remarkable article. I am from Kerala and living in United Kingdom. I complete agree with the writers observations. This article is very factual and true and something needs to be done about it. I hope it gets wide publicity in Kerala and we take some step towards change. It is high time.
Vishnu Prasad, India/United Kingdom.
Kerala is better than West Bengal thanks to the remittances. In both places wealth generation through manufacturing has regressed due to the flawed social equality ideal practiced by the Indian Communists. They have virtually driven out enterprise from the state. Communism is a failed concept. Both Russia and china have shelved the concept long ago. Indian communists have also seen the writing on the wall. It is only their ego which is keeping them back. Already many workers have deserted the parties and the top are floating in the clouds. They are losing ground and to make it up are sacrificing their ideals by trying to team up with parochial political entities. It is very certain that in the coming years the communists along with their new friends will be left on the wayside by the electorate.
People of Kerala are fully aware of this an they are clever enough to correct the situation. It is just the inglorious VOTE BANK POLITICS practiced by the politicians that is preventing the CHANGE. It is a matter of time.
I think you fail to understand and subsequently fail to make clear to the ignorant readers who take your word for it that Kerala's earliest trading connections were with the Portugese and Dutch. If you read your history right, you would know that long before this the Arabs from the Levant to the Southern arabian peninsula traded with southern indian states and that's how Islam first reached the shores of India as well.
Owais Qadeer, United Kingdom
Over politicization - Kerala's biggest bane
Irrespective of the colour of the flags and ideals of the parties, majority of the current leaders of the political parties in Kerala have just one reason in common for working in a political party: "Make Money". They do this in various ways - working as Trade Union leaders, as social service activists, as brokers between the bureaucrats and the common man, etc etc.
The highest damage to the economy of Kerala has been done by the unbridled militant trade unionism. One of the best examples of the worst form of trade unionism is the one that prevailed until recently in The Fertilizers And Chemicals Travancore Limited, better known as FACT, a Government of India enterprise, which was started several decades back in Cochin, the business capital of Kerala, as a pioneering fertilizer company, a multi-product, multi-divisional corporation aimed at self reliance in engineering and technology with interests in petrochemicals, hydro-metallurgy, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, with huge investments from the Government of India. The company was so infested with leftist militant trade unionism that almost every activity in the company was controlled by the trade union leaders who were paid by the company just for trade union activities, not for working for the company. And the motto of the union was "minimum work, maximum perks". Besides, mechanisation
and automation was staunchly opposed and prevented by the trade unions saying these would cause loss of work and pay to the employees. For mechanization, if at all permitted by the unions, the contractors had to pay the trade unions a compensatory fee called "Nokku cooli" which can be loosely translated as "watching/looking fee", something unheard of anywhere else in the world! With the tacit support of the leftist government, this and similar (mal)practices infested the unions in other business organizations also, both in the public as well as private sectors, thus leading these to huge losses. Gradually, many of the public sector enterprises became white elephants, perennial loss makers, gulping huge amounts from the public money, while private sector enterprises closed down their units and moved to neighbouring states where the atmosphere was much more investor friendly. As a side effect of the easy money resulting from the unbridled trade unionism, workers became lazy and alcoholic. The work ethics of the people has suffered so badly that it seems the workers of Kerala now need a blood transfusion to get their attitude to work changed!
This situation has infested the agricultural sector also. The agricultural labour unions are so strong that they are reluctant to work sincerely, and will not allow mechanization and automation in this field either. As a result, hundreds of thousands of hectares of cultivatable land are lying unutilised and agricultural production is suffering badly.
Similarly, even the trading sectors are infested with unionism and lobbying in such a way that the basic economic principle of demand-supply mechanism controlling the market prices is not allowed to work. Even when there is abundant supply of goods, these traders engage in black marketing and profiteering by creating artificial scarcity and keeping the prices up. So, it is the middle class people who suffer most in Kerala.
Of course, there are several other factors as mentioned in the BBC article, but I think this is the most important one.
Sebastian Thomas, India
Kerala is a text-book example of a society that could and should be rich - but isn't.
How can an entrepreneurial society flourish in a corrupt socialist environment where learning is by rote, advancement is by seniority (not merit), the heavy hand of bureaucracy lours over everything, and any economic advance is plundered by the state?
Most of all: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." [Proverbs 29:18]
Gordon Stanger, Australia
1.Constant flag waving and strikes should be discouraged.
2.Inflated unaffordable wages, pension and other employment benefits for those who get away with low work ethics are impediments for economic advancement of the state.
3. The government should encourage food production and smaller but sustainable private enterprise.
3. For health reasons and control of increasing cost of medical care, sale and consumption of alchol should ne strictly controlled.
4. Money order income is a bubble which can burst at any moment.
parties have got to learn not to stoop to unsustainable vote catching tactics.
Dr AKRajan, United Kingdom
I find it interesting that you credit the centuries-old influence of trade etc with the West (which influenced the whole country) while at the same time blaming the almost unbroken run of post-independence communist rule (unique to Kerala & West Bengal) for the the current state of affairs. White man's burden? Oops! Marx was white too!
Rama Devasthali, US
"...thanks to pioneering land reforms initiated by a Communist government in the late 1950..." It say it all - the only way for developing nations to advance socially and economically is to abandon the 'dog-eats-dog' capitalist model, and move to socialist path.
David G, USA
I could not agree with the above comments more. The so called communisum , which nobody even China do not follow these days , is dragging the state and with it the people of kerala down in a manner that can only be categorised as disastrous.
Binoy Joseph, India
Poor work ethic fostered by trade unions and communist party is the enemy of private investments in the state and the state's local economic growth. They need to learn poor work ethics is not social forwardness but a societal damage. If this is resolved then the state will economically develop very well. The strange thing though is that, the Keralites who come out of the Kerala for work, are usually workaholic.
Karthik Sethupathy, USA
As a Keralite and a person who has been living outside the state for quite some time now, I have to agree that the article points out some of the hard facts about the state. The major reason for this is a lack of vision and radical actions from the administration. The government has to focus only on infrastructure and in facilitating quality investments from the private sector. The decision making process is painfully slow and implementation happens very rarely.
Secondly, all kinds of industries are not suitable for Kerala, a small state with high real estate value. As rightly mentioned, Tourism is one major area and the administration has to have a long term strategy to tap all kinds of tourism including, MICE, medical and educational apart from the regular ones. Thirdly some of the other high potential areas include making the state a destination for international quality education with Indian and International universities competing with each other in selected areas with world class infrastructure. One small example is Dubai's Knowledge village. Only difference is, Kerala needs to invite high class institutions and not just everyone. Kerala badly needs a visionary leader who has the power to make the vision come true. We are a state with a small town in every 5 Kms. We need world class roads, Metros, water transport, uninterrupted power supply and a responsive public administration. I wish someone take notice of the situation and make this small and beautiful state, blessed with a lot of envious nature and resources, make it truely God's own country. Yes, Kerala can be truly a world class destination.
The story is factual. Topic is really serious but its handling appears to be defective. Journalism is said to be "literature in a hurry". Here, a very vast subject, which need an in depth approach and more space, has been somehow handled in a hurry like writing a novel in mini/short story format. 'Food Insecurity' of Kerala is another serious issue worth mentioning here. Like the "Money Order Economy" quoted in the story, I would like to add Kerala's 'Lorry to Kitchen/Mouth' food set up. The State is dangerously dependent on neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Andhra for its food supply, ranging from rice and chicken (the staple food) to the plantain leaves on which we serve food!!!
Some politicians of Tamil Nadu recently threatened with a Lorry Blockade, when Kerala stood in favour of a new Dam at Mullapperiar(diverting Kerala's water to Tamil farmers,freely) instead of the existing century old (1896) dilapidated old one which has been a perceptual threat-Water Bomb- to the life and properties of 40 lakhs Keralites.
The reason for Kerala's development paradox is simple, Kerala lacks a political structure that is interested in creating incentives for people to be productive. Rules, norms and enforcement matter. See latest book by Douglass North et al. "Violence and Social Orders".
Thomas George, USA
Successive Communist governments in Kerala have managed to imprint on the psyche of Keralites that private enterprise is to be shunned and opposed. This has resulted in hardly any many business or manufacturing activity taking place in the state. That leads to the Public (Government) sector. Here too Unions control everything, their only objective is 'more wages at decreasing productive". How can Kerala succeed?
Gopal, New Zealand
It is pretty scary to see a state with so much potential, ruining itself because of a combination of the lack of leadership, dirty old politicians, and oversmart people, who doesn't know how to vote intelligently.
Dileep Chandran, USA
Kerala has problems because it has communist system. All states having communist system have the same problem: economic backwardness, they are not able of economic competition with non-communist states,etc. Why 2 million people of Kerala work abroad and send money home? Because in other states there are better (non- communist) conditions for making business and for earning money.)
Mila Jebava, Czech republic
Too many political parties in Kerala who don't care about people at all. Trade unions block almost any developments. Kerala needs a bold and visionary leader who can take this state in to different level but with too many political parties to please...I am not optimistic. Some of those political leaders some education as well. Send them to Canada (I am from Kerala)to learn, how we do things here. We have a similar population.
Geez Soutik - you're columns are going from really bad to sheer garbage. Where would we be without the "civilising" influence of the west and its missionaries. Do you ever bother to research your articles before posting such tripe on your blog as well as here? The BBC seriously lacks journalistic talent if you're their main India face - perpetuating colonial stereotypes. Its funny how headlines about India only seem to talk about caste politics - what about even a small article on the 17% growth in job creation, India's upcoming judicial reforms, the success of the NREGA, The 200 million people lifted out of poverty, upcoming agriculture reforms - or is highlighting social backwardness with factually incorrect assumptions your speciality? Grow up BBC!
I do agree with most of the opinion aired by the author of this article. What is missing is a first hand knowledge of the Kerala situation. As the author correctly says, the state have achieved its its goals far ahead of majority of states in India. Yes, and no initiative from the political leadership to put forward an agenda. The present requirement of Kerala is to set up a Elders group (like an Upper House For assembly)to sitdown and chalk out a directive principle on social,Economical,Religious , Educational, Cultural and political Fronts. That should be the guiding philosophy of Kerala Polity. It is time to think of a new society,with new morals and ideals since we lost our original ideals. M.K.Mohanan, India
Blame communism, not the people. Kerala is not an exception. All communist nations and communist states have been able to achieve their goals of social equality and education by rather brutal force. The wagon stops right there. There is no economic growth because there is no economic stimulus. Communism may be an inevitable starting point for a society plagued historically with social injustice caused by imperialistic government, or with religious beliefs. Justice is the spiritual force that drives people to work. It may be also a quick solution to lack of basic necessities of life like food, shelter and education. But communism fails to provide the capital necessary for sustained economic growth beyond the minimum standard of living. Economic stimulus comes from capitalism. Capital is not a dirty word like the communists portray. It is a mechanism of saving for the future. Capitalism is not merely an ideology, but a powerful economic force that provides incentive for the individuals to employ savings resulting from their past production activities into future growth. In capitalism, every individual is encouraged to start his own enterprise, or to invest in the enterprise started by other individuals through stock certificates. The private enterprise is the mother of capitalism. This mechanism of savings for future growth is lacking in communism. The government employees simply can not force the individuals to start new enterprise beneficial tor their local economy. This is where the limitations of communistic society are now showing up in Kerala, as in all other communistic nations and states. Communism is a dead-ended street. To improve the economic standard of the people in Kerala, the people of Kerala must abandon communism and move towards free form of capitalism, learning from the failures of the old U.S.S.R. and China. Faster the move the better for the people of Kerala. Satish Desai, U.S.A.
I absolutely agree with this shocking report. Kerala is reaping the benefits of outsourced human labour over the decades. It is sad that most of the Keralites lead a double life , life long refugee and a short time home visitor
Jacob Abraham, India, Kerala
It is true That Kerala is over politicized. The work culture is abominable , in fact this is a state in which one has to pay a worker to merely 'observe' work , a crude system called 'Nookukooli'. This state is slowly drowning itself in politics and laziness. A concerned citizen living in kerala.
Arun Sreekumar, India
I am very sad to see my state being pulverised by the communist regime. Communist leaders are to be better called the "block officers" who do block the development of all kinds.The inferiority complex of the "comrades" also play a vital role.
Sooraj Pittappillil, Italy
Kerala has amazing wealth in many aspects, human resources, natural beauty,etc which are under utilised by the communist political parties for decades which do not have bigger ambitions for the state development. Neighbouring south Indian states like TamilNadu,Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh have excelled very well in the past decade, thanks to the Outsourcing & IT service industry and Offshore Car plants but Kerala is lagging behind massively.
South Indian Expat, UK
Interesting column by Soutik, however i find his tone quite anti-Indian and specifically anti-Hindu. He seems to be glorifying the colonial past, and far from offering solutions to the current problem he is rubbing Kerala's nose in dirt. I think the local govt needs to bring in tough anti-alcohol laws, ensure that the fruits of tourism filter down to the masses, the spices and fruits of Kerala need to be marketed aggressively and this should ensure a bright future for Kerala.
Vipul, Delhi, India
How very angering it is to see the author sneering about women outnumbering men and having a higher life expectancy, as if these are triumphs of feminism. The BBC is certifiably anti-male.
I think the problem stems not from the fact that there is minimal support from the Central Government but rather the state level policies lack the will to promote anything but tourism.
Trade unionism is quite strong in Kerala which leads to stifling of industrial growth anyway.
The aspiration to always have white collared jobs that arise as a result of the high literacy rates is a contributing factor to kerala conundrum and also the frustration leads to alcoholism. Another reason for alcoholism is the NRI funds that flow in to support the huge extended family and therefore the rest of the men would rather while their time than be productive.
B Nambron, UK
The government especially the Communist government is to be blamed for the current situation in Kerala. Let me also make it clear that Literacy doesnt mean that these people have the sense to make or understand the problems these politiians are creating. It is just that we have a sizeable number of people in the working class who in these days want to make money without working.
Ashok Paul, Kerala,India
When ever I think of Kerala there are few things that always comes into my mind; reckless bus drivers including state owned drivers who doesn't give a dame about people walking on the road; private buses overtaking one another in high speed chase to get more people into their bus; going for strikes for almost everything; and again road accidents where the government doesn't educate or advertise the importance of ready safety. Corrupt government employees, who want bribe just to do their jobs is also a problem in this state.
The roads have to become much safer. The politicians have to stop calling for the strike otherwise multinational companies will NOT set foot in Kerala unless the strike culture comes to a stop. The government has to sack the corrupt employees not just suspension is enough, the government employees are well aware that if they get caught they will be suspended for few weeks and then back to work again. Kerala will definitely become a model state of India if they can sort the above said problems. Otherwise this state will go more backwards than ever.
I guess I will have to agree on that fact that Kerala has become the "money order economy" state. I don't think I have any one of my classmates from school still in Kerala working and the over politicised scenario scares away most of the entrepreneurs. But I'm sure most of us still yearn to be in the gods on country
Girish , UK
The political parties especially the CPM are to be blamed for the back wardness of Kerala. Being a Keralite,who migrated to Mumbai 40 years back with an Engineering degree and spending more than 20 years in the Gulf states, I am not nostalgic to get back to Kerala beyond occassinal visits.I will live the rest of my life elsewhere.
Kerala politicians in particular and Indian politicians in general do not see beyond their nose in matters concerning growth and development. It is vote bank politics. Appeasing minority feelings and parochialism are the catch words. Political parties want their cadre unemployed and less educated and emotionally charged to defend their party and keep the votebank secured. political rally goers are paid in cash and liqour. Goonda( criminals) gangs are flourishing as they are sponsored by politicians and antisocial elements.Alcohol flow lavishly and they have no hesitation to cut limbs and maim unknown people. Alcoholism comes from desperation and hollowness in future. The people are educated enough to see what is good life and eternal slogging, but are unable to find a bearing in the wilderness of limited opportunity. Alcoholism and suicides are the results.The few who scrape their way up through unscruplous ways flaunt their ilgotten luxuries while the vast majority of depri!
ved educated simply burn in their helplessness. For the political parties it is the fertile field to sow thier ideology laden militancy. people throng political rallies and religious meetings as escape routes while some find solace in movie theaters. People are trapped in a social dilema. Basically being an aggrarian society, the marginalised famer has lost farming skills and never reached technical skills to meet the changing world. The erst while farmer has to buy all eatables from the market which is imported from neighboring states or abroad. While Dubai can afford importing food, Dubai returned Malayalle cannot afford to buy farm products while his back yard land is lying wasted. Malayali has reached nowhere when he has not migrated to another place in India or abroad where he soon finds his orientation for a better life - sans politics.
Chacko Job, Kuwait
Do not worry, people in Kerala will never improve because as the state has been declared as the most literate state hence people out there think that they are superior to other people in india and hence would not even do menial jobs and one more thing politics is so heavy that these communists have destroyed this beautiful place and blaming america for all their problems and not all working
The governments inability to execute big projects which would have created huge number of opportunities for Keralites, is the main problem the state is facing right now. The infrastructure across the state is iv a very bad condition and cannot be even compared to that of the rural states. For example, Tamil Nadu has an excellent infrastructure for sgriculture and technology and the government supports the people by providing free electricity and water for industries. Where as in Kerala, a new industrial nit will have to face scores of problems from state owned infrastructure services, employee unions and political parties alike. Industry cannot survive in this kind of environment.
The state government fails to execute big and trivial projects immensely. The Smart city project in Cochin, which has the potential to give close to 100,000 jobs for professionals, has not yet been started, even after nearly 6-7 years of fights between the government and the Dubai Internet city. The express highway which was supposed to run from north to south corridor was simply opposed by the politicians saying that it would divide the state into two halves. Many other trivial examples can be cited.
I myself, studied in England and now works in Dubai. There are millions of educated young professionals like me working abroad using their talents and skills for another country. We would be happy to work back home if there are enough jobs for educated minds. But I am sure, it wont happen in the near future, as long as the government don't care for the welfare of the people.
Even if the government changes there "Lumbering Elephant" attitude, It will still take a lot of time for the people to trust the government and go for better options in the country itself. Till then, We simply have no trust for the government and the corrupt politicians controlling it...
Neeraj Vijay, Dubai
"and a long history of social reforms initiated by the missionaries and the kings of two princely states that were later integrated to create Kerala. " where do you come with this info ?
Conveniently ignore the major social reformers like Sree Narayana Guru who challenged the the caste system and got education and sanity to the people. That is reform for nearly 60 % of the population. Organisations like the SNDP and the NSS brought reform focused on education. This was local reformers , Hindus using the correct interpretations of the Vedas who reformed the state.
Yes the western influence was there , and gave us better exposure and did have a role to play in the reform. But please don't take credit and ignore the sources of true reform in Kerala. I bet the author has no clue about the history of Kerala.
I am a proud Malayali.
The Chinese and Arabs visited Kerala and used it as a trading port long before the Europeans arrived. To assume that these lifestyle/social improvements were as a result of the influence of the West and not the East is arrogant to say the least. Especially if we consider the actions of the Portugese, Dutch and British when they arrived in these foreign nations, that is to loot and pillage what could be looted and pillaged.
William Clarke, England
Being from Kerala it hurts me a lot when you see the present condition of the state. It can be a lot better compared to our neighbours, But the reason why Kerala does not prosper is not outside but within ourselves. It is a common fact that Kerala will have a 'Hartal' or a "Bandh" for any reason, from price rise to something someone said about nothing. It is this attitude of the Malayalee People that keep them on the back foot and from rising to their Full potential. If only Kerala would use their strength, their literacy, to battle such social evils only then can Kerala be truly God's Own Country. God Bless Jai Hind rT
Raymon Thom, Saudi Arabia
I agree with the conclusion, even though I can not understand the influence of Xian church fully.
"The old change agents like the Christian church and their missionary organisations, social reform movements in various caste groups, trade unions and political parties are acting merely as pressure groups either to defend the status quo or to extract the maximum possible share of a cake that is not increasing in size."
Here also the perception is important. Kerala mind (except English mockers) do not really live for "returns" or "profit". In general we believe in prosperity of life and effective engagement with the world. It is not necessary to have tall claims for this. It is true that we have attained certain milestones which the world is yet to attain and the movements started loosing their motto. That's how it should be... unrest will lead to upraise.
The below statement is totally unacceptable; before "West" it assumes the world was empty.
"All this happened because of the region's early trading connections with the West - the Portuguese arrived here in the 15th Century, followed by the Dutch and then the British - and a long history of social reforms initiated by the missionaries and the kings of two princely states that were later integrated to create Kerala."
Kerala had a rich tradition of intellectual wisdom. Their histories have chapters which raised great scholars like Shankaracharya and had direct interaction with Muslim world. Before British applying divide and rule doctrines here Islam was even treated as a sect in existing beliefs (English named Hinduism); If author want to forget facts and think in terms of acceptability, I do not bother.
Both the points mentioned below is against truth.
"More people here are taking their lives than anywhere else in India. Alcoholism is a dire social problem - the state has India's highest per capita alcohol consumption. People migrate because there are no jobs at home."
Kerala legalised its whole liquor market via state run agencies and ensured availability of it to avoid hooch tragedies. This lead to availability of handy data; for other states these figures are not available to compare.
Keralites are global citizens; they always wanted to travel and understand the world and to explore the world. The author is less informed about our past. Let him study about the olden Kerala before Jesus. Even then we used to travel... Job search is also one among the reasons for the same.
True, the lack of a big, common agenda is pulling the state backwards. It's evident from the political debates that hit newspapers these days. Are all regions with high literacy prone to experience the 'literacy paradox'? Is the Communist ethos of trade unionism alone to be blamed for lack of progress in manufacturing in the State? Social researchers, campaigners, NGOs and every common man in Kerala should rack their brains to get out of the situation.
Rajiv Aricat, Singapore
I'm in Pune promoting a solution to this economic conundrum, which is rooted in a system that isn't designed to fairly distribute wealth but to deliver money and all commodities to the highest bidder. Pune, Kerala, and the world as a whole, need an economic re-ordering through the development of local economies using strong local currencies that work alongside national currencies to eliminate extreme poverty by keeping adequate wealth and control of resources in local hands. Read more at http://sunmoney.org.
Kevin Parcell, India
Well researched article. Kudos to you for such a deep study on the political and economic system in Kerala.Soutik Biswas needs to be complimented for the incisive and well researched reporting. PHILIP
KANDATHIL CHERIAN PHILIP, INDIA
Much has been written about the "Kerala Model" and innumerable times has it been dissected by scores of economists, but sadly it has remained a matter of debate among the intelligentsia with very little change to be seen on the ground.As rightly been pointed out by this article "a new contract" needs to be forged between the state and its people. And, I guess the onus of bringing in this change lies equally with both the state and its people. But then, who is listening?
Lijo Mathew George, India
The culture of flash strikes - when nobody dares to go out for fear of being pelted with stones - has paralyzed this lovely state. This uncertainty around every working day has kept serious private investment out of this state.
George Mathew, India
Very true. The investment climate is not there.
Investors are afrid of Militant labour unions in Kerala. Union leaders are not aware of the benefit of introducing modern manufacturing and agricultural meathods aney often mislead the labour froce resulting closure many ventures. We have to change our current outlook to survive.
Haridas, The Netherlands
Very very true...it is the "money order economy" which is the problem. A Malayalee dream is "to own a 2000 sq ft house with a home garden having at least 1 coconut tree, one Maruti Suzuki 800, read Malayala Manoram and know what happens in Polynasia even before the Polynasian's know it and send his children to the nearest English medium school". He/she has no more dreams - really a stagnent state despite its high standards of living and education. Malayalees are known to be excellent employees and entrepreneurs outside their own state. I think the sociologists have to look in an out of the box manner to understand where the real problem is. Blaming politics is the easiest answer, but is rather too thin and argument. There is an underlying fact that Malayalees are one of the most orthodox societies in India, despite their progress in general welfare and their exposure to quality higher education. This paradox is not just a social issue, but is also partly the social psychology. Warrants further investigation and should be dealt from the grassroots if any solution has to prescribed.
Sekhar, The Netherlands
Well said, The situation in Kerala is going to get worse due to the Money Exchange Culture, as many people who were employed in the Middle East are loosing their jobs and returning. There is also a work culture missing there. Agriculture and Horticulture could be exploited, but many rarely venture due to the trade unionism in the farm sector. Manufacturing zones which guarantee a trade union free environments might help create more jobs. Reinvesting, by setting us processing units for coir, rubber, seafood etc should be encouraged. The priority of our politicians should change. A good example is Tamil Nadu, which is far ahead thought it is far behind education, health and other aspects.
Shejo Kurian George, Dubai, UAE
Kerala need a government which have the vision and courage to take bold steps for the states development. The people of kerala are very desperate, as the government they elect to rule is not giving back prosperity to the state. Kerala really need a new breed of young people with a vision and courage to take the state to new levels of prosperity. Kerala's curse is the hostile trade unions, supported by the major parties.
Santhosh Thomas, India
It's nearly impossible to set up any sort of factory in Kerala. The union's are too strong, too political and lack long term decision making. People would much rather set up shop in neighbouring Tamil Nadu or Karnataka.
It's that simple. If the government supported business as opposed to undermining it constantly, Kerala would go places.
Being an NRI who see what is happening in Kerala can almost fully agree to the above story. Yes, the politicians are only concerned of increasing their vote bank or amassing funds for their party. There are no visionary leaders who look forward to the best interests of the State. Strongly suggest that the "Think tank" and Economists should express their opinions strongly and the State Govt. should take it seriously for the betterment of the state.
K.S. Abraham, Dubai, UAE
I am a keralite who lives in dubai for the last 17 years. What is said in this article is right, the biggest export of kerala as of now is man power. We were taught about our rights by communists when we were kids but never our responsibilities. For example, trade unions asking for wage hike when the company they were working for were going down. And every alternative 5 years communists ruled kerala for last 50 years. But all the time the ruling central goverment was either Congress or BJP who have expressed their open dislike and tried to stop what ever good/bad initiatives by communist goverments. This all contributed to the major Economic Decline. If not for middle wast and petrol dollar, kerala will be in absolute poverty today because kerala dont have any agricultural or industrial or manufacturing infrastructure or provide job thus food for its population. A state entirely depending only gulf money.
Very true story on Kerala. There has to be a strong political will among the political parties and the people to step out from the current situation of complaI believe this article represents an oppertunity for those harping on 'literacy will set everything right' mantra to re-assess thier opinions. Their is no doubt that education and the related development of human capital are one of the most important sources of economic and social advance. Yet they have to be complemented by other factors too. One of the most important (and the one which seems to be missing from this analysis) is culture. Kerala is a small example of the culture prevalent in most South Asian nations. Young men and women who hold a bachelor's or a master's degree don't feel conmfortable in working for ordinary, menial jobs which pay less. They are also reluctant entrepreneurs, and usually vie for government job which, even if menial, brings prestige and power. Politicians are mostly to blame for this 'government will give you jobs' culture since that is what they say while campaigning or while being in government. In short, among many other things, the culture of dependency on government has to change. Young people should be encouraged to do it on their own. Governments can play their part by facilitating the compliments to growth (easy credit availability, friendlier and easier tax laws, funding R&D,etc). It is only the coming together of all the pre-requisites and their better coordiantion that would ensure better growth prospects and lesser dependency upon governments.
The state has to be taken to a higher level. This can take place only once people get out of their chairs and take the responsibility for this. Every Keralite would be happy to take his glass / bottle of drink and complain about all the hartals and bandhs; but yet not wake up to take action against this. This has to change !!! Only then Kerala would be a vibrant economy
George C K, Singapore
Well researched article. However, Kerala has been ruled by very tight coalition with too many demands from partners. Communists themselves make the reform process difficult to enforce. Best brains of Kerala have gone to greener pastures. In fact, the country's best engineer Mr. Sridharan the architect of Delhi's wonder Metro Rail system is a Keralite! Even now best brains of Kerala keep going out of the state to achieve something.
I have personally lived in Kerala for almost five years while my family had very intense business connection for almost forty years. In 1951 Malabar had such shortage of electricity that nobody could listen to radio. It is true Kerala has developed immensely since its formation as a state yet much of its male population lives throughout India while much of its burden is shared by neighbouring state particularly Mysore region of Karnataka. Hence if Kerala is developed it is due to the courtesy of neighbouring states.
Ahmed M Ibrahim, Bangalore/India
I resent the quote "All this happened because of the region's early trading connections with the West - the Portuguese arrived here in the 15th Century, followed by the Dutch and then the British". This comment smacks of post colonial self congratulation! I am a North Indian and am very impressed by Kerala's progress, however I believe that one of the reasons is the fact that it had a democratically elected Communist government which is responsible for its successes as well as its failures.The article failed to have any analysis on the role that the Communists played in creating the successes and failures of Kerala.
Uzma Siddiqui, Saudi Arabia
I believe this article represents an opportunity for those harping on 'literacy will set everything right' mantra to re-assess thier opinions. Their is no doubt that education and the related development of human capital are one of the most important sources of economic and social advance. Yet they have to be complemented by other factors too. One of the most important (and the one which seems to be missing from this analysis) is culture. Kerala is a small example of the culture prevalent in most South Asian nations. Young men and women who hold a bachelor's or a master's degree don't feel conmfortable in working for ordinary, menial jobs which pay less. They are also reluctant entrepreneurs, and usually vie for government job which, even if menial, brings prestige and power. Politicians are mostly to blame for this 'government will give you jobs' culture since that is what they say while campaigning or while being in government. In short, among many other things, the culture of dependency on government has to change. Young people should be encouraged to do it on their own. Governments can play their part by facilitating the compliments to growth (easy credit availability, friendlier and easier tax laws, funding R&D, etc). It is only the coming together of all the pre-requisites and their better coordination that would ensure better growth prospects and lesser dependency upon governments.
Well researched article. However, Kerala has been ruled by very tight coalition with too many demands from partners. Communists themselves make the reform process difficult to enforce. Best brains of Kerala have gone to greener pastures. In fact, the country's best engineer Mr Sridharan the architect of Delhi's wonder Metro Rail system is a Keralite! Even now best brains of Kerala keep going out of the state to achieve something.
Tourism, Health tourism, IT & Education are the main areas which has to be promoted in Kerala. Government has to focus on developing the infrastructure required and also promote private sector to invest in the above. People are talking about expensive educational institutes. They are not recognising the development of the area around a new College. Shops, accomodation, employment of local people in the institution etc. etc. are something which is never considered or reported by the economists. I have also noticed some organisations helping the village people to do small scale industries like farming, diary etc. Such initiatives must be given more importance and support.
Vinod Mathai, India
An empowered female population, large % of population being aware and basically educated, political maturity, awareness of rights, lack of sheer desperation, all these "virtues" of Kerala also makes it less attractive than other states to large corporates for their major manufacturing ventures. Kerala also stiffles enterpreneurship from within its own population. There is no single Kerala based company which has grown to a national leadership level. Mother nature is soo comforting to Keralites that it doesnt take much to simply survive. there is no culture of building up a business, they just want quick money, hence the never ending fascination for Gulf jobs.
Kerala looks prosperous only because of its citizens working either abroad or in other states of India. Big industrial investors will not touch Keral with a barge pole given its irritating work ethics and trad unionism. Agricultural production is not enough despite good rainfall. With such shortcomings, how is it possible to have an improved economy?
Everybody praises Kerala for literacy. People may be literate but not necessarily be educated. The literacy helps each and everyone there to read newspapers daily and making their own conclusions and argue. Becasuse of the lack of proper education they cannot utilise what they read. People there are more aware of their dues than their duties. They are in general lazy and wants easy money for minimum labour which is not the case in Tamilnadu or Punjab where the people are hard working. All the money received from abroad is used for luxury items than investing in a business. Because of the militant trade unions nobody wants to invest in Kerala. Whoever has done it has burnt their fingers. Because the whole world praises Kerala for its literacy rate everyone their has a bloated ego as well. Only when the Gulf countries goes bust Kerala will improve. Then everybody will understand life is not that easy unless one works. Suicide rates are high because people look at other 'johnnies' who may be finacially better off and want to live like them. They borrow money and cannot payback and in frustration commits suicides. Everyone lives a showy life.
Guptan Veemboor, India
I am a resident of Kerala. The major problem Kerala is facing now is Organised Criminal groups and non-committed and non-compassionate Politicians. When ever a new venture is planed in the state these negative forces brings them down for their selfish motives. Corruption is wide spread and is a norm of life in the state system. Even though we have a very well educated society, people fail to respond to such problems. Keralaites are multicultural with a combination of Hindu, Muslim and Christian population and with almost all kinds of Political ideologies ranging from Left wing to Right wing, but this diversity is more dividing than uniting for the state due to activities of inconsiderate politicians.
Mohammed Sajan , India
Kerala's enviable near 100% literacy was the result of Church/parochial schools and Communist policies, especially adult education. High rates of school dropout, low levels of technical education and Communist Unions were not conducive to industrial development. Intellectuals and entrepreneurs migrated to other states and enriched them. The State Treasury relied on export of labor to the booming Middle East, cash crops (natural rubber, teak and tea) and generous Federal largess. In the last elections to the Federal Parliament, the electorate gave a drubbing to the Communists. A repeat performance in the State elections would be a good beginning. A culture shift towards expansion of technical education, retention of the intellectual class and aggressive industrialization is the urgent need.
T Ramakrishnan, U.S.
Real problem is not moneyorder economy.Kerala achieved the standards much earlier than other states.Central norms are based on national average which Kerala overcomes.So,such packages do not reach Kerala.Without a bigger plan outlay central planning commission and without a reworked federal structure this situation cannot be corrected
Sindhu Sooryakumar, Kerala,India
Kerala needs a new contract between the state and its people to move ahead and build upon its enviable gains." Easily said than done! The only new approach which will have desirable positive impact will mean the entrenched extremely militant trade unions will have to start looking beyond their nose. Highly self centered trade unions have been very successful in consolidating their strangle hold on the state by cynical disregard for larger interest of the society. Ironically, highly literate Keralite is too aware aware of his rights with out realizing that corresponding responsibilities that go hand in hand. The state to move ahead need the entrenched uninionised worker to ready to sacrifice a bit for less fortunate brothers in the larger interest of the society. Very unlikely to happen indeed.
N.G. KRISHNAN, India
I was born, brought up and still live in Kerala. What I have observed is that the attitude and basic mind-set of the people here is a big impediment to economic growth. They have a very negative and suspicious attitude towards everything, except alcohol. A famous example is the vehement objection the communist comrades ruling Kerala raised to the introduction of computers way back in the late 80's. Even before that, they had opposed the use of tractors and harvesters in paddy fields. To them, "imposition of abominations" such as computers and tractors are "CIA conspiracies hatched by capitalist fascists" (meaning the US)to "loot the third world countries"!!! And such perverted logic still rules the roost in Kerala. But the same "comrades" don't mind guzzling millions worth of IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor), an Indian euphemism for good old alcoholic beverages. They take the lead in closing down industries in Kerala and then send their kith and kin abroad for work!!! Then how can we ever expect economic growth?
Dr Satish Bhat, India
Well narrated the problems of Kerala - Shortage of manufacturing units & Over Politicized. Keltron was a company run by the Kerala state , which used to produce Televisions and other electronic goods . The traffic signals manufactured by them were used all over India . Now its almost a namesake company . May be due to its resistance to change and make changes , the company was not able to compete with the International players in its field . Kerala Soaps , again another good example for the same. Even recently when BMW planned to have a manufacturing facility in India , Kerala was one of the first options .Even then due o the political issue that they saw when they came to Cochin forced them to start the plant in Tamil Nadu. Some other examples :-The IT city planned in Cochin , its not yet materialized. The Ship terminal again in Cochi , the issues on land acquiring is still not resolved. Vizhinjam ( near Trivandrum - the state capital ) has deep ocean floors , ideal for Port . If taken care it can become an International Port for India with the least maintenance. Its high time that the government do something about this forgetting their political agenda.
The article depicts the exact situation that Keralites are facing. All the pressure-groups mentioned in the article are now interested only in exploiting the people of Kerala because of their shallowness of objective. The irony is that the so-called militant workers are hard-working when they work outside the state. So the fact of the matter is that mind set of people of Kerala should change positively if people of Kerala want to maintain the social milestones that have achieved in the past.
Unnikirshnan K, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala,India.
Considering the fact that Kerala has been alternatively ruled by both the left and the right, to put the blame square upon Communists is quite strange. Do you know how much an ordinary labour from these so called industrially forward Indian states earn per day and how many of them have access to health and school facilities. A similar labour in Kerala earns more than double and inspite of having so many private hospitals, a government hospital is always near to him and available. And labour from these industial states are fleeing to Kerala in large numbers as they cant afford going to the Gulf. It is funny that still all those states, who didnt have any communism, look up at the Kerala model as they still struggle to even get anyway near to the Keralan educational, health and wage standards. Even now, the American following Central government is only able to guarantee rs.75 a day, for its Rural employment guarantee scheme. And land acquisition is impossible in Kerala as the whole state is like a large village or an extended town. There may not be any other community in the whole world where more than 70% of the people owns the land they live in. Add to the above the fact that Keralites have a horrible work culture, when they are in their own state.
Perhaps the best illustration of the situation in Kerala today lies in the thread above. i couldn't help notice that almost everyone, including myself, is writing from another part of India or abroad (including a sizable contingent from the middle east). The reason why Kerala politicians can get away with their decadent policies is due to the absence of educated and broadminded people in the voting population.Its a vicious cycle. Educated people leave kerala in search of jobs and hence don't vote. The remaining population elect leaders who thrive on "union" and so called "poor man" politics leading to more economic decay and sending more young people outside Kerala.At this rate, soon the resident population of kerala will be a potent mix of unionists, goverment employees, thugs and retirees. Only God can sav Kerala then.
SS Nair, Bangalore, India
Soutik Biswas comments are not fully substantiated. He is correct in telling that Kerala is the most inclusively developed economy in Asia. It is a financial laggard only from the governmental revenue collection point of view. The population per se is economically advanced.Countryside in Kerala will have one of the best rural housing infrastructure. Even the ownership of four whelers, two wheelers, premium consumer electronics and appliances etc, Kerala should be ranked on top of the more industrialised states of India.The daily wage of some category of labourers will be equal to the monthly wage for such labour in other parts of the country.The quality of overall policing is ensuring that people are having a more peaceful living as compared to many of the developed states or nations. This will be the only place in India where you will find elected representatives and even ministers walking around with public without much of personal security! The major reason for the poor state of Kerala finances is the lack of will from successive governments to build sufficient physical infrastructure which would have helped the proliferation of industries. Major portion of government revenues goes into paying of salaries and pension of employees, many of the positions are created just to cater to the political constituency of the ruling party. The political leaders hitherto were people grown up their career ladder on the success of mass agitations, most of the times violent and destructive, needs to give way to younger people with exposure outside Kerala. Also the need of the hour is to get more people from different professions into politics.
The article is indeed an eye opener but unfortunately it will not open the eyes of the concerned people there! I happened to work there as the General Manager of a GOI's premier public sector undertaking and I have first hand experience of the situation there. Average person is well ware of his minutest rights but just does not bother about his obligations and responsibilites. All responsibilites are supposedly to be taken care of by the management of the company,central and state governments in that order and that accounts for the vociferous decry of any privatisation or private entrepreneurship.Yet another aspect is the utter disregard to face facts and twisting the same or spreading false information especially by the militant and competing trade unions to suit their unjust ends. When confronted they simply state that its all done for the success of the union/party! They fail to understand the simple fact that unless wealth is created through sustained hard work,I t just cannot be distributed!
VL Xavier, India
A very good and balanced article about my home state. Kerala has a lot of potential, however the attitude of the people must change. I remember recounting about the "communist workers strikes" as well as the work ethics in Kerala to a Chinese colleague and he replied that Keralities were "lazy people" and not real communists. A relative of mine who owns a rubber estate in Tamil Nadu said that the work in the estate went very well till the fateful day he decided to hire a fellow malayali. To those who blame the Portugese, Dutch and the English for the woes in Kerala, I would like to point out that the states of Travancore and Cochin were ruled by their own maharajahs and not by the Europeans. In fact, Travancore was the only kingdom in India to defeat an European power and get away with it in the long term. Information from any good history book on Kerala (recommended: A survey of Kerala History by Prof. Sreedhara Menon) would show that the trade of spices flourished during the time of the European traders and that the Dutch were the first to instruct the locals in scientific cultivation of the spices and coconut. female infanticide and foeticide is virtually unknown in Kerala (maybe some tourist guides tell such stories to get a few extra rupees), and generally speaking, except for the right-wingers from all religions, normal Keralities believe in a "live and left live" policy. This is one of the very few places in the world where a Jewish congregation existed without any problems whatsoever. Christianity came here even before it reached the UK. The Hindu kings were patrons of the Christian and Muslim places of worship as well (for example: tax free land donated for the construction of the St. Thomas churches and the Cheraman Perumal mosque). In some communities in the past, the women had the right to divorce and remarry or practice polyandry without any stigma attached. think that the reason for the good condition that the Kerala has is due to: . the foresight and the generosity of the maharajahs of Travancore and Cochin who started many reforms2. the efforts of the Christian missionaries who instrumental in initiating the maharajahs to start these reforms (like the abolition of slavery, abolition of many unfair taxes, establishment of schools, colleges and hospitals), 3. efforts of local reformers (like Vaikunda Swamikal, Chattampi Swamikal and Sree Narayana Guru) 4. tireless work of the communists who, with the land reform act and the education programmes of the 1980s, managed to make sure that the land was owned by 90% of the Keralites instead of a minority. However if Kerala wants to progress, she must be willing to move away from her past glories and marxism and move into the competitive world where hard work is a must.
Though I appreciate the article written on Kerala by Mr Biwas, this is the third consecutive article he has written on a state which he has obviously visited recently. I look forward to the articles & reports put forward by Mr Biswas. But India is a very large country with many things happening in different parts of the country. So Mr Biswas, may we please move on from Kerala to other topics in India as well??
S Basu, Delhi, India
How can one call a state a developed one when the population will starve to death if the highways from the neighbouring states are closed indefinitely. Kerala depends on the states across the borders for vegetables grain chicken, eggs and milk. How can one call Kerala developed when only advertisement seen are for gold and silk and the longest queue is in front of booz shops and where the party workers (otherwise jobless ) are given the chance to vent their frustration on their fellow keralites once in a month in the name of bundh and hartal. Vivekananda war right. And no Malayali will ever say so. He suffers from a strange infliction called "gulf syndrome" The only answer to bring sanity to Kerala is to vote the communist party out for ever to remove the stranglehold on the malayalees.
Great Article about a very true situation! Communism work well when there is natural resource because it is just wealth re distribution. Forget about setting up factories in Kerala try building a house and you will know how much fun it is.
Satish Devadas, India
Living in Kerala, I fully understand the so called "Kerala conundrum". ust for eg: in the place I live hartals (Striking work) are so common that it has almost become a way of life. Literally, just a handful of people are enough to call for a strike and the whole town will grind to a stand still. Nobody feels safe to go out on a 'strike day' as it is highly likely that they can get stranded anywhere in between their home and place of work. Work ethics is something not many have heard about here and definitely not anyone is interested in. Just to sight an example : for many many years there was a system called as "noku coolie" near cochin port. This was a name given to the money paid to the "official head load workers" for allowing to load and unload ones own stuff in their "jurisdiction". In other words, a customer has to pay his own labourers who would unload or load the stock from or to the ship/truck and also pay the same amount of money to these "official labourers" for just allowing somebody else to work in their "area". It is not that customers don't want the official people to do their job, but the reality is they wouldn't do it simply because they are getting money for sitting in the official place and looking at others working their job and enjoying the "noku coolie which literally means money being paid for seeing others work" at the cost of the customer. Such is the work ethics of the communist rule! Though the UN parameters may have been achieved, in reality there are no super markets, big brands trying to sell consumer products, big movie theatres all because not many are courageous enough to risk losing the investment because of the working class problems. The unemployment is only natural looking at the industrial scene in the state.
Another main reason for Kerala's bad economic condition is the Central Government's apathy to Kerala. All the tax from Kerala's exports, the cash crops and sead food, and tourism goes to the centre. But Kerala do not get even Good National Highways or railways in return.
Vineesh K, India
I am 78 years old, lucky to have experienced living and working in all continents. The BBC story is all truth; sadly, over the years, mediocrity has gained the upperhand here. (Fareed Zakaria's fears in action!). Even this BBC story will be violently shouted out as a conspiracy, since our ability to absorb larger perspectives have been lost. Govt revenue collection revolves around lotteries and more lotteries, Kerala Shopping Festivals (where consumables produced outside the state figure 95 pct.) monopoly selling of liquor, and now selling river silt. And we have a finance minister with a doctorate from Columbia .
KSC Nair, Kerala India.
The biggest problem faced by the state is unemployment among the educated. The quality of education imparted even in prestigious institutions is not up to the mark. The students coming out of most of the institutions are not employable. teaching is in shambles. The direct payment system is eroding much money - teachers are appointed by managements, sacrificing quality to suit their needs and paid by government. we have to enforce strict quality control in the selection of teachers. only second rate students are opting for science and social science graduation and post graduation. This has to reversed. Talented students should be attracted to teaching profession.
Culture is undoubtedly the most significant driver of performance anywhere and every where.Kerala state promotes a selfish culture which has its rooting in the much talked about "high literacy." Keralites are highly literate but ( sadly ) not really educated. Literacy without education is a potent weapon for self destruction. And herein lies the tragedy of Kerala. Literacy breeds selfishness unlike education which encourages self lawlessness. Literacy promotes greed and makes one use his head to manipulate against the call of the conscience and go for what is urgently correct in the short term,...s against education which inspires one to tap into ones heart to obey the call of the conscience and go for what is fundamentally correct, for the majority of the people in the longer term. Literacy makes one conscious of his own rights while education makes one conscious of his own responsibilities. The misery Kerala is facing today is the consequence of this skewed education system backed up by an equally UNWISE parenting pattern at the nuclear family levels. To add fuel to the fire Kerala was also blessed with heavy remittances from abroad which has made the typical Keralite staying back in the state a lazy parasite. 24/7 bandhs , hartals, aggressive unionism, nokku kooli, etc are a result of this laziness. Unless we make our roots strong with powerful education at the family, social as well as school levels, it would be difficult to find an escape route out of this man made mess that the state is finding itself in.
Tomy P Tharian, India
I like to add that though the state govt. struggles to mobilise resources for development and welfare programs, the people are much more affluent. Instead of starting own factories and business which are export oriented within state, which has limited scope due to land shortage and high population density, it also makes sense for people to go elsewhere to work and bring back their earning. Another area to look at is to rejuvinate the much neglected agriculture sector, to reduce reliance on other states for food and consumables. An urgent study on how to boost state revenue other than liquor taxes (currently about 40% of state revenue) is required.
Kerala's problems are politicized. They get interfere from beginning until they make sure no developments are taking place. Current government is the example of that. When the world is moving forward, Kerala is moving backward. Why? People has to wake up and stop following nonsense political leaders. Malayalee's living Kerala won't see the troubled keralam until they look at it from out side world. STOP following nonsense party leaders
Being a Keralite born and brought up outside the state, my experiences of Kerala are limited to the few vacations spent there. My experiences and interactions, though are very similar to the article and kudos for thise brilliantly researched work. However one thing I have observed, is though the state is very active politically, at a national level the state seems almost absent politically. One always hears about development project, be it roadways, highways, expressways, railways etc and all sorts of major infrastructure projects funded centrally for other states except Kerala, and one almost never hears of any protest from Kerala inspite of this stepmotherly treatment. I often wonder why?
Kerala would have been God's Own Country if there is a good political system. The left government is spoiling the state. Even though we boast of 100% literacy, the IT minister has not even passed 10th standard. This is the ill fate of all the Keralites. We the young generation who are highly qaulified professionals does not have job in Kerala and are supposed to be ruled by dump ministers. Whenever new inititives are brought in by congress government it will be defeated by the opposition party and the same happens vice versa. Political parties are least bothered about the people, but are more concerned about their own personal and growth of party. This attitude has to be changed. Kerala is the best state in India, spolied by the politicians.
Ambish Jacob, India
The matrilineal system has by and large done good for the state and women have been at the forefront of change in Kerala.The cultural ethos of Shankaracharya (Kaladi), reforming zeal of christianity and the trade linked version of Islam are also important factors in the development of the state.A deep respect for nature (silent valley) and the ayurvedic system also contribute to a more holistic lifestyle.I would disagree however with Dr Georges comments that there are no big dreams in Kerala. A society that looks after its elders with respect and dignity is a laudable aim. The nursing tradition of Kerala has demonstrated that as human beings it is the care and love that we share with an ageing population (not in nursing homes/care of the elderly) that we demonstrate our humanity and no amount of material wealth can ever replace the family care of the elderly.
Rajiv, United Kingdom
It is ironic that the men and women of this lush green and beautiful state have to go the deserts of the Middle East (with their appalling work environment) to earn a decent livelihood. Even China with their communist doctrine does better for its citizens than does Kerala. A sad commentary on the state of affairs. Unions contributed to this mess. There is no MNC there nor is there any major manufacturer. They left in droves.
These are facts. Some of our plus points are becoming a liability. A society, which is more concerned about their rights rather than their duties. Politicians with one agenda 'to make money' rather than contributig their skills to the society.A consumer state and a gold mine for MNC's. All makes 'Gods Own country' to a Devils own country. Unless a radical cahnge happens we are going in to deep trouble. It is shame for all Keralites that we are again in BBC for a wrong reason.
Abraham, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The main reason for Kerala's development apart from other parts of India is the land reforms and the radical trade unionism. For the downtrodden in Kerala it is a boon not a bane.As a result, the have nots prior to land reforms, that is the land less tenants and farm labours were able to educate their children even up to matriculation. Gulf boom benefited the newly educated.
M.R. Unnikrishnan, India
What needs to be analysed more critically is change in agriculture practices that Kerala adopted going for Rubber plantation that threatens its own food security. Further, we need to understand political vendetta that is happening in the state between the Left and Right wings leading to worst killings, some say, as 'political killing'. State youth have lost direction and have no role in shaping either politis, society or economy. Much popularised role of the 'Gulf Economy' witnessed its limits where originaly people have no stake in the society other than taking care of old aged people back home or for holiday homes. we need to analyse entire situation from the social development perspective rather than just economists'. Kerala society as a whole needs to be examined not only from the utilitarian and capability perspective rather from sustainable, humane, inclusive social development perspective.
Pradeep K. Sharma, India
I am an aspiring politician and this article is a good lesson for me. In my opinion this problem of "pressure groups advancing particular vested interests" is the main reason pulling back the development through out India. Invariably all the Govts. at the federal and state level try to woo the attention of voters by dividing them into packets based on religion and caste. All the Govts. so far has made Democracy in India as a big farce.
Hari Krishna, India
The problems arises due to migration of leadership, entrepeneurship and a corrupt political system that leaves little room for the best, brightest and honest.
Color Grower, Canada
I am a Keralite residing Dubai. I believe Kerala's backwardness of economy is mainly due to unwelcome attitude of outside investment, even from NRK (Non-resident Keralites). The over- politicized society always concerned about their rights, especially labor-unions. It is very easy to close a business establishment in Kerala due labor disputes. So no-body want to take the risk by investing in Kerala, while the neighboring state Tamil Nadu is somewhat safe-haven for Investors and many MNCs including auto-giants like Hyundai, Volkswagen etc. have manufacturing facility there. Even having high quality labor, Kerala lacking the absence of better service or manufacturing industries. While Keralites shining all-over the world, they don't have an opportunity to shine their home state. The communist governments, somewhat helped to maintain social equality is the main hindrance to outside investment and economic-development.
Shihabudheen, Dubai, UAE
It is incorrect to say that Kerala has/had a matrilineal society. One of its communities, the Nairs, had a matrilineal system of succession half a century ago. They did not constitute the majority.
Roy Mathew, India
As a Keralite working in SAUDI Arabia I agree with the work culture of Malayalee. At his home town he will not work only talk politics but the same person once in the Gulf he works like a dog for a pittance of salary compared to Gulf standards, loses his health and goes back frustrated as his aims are still unfullfilled and loses his family contacs. It is a lonely end for the common Gulfie. The politics of the stae has spoiled the basic agricultural foundqations.It will never recoup from the present rut.
FAKHRUL, saudi arabia
In 1984, when I was in ABP and working for Sunday we planned a photo feature on KERALA. The famed photographer Raghubir Singh was to do the photo shoot . I accompanied him and taking his style of 'actual things happening' it was quite a travel through the state .... I was awed by the rich resources of the land and high literacy .... many spoke ... See more English on the road side .... I came to know about its recent plight from the writings of the Noble Laureate Amartya Sen and was quite taken aback ....ps:the feature appeared in Sunday Magazine and it was latter published as a book from Thames & Hudson.
Aloke Kumar, India
Thanks for your article. I am part of the Kerala diaspora that is also disgusted with the malaise that has overcome the state while neighboring states such as Tamil Nadu are advancing at a frenetic pace. We have all the ingredients to attract industries and investments but the labor unions scare everyone away with their strikes and demonstrations. I was recently in Kerala and was shocked at the corruption and crime that is prevalent there. My idyllic memories of swaying coconut trees and lush green paddy fields have given way to incidences of crime and greed. The politicians have to create avenues for creating employment and infrastructure to bring us abreast of the twenty-first century.
Valsan Abraham, USA
Dr George hit the nail on the head: "Society has lost its capacity to set collective goals." That's exactly why East Asian countries have done quite well, while South Asia lags behind. We in the West should take notice: when economic competition ceases to be mutually beneficial and becomes a zero-sum game, everybody looses. The path of sustainable success is a balance of factional interest and common good, and Kerala is too focused on factional interest.
Brendan, Boston, USA
Kerala's fate lies in the political apathy of both the people and the various political parties. Their main concern has shifted from development to attaining a seat of power that increasing seems to be nothing more than a chair placed neatly above everyone else's. It's a pity that the governments whether they be communist or the congress refuse to bring in major industrial development by bending down to the whims and fancies of every trade union or group that raises some issue as their vested interest may be affected.
Mathew George, India
This conundrum can be solved really quickly, there has to be severe un-politicising of the people. CPI, Trade unions and marginal left wing political parties need to brought down. Central Thiruvanthapuram is protest central on any given day of the week, it is such a potential turn-off for investors. Larger investors, of which there are many, need assurances that the wildcat strikes and harthals will not occur at all. Also as an ex-pat it is quite refreshing to see the same old shops and stalls still open and working 20 years after I left my home city of Thiruvanthapuram. Kerala for me has a charm which very few places in India or the rest of the world have. It has been the hidden gem of Indian tourism, such a shame that its natural beauty has not been utilised to empower the people.
Krishnan, United Kingdom
Your informative article on Kerala ommitted to mention Sri Narayana Guru and the effecs of his guidance and inspiration in reforming the oppressive caste sysytem in Malabar in the early part of the 20th Century. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Narayana_Guru. Sri Narayana Guru was a home-grown 'social missionary' who deserves to be remembered.
M.G. GALBRAITH, UK
This is very disappointing. Since first reading about Kerala in school, I had been very excited about Kerala's successes with education and social programs. As we in the US deal with how to make health-care more inclusive, we really look for encouragement from other successful systems. I hope Kerala manages to fuse inclusive development with economic success!
K Jones, US
"All this happened because of the region's early trading connections with the West " Really ? I guess it would be too much to ask for a balanced write-up when one is writing for the BBC. Kerala's social progress as a benefit of colonialism. Good one indeed. PATHETIC
Manoj PIllai, USA
The facts that quoted in this report are absolutely right and being a Keralian I'm very much frustrated about the present social functioning of the state. Over 70% of bureaucrats are lazy, corrupted and have no commitment to the society. And the 20% are forced to do the guilty. The politicians are not at all active with their duties . Their commitments only rests in files and active only in press conference its not coming to the reality.the common man allowed all this to happened .How could we tolerat all this? We must reform the social strategy to rule. I wish this report could able to make the higher archie rethink for the good .
Manoj Mohan, India
Having lived in Kerala for many years and being a fairly regular visitor, I think I am in a position to question the people of the state about how they too lack drive and enthusiasm. Be it tourism or industry, the common man (and woman) of Kerala has not shown inspiration or (an individual) drive to succeed or innovate. One can't blame the government for this. Not now.
The trouble with investing money in Kerala is akin to the one faced in Bengal. The strong communist sentiment across people means that trade unions and labour unions are very powerful anti-business lobbies. Thus, it becomes very difficult for big business to invest there. Similar to W.Bengal, where the Tata Group had to leave it's Nano manufacturing plant due to political upheavals.
Nice article provides an overview of current issues in Kerala, for me the core of the issue is "over politicized nature of the society". It has reached a situation where anything and every thing remain guided by the political interest and not towards common good. The credibility of all political parties, religious organisations, remain open to question. For example, a simple transfer request of government employee to the land acquisition for national highway is rooted in political interest, even worse the old change agents like the Christian church and academia are taking sides with political parties. Sort of a situation where state administration, religious leaders, NGOs, academia... spending more time and energy in pushing their political interest leading to limited time(also interest) in delivering their respective roles!
Kurian Thomas, from Kerala, living in Hong Kong
you have done a great job revealing the grave reality The Gods Own country is facing. An important point to note is that due to the high literacy rate , people of the state are not willing to do any other job that doesn't suit their "qualification" and after White collar jobs only . This is a major reason for the unemployment and th subsequent diminished development.
Dr. Anees Kurikkal, India
The likes of Sashi Tharoor entering politics in the state does give some hope that the state will see some serious progress in future but more educated people have to come into politics and change the rotten political atmosphere in the state. It is a state which has a lot of potential...! Signing off hoping that some day things will change.
Arun Kottol, United States
nice article. proud to be a keralite. at the same time we have to do more. i think we keralite should have good work ethics that we are following while we are outside kerala,ignore destructive critisism, encouarge healthy work atmosphphere. select our leaders according to their personality, ignore the demands of different communal groups.
Nazer karakkadan, saudi arabia
Interesting story. Sounds much like Greece.
Wolfgang Knorr, UK
Having fulfilled a life-long wish to visit, in 2007, this unique area of India with its beauty, political and economic dilemmas I could see how their status was shaped by their seeming desire for government to bring them prosperity. It is not individual enterprise unfettered by regulations that they desire, rather it is this top-down mentality that has trapped them. This is certainly demonstrated by their support for the local Communist Party. I can happily report that poor high school students have done a better job fulfilling the state's desire for an IT (information technology) society by setting up internet cafes all around Kerala on their own. There is a lesson to be learned. The market place has many lessons for all of us.
Franklin Loehde, Canada
Oh dear, here we go again. As with Scandinavia and a few other countries, a state with mostly excellent social indicators is asked to reform because it does not fit the 'normal' economic model (and bankers aren't making enough money out of it). And who are interviewed - economists. Why do we always assume that economics is the final measure of everything?
Jim Underwood, Australia
Kerala is an Indian state - where things are over politicised! Malayalees ( Keralites ) are well known to get into social discussions and it all turns out to bee all fluff - no action. Keralites have to be thankful their people are still able to work as expatriates in the Gulf and Kerala survives on these remittances. Keralites are now being subjected to pressures in the Middle East and have now have started looking out for avenues that offer better prospects in the other Indian states. The state's situation is mainly because of the mindset of the Malayalees and also because of the limited resources in the state.
Kerala is the market place where the finished goods are shipped in, sold and the money taken out of the state. No money is invested or recirculated to create meaningful employment or sustainable growth in the fundamentals of a sound economy. It's truly a "money order" economy!
Koshy m tvelil, USA
It's a socialist state so most people are relatively happy with their lot and general standards are fair to good. Like the UK in the 1970s, folk are struggling but part of a cohesive society. Or Scotland which rejected Thatcherism 100% during the 1980s...a place which rather a lot of English people are moving to now they've made a nice wedge in the South and are looking to get the heck away from because it's too violent in England. Kerala, one of the safest states in India has seen an increase in violence in recent years so your free market nirvana is on its way.
Great article Mr. Biswas. Thanks for the various viewpoints shared for the reader to make their own judgement, while pointing to the perils of Kerala's 'money order economy'. Some points to note for Kerala's bureaucrats that claim education becomin a strange liability and the vast majority of educated unemployed have to go elsewhere for work. That does appear a stretch. The education makes these people marketable elsewhere as much as in Kerala. Let the bureaucrats not throw away the baby with the bath water. As you point, no manufaturing base, communist governments, and union presence have really been the bane of Kerala. The money order economy was keeping things bouyant as the union goons and the commies got fat, dumb and happy, to use a cliche. Point being, complacency killed initiative. We can tie that albatross around anyone's neck, but at its core, it is the planners who should be fired for taking their eye off the ball. Probably some London School of Economics alumni :! -)
Interesting and insightful article, thank you for the summary of Kerala, the state it's in right now. I would like to bring the author's attention to:
In para 3: men outnumbering women because of female foeticide, internecine caste politics.
And para 4:In contrast to India's more prosperous states, like Punjab and Haryana, Kerala can boast a very healthy gender ratio - women outnumber men here.
Leela Panikar, Hong Kong
Kerala has yet another problem which is not mentioned in this article. From a State with perfect communal harmony it has gradually transformed into a State that is beginning to show signs of inter-communal discord. The established religions have to take the blame for this unfortunate transformation. Mathew
Mathew Zacharias, New Zealand
Part of the problem is that most of the working Keralites are out of the state or overseas somewhere, sending money home and still having to pay taxes and charges when buying property while there are a few who choose to stay back in the state lazy and giving into things like alcoholism and just living with the communist party and on strikes while rarely deciding to do productive work. With a conditions like that, even money that get's sent back and used for taxes are often misused or needed for things like bribing officials to actually get things done....
Vineet Kuruvilla, USA
"All this happened because of the region's early trading connections with the West ..." That's a bit of a joke, really. Discredits the rest of the article. Unless, of course, "West" was meant to include Ancient Rome, Arabia, Persia and what is today the "Southern Europe". Kerala's social strength lies in its immigrant diversity. The rest follows.
Cherry G. Mathew, Keralam, India
I am perplexed by the manner in which the govt.has evolved and there are some basic laws that need to be changed to attract investments in big industries. Amongst the main reasons are the squatter laws and right of overseas Indians or absentee landlords to be be protected, This laws are itself a hindrance to any potential investors. There are many more laws and incentives needed to bring entreprenuers and investors to Kerala. Remember Kerala has over the past 50 years been exporting brains overseas. It is time to bring some of these Brains back.
Mathew De Silva, Australia
There is one problem in your story. The Kerala economy has passed out of the stagnation phase from 1987-88 coinciding paradoxically with the introduction of economic reforms in the country(though majority in the state are against the LPG regime). Our growth rates are now higher than those of the country . We are now fifth in per capita income among the major states, partly due to the relatively small growth of the population. My argument is that the growth is to little and too late to tackle the success induced second generation problems which are similar to those of advanced countries. Secondly, the pattern of growth largely in the service sector does not increase the revenue base of the state as some of the fast growing services like finance and communication are taxable only by the federal government. Thirdly, the growth is still a jobless growth.
Dr KK George
Wow! six articles about Kerala on BBC within two months... something is fishy here. Whats going on folks? Seems like a planned attempt to malign kerala. Elephants, alcohol, prayer, economy...whats next?
Sam Pony, USA