By Jeevan Vipinachandran
Is the Kerala model of development all its’ cracked up to be?
Kerala is well known across much of the world as ‘God’s Own Country’. However not all is as it seems…
Malayalee’s take pride in the genuine achievements of the state, including the high levels of literacy and women’s empowerment. Many people from Kerala tend to overlook the many drawbacks that it has.
From a very high suicide rate, to rampant alcoholism to political violence, there is a negative aspect that is often overlooked by Malayalees- to no-one’s advantage. The dependence that the state has on foreign, especially Gulf remittances will make things difficult for Kerala in the near future.
QUENCHING THE THIRST: Queue in front of beverage shops in Kerala are a norm
For too long Keralites have emphasised their state’s high literacy rate and simply ignored much of the downsides like high unemployment. While Kerala’s human development indicators are some way ahead of most Indian states this will not last forever.
There is a lack of industrialisation which fuels high unemployment, not helped by the Luddite mentality of many of Kerala’s socialist politicians. The lack of political diversity is not helpful either.
In Kerala there is Left wing and more Left wing, a situation which gives way to pervasive strikes, hartals and general disruptions which further hamper economic development. Unsurprisingly, foreign companies do not want to invest in manufacturing in Kerala.
This leads to a situation of high unemployment. It is not unusual to see large crowds of young men sitting around doing nothing when driving through the streets there. This can lead to negative consequences such as high levels of alcoholism, as well as a greater exodus of talented and capable Malayalees to areas outside India such as the UK and the US.
The only reason Kerala appears to be more developed than some Indian states is because of the billions in remittances by Malayalees living outside India. However one of the main sources of remittances, the Persian Gulf, is proving to be a double edged sword.
It is an increasingly unstable region with a tendency to develop ties to Islamic fundamentalism.
Already Malayalees living in the Gulf are coming back radicalised. This is dangerous for Indian security and for the reputation of Malayalees living abroad more generally. Kerala has long been known as one of India’s most tolerant lands.
JOBS: Migrant workers today constitute the primary labour force of Kerala in sectors
The other weakness of dependence on Gulf remittances is that the region is increasingly geopolitically unstable. Yemen is in the midst of a civil war that grows worse by the day. There are tensions between Iran and the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia. A major crises in the Persian Gulf would cause serious problems for the economy of Kerala which is diverse in its’ income sources.
TOUGH LIFE: Hoardes of Malayalees are returning from the Gulf after the economic and political crisis.
A major Middle East conflagration would be catastrophic for Kerala. Given the state of the Middle East now, perhaps dependence on the region for remittance income would not be such a good idea in the long run.
What can be done by Kerala leaders to decrease this potentially negative dependence and lack of economic diversity? For starters a more mature political approach that avoids hartals and strikes would be very helpful. No one will invest in a state where it is not possible to work more than a few days a week at most.
The rest of India is catching up to or advancing ahead of Kerala on issues such as investment, infrastructure and industrialisation. It is a matter of time before states such as Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh overtake Kerala on nearly all metrics of development. Focusing in infrastructure development is a good way to help develop the state while providing greater employment.
Kerala has many great things going for it, from very intelligent people to great scenery. However it needs to diversify its’ economy and income sources to stand a chance of competing in the world in the long run. Malayalees have done amazing things abroad. They can do it at home too!
Jeevan Vipinachandran is a political analyst and writer, specialising in political violence and counter-terrorism. He graduated from LSE with a Masters in Comparative Politics: Conflict Studies. He has written for the Conservative Party, Future Foreign Policy and the Times of Israel. Regular updates can be found on Twitter on @jeevanvc and www.jeevanvc.com.