Kerala, Model of Development

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KERALA, MODEL OF DEVELOPMENT Modern Kerala formally emerged as a constituent state of the Indian Union on 1 November 1956, comprising three regions: Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar. The Linguistic Reorganization Committee, which recommended the reorganization of India's states based on the majority's common language, created modern Kerala as a state in which Malayalam was the unifying language. Kerala has 392 miles (631 kilometers) of narrow coast in India's southwest, facing the Arabian Sea. It occupies a narrow but fecund strip of land (1.5 percent of the total land area in the country), supporting 4.5 percent of the nation's population. Beautiful Kerala, called "God's own country," is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.

Kerala, a model for other Indian states, has achieved social and educational development comparable to most Western nations; this achievement is not yet matched by industrial growth or economic development. Its excellent record in education, health, and land redistribution provides a unique case for arguing that the basis for true development is social and human, rather than economic.

As of 2003, Kerala enjoyed a literacy rate of over 90 percent, only slightly higher among males than females. Kerala pioneered equitable land reforms and elected India's first Communist state government by democratic means in 1957. The population growth rate in Kerala is the lowest in India (0.9 percent per annum), competing with China's near zero population growth rate. Population pressure on Kerala's meager land is very high, however, with 819 persons per square mile (the third highest in India). The low level of infant mortality (14 per thousand) is an indicator of the excellent health standards of the population, among both males and females. Life expectancy, averaging over 70 years for males and 75 for females, is the highest in India. The social status of Kerala's women is very high, supported by nuclear families, and Kerala has a high rate of females in the workforce. The state also recorded the lowest rate of child labor in the country. The younger population of Kerala is well trained in both software and hardware programming. Many people born in Kerala work in other parts of India, as well as in the Gulf countries, Europe, and North America. One in four Kerala households has received some of its income from the Gulf states since 1973. Of the total of some 40 million people born in Kerala, more than 8 million were living and working outside Kerala State in 2003.

However, Kerala's high levels of human development are not matched by industrial growth or generation of employment opportunities within the state. The economy became stagnant and nonproductive in many sectors, except tourism. Globalization policies had already affected its traditional industries, such as coir, hand-loomed textiles, and cashew nuts, thereby multiplying the number of unemployed in the state (25 percent in 2003, the highest in India). Nearly 4.2 million people were unemployed, and the proportion of nonworkers (including children, the elderly, and the disabled) in Kerala (68 percent) is higher than the national average (61 percent). The per capita income in Kerala, however, is estimated at 19,460 rupees, compared to 16,047 rupees at the national level.

All the villages and towns of Kerala are electrified and 91 percent of the rural habitations have access to potable water. According to the National Sample Survey, the population below the poverty line constituted only 12.5 percent, the lowest of any state in the country.

At the political level, Kerala has a healthy tradition of bipolar coalition politics in the backdrop of a multiparty system. The Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are the two leading parties. Smaller parties, like the Communist Party of India, the Indian Union Muslim League, the Kerala Congress (M), the Kerala Congress (J), and the Kerala Congress (B), compete for power in the coalitions. The State Legislature has 140 seats, besides 9 seats in Delhi's Rajya Sabha (the Upper "House of the States" in Parliament) and 20 seats in Lok Sabha (the Lower "House of the People").

Though in 2003 54 percent of Kerala's population were Hindus, it had the largest concentraton of Muslims (25 percent) after Jammu and Kashmir. It also had 20 percent Christians and a small but ancient Jewish minority.

Political History

The princely states of Travancore and Cochin were not under the direct control of Britain's paramount imperial power, but the Malabar region was part of the British Raj's Madras presidency. Historically, Travancore led the other regions in terms of social development. Its maharaja welcomed Christian missionaries, who established churches, schools, and colleges, offering a liberal Western education to the masses. The missionaries also pioneered the state's struggles against harsh Hindu practices, including untouchability and slavery. The struggle for responsible government in Travancore and the national freedom struggle in Malabar gave Kerala a galaxy of social and political leaders, known as the "four Ms": maharajas, missionaries, movements, and Marxists.

Kerala's Communist Party transformed itself into a powerful social democratic force, and adapted to India's parliamentary democratic framework. It headed seven coalition state governments, besides its own brief interlude of Communist rule, implementing land reforms and decentralization measures long before other states. High wages for workers and powerful trade unions were also contributions of the Communist Parties in Kerala.

The Kerala model of social development is unique in several respects. Its nearly egalitarian society, positive records in health, education, decentralization, and population planning, and its active coalition system of governing have made the state a vibrant civil society, transforming itself from traditional, ancient feudal roots. Kerala concentrated more on investing in its people rather than in markets. Human resources are the mainstay of its development.

G. Gopa Kumar

See alsoDevelopment Politics


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