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Kerala Model Development

Kerala has been hailed by experts allover the world for having pursued a unique model of development in the third world during the later half of the 20th century. Over the past 60 years, the development strategy being followed in Kerala seems to be succeeded in overcoming endemic hunger and deprivation. Kerala has achieved high level of physical quality of life despite poor economic growth. With a total population of around 35 million, Kerala has assured its people better social security and quality of life as compared to the other states of India including the more wealthiest ones and, in fact, most third world countries. Indeed, in terms of indicators such as literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality, and fertility rates, Kerala is not only ahead of the third world countries, but on par with many developed countries.


What was more striking about Kerala among scholars was that, Kerala has achieved all these landmarks without undergoing any kind of large scale industrialization and agricultural/green revolutions. There has neither been a spectacular economic development and GDP growth in Kerala. Kerala Model began to find place in development literature, rather uncritically in college textbooks. However, by the early 1990s itself, some scholars began to express doubts about the efficacy of Kerala development model. They have pointed out problems such as economic stagnation, growing fiscal crisis, high rates of unemployment and socio-political atrophy.


At the turn of the millennium, Kerala’s development paradoxes became ever more apparent. While the social development indicators for which Kerala is well known such as literacy, infant mortality and fertility rates continued to improve, fiscal crisis also began to grow. In addition to that, scholars point out to the problems of marginalization in Kerala’s development experience. Groups such as fishing communities, Adivasis, Dalits and women are getting marginalized in one way or another under the development processes. Now it has been established that, while Kerala’s development model has continued to serve the people well, there is a downside to the model which needs to be addressed vary seriously.


During the colonial period itself, the routes of Kerala’s development model has been laid down. Progressive states that initiated and implemented appropriate social policies and the community organizations that built autonomous institutions had formed the essential facets of that development process. These community organizations drew their strength from caste/community based social reform movements which contributed to the creation of community resources. These organizations also benefited from a state which was becoming increasingly responsive to their demands. Under their initiatives, developed modern institutions such as schools, colleges, hospitals, commercial and industrial enterprises etc. All of this proved to be important social capital in turn. Particularly significant was the provision of education to the lower caste groups in the 20th century Along with the growth of a mobilized population and demand groups conscious of their entitlements, there was the development of a democratic state that responded to peoples’ demands through public provisioning and security and the creation of a relatively extensive welfare state by third world standards. In this process, both the state and the dominant political culture i.e. public action itself developed in adversarial relationship to capitalism and entrepreneurship. In course of time, social movements in Kerala became integrated into and even appropriated by the dominant political society, especially the left political movement as it established its hegemony. Focus on class organization and the hegemonic class discourse espoused by the left had adversely affected many groups such as women, Dalits and Adivasis by marginalizing their organizations and issues specific to them. It is also argued that the specific type of public action had led to the reduction of certain already accumulated social capital, most notably in entrepreneurship, community involvement and investments in education and health.


To sum up, scholars have pointed out that there are chiefly three weaknesses to the specific development model that has been historically evolved in Kerala. In the first plane, there has been a growing imbalances between the social development and slow economic growth. The two important consequences of this imbalance is the mounting fiscal crisis and high rates of unemployment. In the second plane, there is the so called outlier phenomenon. This is the marginalized situation of the Adivasis, Dalits and women who have been excluded from the benefits of Kerala model development. In the third plane, Kerala’s peculiar kind of public action had hindered the growth of social capital. This adversely affect the development potential of the state and consequently led to the shrinking of social action.

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