Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Aug 16, 2004
Industry & Economy
Columns - Random Walk
Bane of over-politicisation
A RECENT conclave of Chief Ministers in Delhi discussed a report on `The State of the States', which ranked Indian States on 49 parameters in eight categories, including agriculture, the consumer market, education, law and order, health, infrastructure, the investment environment, and prosperity.
Predictably enough, Kerala found creditable mention for law and order, health and education. But by 2020, the report predicted, Mizoram will replace Kerala as the most literate State. Kerala will, however, retain its top ranking in life expectancy and infant mortality indicators.
Significantly, the ranks of the top five big States this year are the same as last year. The only gainers are Maharashtra, which has moved up one notch to the sixth spot, and Madhya Pradesh, which improved its ranking by one slot to move up to number 12. Bihar continues to be at the bottom of the table.
By 2020, Pondicherry will replace Goa as the State with the highest per capita income. At the same time, Haryana will replace Punjab as the State with the least number of poor. Maharashtra will continue as the country's largest State economy.
For Kerala watchers, all such analyses leave behind a mixed feeling of congratulatory smugness and frustrated despair - smugness because all the past investments in social and human capital seem to have been correct and appear to be still holding strong, and despair at the sheer intransigence of certain sections of Kerala society in coming to a consensus about taking the State forward industrially and developmentally.
Consider the recent spate of protests and sustained campaign against the proposed expressway project. Or the Pathrakadavu hydroelectric project. Or the postponement of counselling and admissions to the State's professional colleges.
While it cannot be denied that there are some very compelling reasons for doubting the feasibility and even desirability of some of these initiatives, the larger issue that calls for some introspection is the tendency in Kerala to over-politicise all happenings - be they social mishaps, development disasters, industrial investments, entrepreneurial adventures or efforts to spruce up governance.
It is tempting to blame Kerala's politicians for all these ills and particularly for encouraging a culture of politicisation. And, in fact, much of the blame can - and must - be put on them. But politicians do not operate in a social vacuum. On the contrary, they thrive on a mixture of adulation and sycophancy - all readily supplied by unemployed and frustrated youth, increasingly alienated in a consumer society with a great deal of growing crassness.
Evidently, the larger mass of Kerala society - the so-called silent majority - has only encouraged such politics by choosing to remain silent or by emigrating to less taxing climes. Given Kerala's past tradition of strong people's movements and public action, and given the fractious nature of coalition politics, which has come to stay in the State, the prognosis for the State's developmental carcinoma is rather grim.
Benign or malignant? That is the only nuance to be now sorted out. Perhaps as Lee Kuan Yew, now Singapore's Minister Mentor, once said of India, this is the only way one can expect Kerala to grow - not in leaps and bounds, but in zigs and zags.
The writer can be contacted at email@example.com
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