Kerala is a tropical paradise that lies to the south of Indian peninsula. It has green vegetation, plenty of sandy beaches, natural beauty, and an educated citizenry. Every year it sends thousands of skilled manpower to the Persian Gulf for employment and thus received billions of rupees as remittances. Of late, tourism has been the state’s mainstay, whereas it used to be agriculture in the past. Tourist resorts are everywhere and you can see a lot of foreigners enjoying the warmth and the sun when it is bitterly-cold winter in Europe and North America. I was born in this state and am back from a short visit there.
However, the prosperity that should have automatically come with a high rate of income hasn’t yet arrived in the state. Infrastructure projects are languishing, roads are still narrow, an airport which was to start operation is still entangled in a bureaucratic muddle. The reason is political interference at all levels. The state is a beehive of left-wing and centrist politicians who like to browbeat each other in the administration of the state. Thus, an airport – near my home in Kerala – which was sanctioned by the Communist parties when it was in power is now languishing because the centrist Congress government cannot make progress because of political interference. There are strikes and work stoppages every month, and the standard of education has gone down. The agricultural economy has suffered because of the rampant increase of farm labour rates (the rate here is Rs 500 per day compared to an average of Rs 300 in other states) over the past several years rendering paddy fields fallow and overgrown with weeds. The burgeoning wage and pension accounts have depleted the coffers of the state and there isn’t much left for social development or medical care.
Still, on a primary level, the state continues to compare well with others of the country because of foreign remittances of its expatriates. Literacy is high and close to 90 per cent in most districts. Life expectancy is 75 years compared to 65 in other states. It has a functional medical care system. Tourism has contributed to its prosperity as can be seen in the rapid growth of this nascent industry. So, all in all, the state limps on, on its way to progress or “vikasanam” as it is called in Malayalam. Yes, “Vikasanam” is the most-touted word on every tongue in this green tropical paradise, which lies like a shining green emerald on the south-western coast of India.