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God’s Own Polity

Originally appeared on the NUALS Observer

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one of BJP’s (read Modi’s) key campaign themes was to bring the “Gujarat Model development” all over India. Political opponents, of course, dispute its results, pointing out the abysmal social indicators[1], and pointing out the “Kerala Model of Development” as an alternative.[2] I do not seek to muddle these water again, as the purpose of my article is to analyse how the Kerala Model of Development has resulted in the best HDI Indicators in India, in a state with or little or no industrialization, heavily dependent on Remittances from NRIs and the Service Sector[3], and how this Model is reaching its peak and is tail spinning to a halt.

The Kerala Model of Development is characterised by intensive investment in social welfare/ Education/ Public Healthcare, resulting in low infant mortality, low birth rates, high life expectancy[4], and high literacy.

The Past

The foundation for this was laid in the form of a multitude of Social reformers in the Pre-Independence Days, like Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swamikal, Ayyankali, V.T. Bhattathiripad and innumerable others[5]. This “Kerala Renaissance” heralded by these reformers resulted in high political awareness among the General Population and the permeation of Western Educational Institutions in Kerala.

The Communist Movement in Kerala, meanwhile, gradually acquired considerable strength, and by end of World War II, rivalled the Congress party in strength and support from the public. Things came to a head in October 1946, in the “Punappara – Vayalar Uprising”[6] which lead to death of more than a 1,000. (Unconfirmed/no official statistics).

By the time Kerala was mad out of the Travancore-Cochin Province and the Malabar District of the Madras Presidency, the Undivided Communist Party was the singularly largest party in Kerala. Its political opponents were the Congress – Muslim League alliance (No relation to Jinnah’s League)[7].  In the 1956 State Assembly Elections, Kerala gave the world the first democratically elected Communist Government. Headed by the venerable EMS Namboodiripad, the government initiated a spate of reforms, most important of which was Land Reforms.[8] These reforms antagonized organizations with strong political interest and backing, such as the Nair Service Society, The Muslim League and the Syrian Catholic Church. The political unrest with upheaval in the result of the proposed Kerala Education Bill, 1957, which sought to regulate appointments and conditions of teachers. Salaries of teachers were to be paid through the treasury. There was a provision of takeover of management of educational institutions. The so called “Liberation Struggle” (വിമോചന സമരം) began, which characterised itself as a struggle against “tyranny of the communists”. The Union Government led by Nehru was sceptical of these protests, but he (Nehru) was convinced by Indira Gandhi to use the controversial Article 356 of the Constitution to dismiss the State Government, alleging “breakdown of Constitutional Machinery”[9].  (Funnily enough, the major provisions of the Education Bill came to be implemented by both Congress governments and Communist Governments that succeeded the First EMS ministry.)[10]

The succeeding Pattom Thannu Pillai Ministry and R.Shankar ministry curiously implemented the same reforms purposed by the earlier communist government. The Second EMS ministry (1967-69) however passed the most wide reaching reforms in 1969 which completely eliminated the Feudal relationship that existed between the Landlord and Tenant, and made it a more equitable one.[11] In 1970, as the new Achutha Menon ministry[12] came into power, the “Kerala Model of Development”[13] came into focus, when the new Chief Minister ordered a study on Kerala Economy by KN Raj under the Centre for Development Studies. The recommendations became the cornerstone of the Kerala model of Development, focussing on land reforms, poverty reduction, educational access and child welfare.

Meanwhile the Home Minister of the Achutha Menon Ministry, K Karunakaran, now the undisputed Leader of the Congress State in Kerala, over the course of next 5 years of Political instability in Kerala (1977-1982), formed the United Democratic Front (UDF). In its roof was the Muslim League and Kerala Congress. The first Karunakaran Ministry was in power for 32 days, when he was forced to resign due to the controversy regarding the Rajan case.[14]

The “Leader” was succeeded by AK Antony, whose ministry lasted 550 days before it fell again, and resulted in successively Ministries of CPI and Muslim League under PK Vasudevan Nair and CH Mohammed Koya, both of which failed to last.  The Sixth assembly of 1980-82 also failed to last, the first EK Nayanar Ministry lasted 630 days, and the succeeding Karunakaran Ministry lasted 31 days before it too fell.

(In a parallel to the political stability that existed in Kerala, the first “Gulf Migrations” happened during this time. The newly literate class due to the 1950s and 60s had become the working class. However, Kerala had no major industries and was still primarily an Agricultural Economy. As a result, the youth were forced to move to the “Gulf”.[15])

In the Elections of 1982 however, the UDF was able to win a clear majority and Karunakaran completed his full term. This Government was however, plagued by scams and some controversial decisions, including TM Jacob’s decision to allow private colleges and polytechnics.[16] (Which indirectly has led to the constant issues with State Governments and Private Educational institutions.[17])

The CPI meanwhile, decided in its 1985 Congress that it would support the CPM in a bid to thwart the UDF, and this resulted in the formation of Left Democratic Front.  The 1987 Elections resulted in the first full term EK Nayanar Ministry. Under his ministry, decades of effort, which began in the Education Bill of 1958 came to fruition as Kerala became a fully literate state.[18] Other Programmes such as combined farming, reforms in Public Distribution System and major gains in the power sector.[19] Major Social Welfare Legislations such as the The Kerala Coir workers Welfare Fund Act, 1987, The Kerala Khadi Workers’ Welfare Fund Act, 1989, The Kerala Abkari Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1989, The Kerala Construction workers’ Welfare Fund Act, 1989 were enacted in this period.

Hoping to take advantage of the good will that prevailed for the Communist Government, Early elections were called in 1991. However, due to the assassination of Rajeev Gandhi, Karunakaran Led UDF came into power again. Tarnished by the ISRO Spy Scandal, Karunakaran resigned with one year left. His Bête noir, AK Anthony became the Chief Minister again. This Ministry was also plagued by scandals (including the still ongoing Palmoilen Scandal).  However implemented successful projects to improve infrastructure and the autonomous State Council for Educational research and Training (SCERT) in 1994. [20]

The 1996 Elections hosted[21] EK Nayanar as Chief Minister yet again. This Government implemented the radical “People’s Plan” as a result of which 33% of State Budget was allotted to Local Self Governing Bodies. This resulted in significant improvement of Infrastructure and ensuring Social Security benefits for weaker sections.[22]

This plan has been widely praised[23].  Directly or Indirectly, Kerala’s GDP almost doubled by 2000. [24](Bear in mind, this is also the high day for World Economy, with the Dotcom bubble and Clinton Administration’s surplus budget). Continuing the earlier theme of Social Welfare, Nayanar Government enacted legislations including the Kerala Ration Dealer’s Welfare, Act, 1998, aiming to plug some holes that had occurred over the course of his earlier reforms. The Administration also sought to reform the Higher Educational Sector, with the establishing of Kannur University. [25]

The Election of 2001, was however won by the Congress led UDF, and AK Anthony became Chief Minister. He implemented Unemployment Allowance, prohibited Arrack and brought about steps to encourage tourism[26]. The Government also tied up with the Asian Development Bank, to implement a “Modernization of Government programme”.[27]  After the dismal results of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, AK Antony stepped down, paving way for his former mentee, Oomen Chandy to succeed him, while he later became Defence Minister in UPA-I.

The UDF-LDF back and forth held ground in 2006, when the LDF won a historic Majority, winning a historic 99 seats.  VS Achuthanadan, the original Chief Minister candidate for the 1996 Election, became Chief Minster. At this point, we have reached recent past, with the UDF winning (barely) in 2011 and the impressive comeback of the LDF Government in 2016.

The last UDF Government under Oomen Chandy implemented a diverse variety of infrastructure projects, while also trying to encouraging Technoparks and Startups.

The Present.

On the whole, Kerala’s achievements are remarkable, achieved over the course of continuous investment in social security, welfare and education sectors. These investments resulted in direct benefit to the public. This is also a result of the Economic Policies of LDF and UDF not antagonizing one another until recent times. Stability in Economic policy meant that schemes that were implemented by one were not bamboozled by another. An Example being the Kudambhasree Programme. While the last Nayanar ministry began the project, the succeeding UDF Ministry did not scrap it, rather supported the widely praised project.[28]

However there are various issue that confront Kerala’s Economic Growth and Social Well-being.

  1. Increasing Debt: Kerala’s GSDP to Debt is at an all-time high, with most of the debt maturing in the coming years. A huge chunk of the Government’s expenditure is on pensions, which is set to increase.[29]

  2. Unemployment: Kerala’s Youth are forced, as is 20 years ago, to migrate for viable employment. While the manual labour in the state is done by the ever-growing migrants from North and West India.

  3. Reducing Remittances: Kerala’s economy is heavily dependent on remittances[30], and as the Gulf market loses its lustre, accommodating returning Expatriate Workers will become a head ache. Foreign remittances have reduced, and his should be sign for worry.[31]

  4. Lack of Permeation of Growth in some areas (As observed by me in ) While the social indicators of Kerala are compared to that of a Developed nations, Scheduled Castes and Tribes have been left out.

What is the solution? (Throwback to when Sreesanth proposed the “Gujarat” model for Kerala. Non-Implementable, since we have neither the land, the resources, nor the capital.) The revised Budget of 2016-17 proposes a slew of social welfare measures (Electricity, Housing for all, and so on.[32]) While massively increasing Tax Burden[33]. (Talk about a Tax & Spend Liberal, eh). While Infrastructure Development will be bought under the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB).[34]

There is no lack of thought and research into the subject.[35] One can only hope that the Pinarayi Ministry has hit the right notes to reform the Kerala Model into a durable one. (Gita Gopinath’s Appointment as economic advisor certainly shows that the government is willing to bring in Investment)

To a great future for Kerala!



Ananth Krishna S

III Semester,

NUALS, Kochi

Edited By: Shilpa Prasad.

Further reading

[2] “The Gujurat Middle” by Jean Dreeze, 10 May 2014, updated on 26 May 2014, The Hindu,;

[3] Archived Profile at Wayback of PPP website under Ministry of Finance, India.;

[6]“India’s working class revolt: Punappra – Vayalar and the Communist “Conspiracy” of 1946” by Robin Jeffrey,  Indian Economic & Social History Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, 97-122 (1981),; (Recommended to read)

[7] Ralhan, Om Prakash (1045). Encyclopaedia Of Political Parties, Volumes 33-50. Anmol Publications. p. 13. ISBN 81-7488-865-9ISBN 978-81-7488-865-5.

[8]“The history of trade union movement in Kerala” by  K. Ramachandran Nair, Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment,  Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment in association with Manak Publications, 2006; “Communism in Kerala: A Study in Political Adaptation” by Thomas Johnson Nossiter, University Of California Press, 1992.

[9] Moynihan, Dangerous Place, 41, Godbole,” Public Accountability and Transparency: The Imperatives of Good Governance”, P.  84.(

[10] Indian Planning Commission (2008). Kerala Development Report. New Delhi: Academic Foundation. pp. 63–64ISBN 978-81-7188-594-7.(

[12] The Political climate of Kerala at this point was exceedingly bizarre: C Achutha Menon was a senior leader of the Communist Party of India, while the Leader of opposition was EMS Namboodiripad, erstwhile collegue of Achuta Menon, till the Split of 1964. This led to a situation where the Economic policy of either coalition ( CPI + Congress/CPM) varied little, leading to stability and growth.

[13] Note: The Kerala Model of development emphasised on increasing Tenant rights, increased Government employment, increased spending on education and healthcare. Increasing and retaining Pensions for Government employees, while bringing teachers in Government aided schools in the ambit of Public employment. Affordable healthcare is also a cornerstone of Kerala Model, with Kerala having 330 beds per 1, 00,000 population, the highest in the country. The Midday meal scheme for Schoolchildren (Originally conceptualized by MGR in TN) is also a part. The Education Department’s IT@School, conceptualized in the Third EK Narynar ministry also shines through as a part of this model.( IT@School was introduced to increase E-Literacy and internet access in schools.) The State Government only implemented an unemployment allowance in 2000s. The Government’s Akshaya Scheme, to promote E-Governance has also simplified the use of Government services. The People’s Plan by the Last EK Nayanar Ministry became a huge contributor to the Model as well. The widely acclaimed Kudambhasree mission is now considered to be part of the Kerala Model as well.

[15] Gulf Dream: For Indians The Golden Beaches Still gleamMalayala Manorama Yearbook 1990;

[16] Link in Malayalam, Use google translate,” ചരിത്രത്തിലിടംനേടിയ 1987” (the Historical Milestone of 1987), 10 March 2016,;

[17] “Admission row: Government on a sticky wicket” by G Mahadevan, 28 August 2016, The Hindu,;

[18] Quite a Misnomer though. Kerala Achieved 90% literacy, “considered” to be 100% literacy.

[19] Link in Malayalam, Use google Translate, “സഹതാപം ജയിച്ച 1991; അധികാരം ജനങ്ങളിലെത്തിയ 1996 “, 16 March 2016,;

[20] Available under “Citizen’s Charter” in the SCERT website –;

[21] EK Nayanar was not the original Chief Minsiteral candidate, it was VS Achuthanadan, who lost, as a result of which the State party had to choose between EK Naynar and Susheela Gopalan, urban (and rural) legend being that Susheela lost by one vote. (In reality, she lost because of two abstentions and one cross-vote.   It was the closest any Woman has come to being the Kerala CM)

[23] “ Local Democracy and Development: The Kerala People’s Campaign for Decentralization” By T. M. Thomas Isaac, Richard W. Franke; “Democratic Decentralisation and the Planning Principle:The Transition from Below” By C.P. Chandrasekhar,Centre for Economic Studies & Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University available at:;

[24] “Kerala economy climbs to $23b by 2005”. 31 March 2009.

[25] Evidenced by Legislations: The Malabar University Bill, 1996 (Act 22 of 1996), The Kerala Agricultural University (Amendment) Bill, 1997 (Act 7 of 1997)., The Calicut University (Amendment) Bill, 1997 (Act 2 of 1998)., The Kannur University (Amendment) Bill, 1998 (Act 11 of 1998). Available at;

[31] “Why Kerala not buying cars is something Modi shouldn’t ignore” by By Ruchi Bambha, 23 August 2016, Economic Times,;

[32] “Kerala’s LDF Government goes all out on sops and promises”, Indian Express,  8 July, 2016,;

[33] “Kerala budget: Makaan for all, but roti and kapda to cost more” , Manoram Online, 08 July, 2016,;

[34] “State raises the bar for infra funds” by Girish Menon, 28 August, 2016,;

[35]“Need to re-orient Kerala’s Development Model” by Akshanya Mukul, 11 June 2016, Times of India,; “How Kerala can be a model state again” by Jayan Jose Thomas, 15 August 2016,; “Time for a Kerala Model 2.0” by Uday Balakrishnan, 25 August 2016,;


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