The end of the South then?
To be sure, not everyone will agree with Sharma.
For one thing, while the North’s collective economy may be growing by leaps and bounds of late, don’t forget the region starts from a very low base. As Sharma himself points out, Bihar’s economy shrank by 9 percent between 1980 and 2003. Scraping the bottom of the barrel on economic growth, the state has nowhere else to go but up.
Economies that start extremely low on the growth scale usually experience high double-digit growth for the first few decades. As they start to mature, growth starts to slow down. For instance, consider the growth rates of developed economies such as the US and Europe — their long-term annual GDP growth rate is estimated at a mere 2-4 percent compared with India’s and China’s 6-8 percent.
Of course, no is arguing that south India is highly developed and has little room for further growth. As Sharma notes, the southern states have a per capita income only slightly above the national average of $1,400. Contrast this with China’s rich states, which experienced a boom for three decades and reached annual per capita incomes of $15,000-$20,000.
Still, there is no denying that south India, given its relative development, is likely to grow slower than upcoming north’s. That does not herald the end of the south’s dominance, as this opinion piece by IAS office Srivatsa Krishna argues in Outlook magazine.
“The south is already established as a growth region,” he says. “South India — Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Pondicherry — has a combined state GDP of over $300 billion, securing it a place among the top 30 economies of the world, and contributes over 22 per cent of India’s GDP and 28 per cent of its employment. It also produces 38 per cent of India’s engineering graduates, 49 per cent of its medical graduates and 25 per cent of its post-graduates each year. The region also provides a higher-than-national average access to basic amenities, with close to 100 per cent electrification of its villages. While schools in UP teach ‘b for bomb’ and ‘c for chaaku’, where is the question of the north overtaking the south?”
He emphasises that barring Gujarat and a few other north Indian states, governability remains an issue in the region. “In general, there is comparatively less strife, less violence, more discipline in, say, a Karnataka or a Tamil Nadu as compared to a UP or a Haryana,” he says, although he acknowledges that “without question or qualification, though, the role model for states remains Gujarat on the investment, manufacturing and industry fronts.”
In other words, he doesn’t buy Sharma’s argument of declining southern dominance. His (tongue in cheek) response to whether the north can really overtake the south is Rajinikanth’s trade-mark remark: “Silly rascals.”