Why Modi’s comparison of Kerala with Somalia is way off the mark

Ever since Narendra Modi began pitching for national leadership, the BJP has made it a part of its propaganda ploy to trumpet the “Gujarat Model of Development” and denigrate the “Kerala Model” – the unparalleled Indian human development story that the world had long since acknowledged. But on Tuesday, when the latter compared Kerala with Somalia, he not only stated a huge lie, but also humiliated the socio-political legacy of a state that often stands shoulder-to-shoulder with western nations in quality of life.

The state is obviously outraged. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has called Modi’s bluff and trolls took to social media to ridicule Modi and the BJP. Probably, even state BJP leaders are ashamed that their land has been compared to a lawless and notorious global outcast that’s only known for piracy and anarchy.

Narendra Modi. File photo. PTI

Narendra Modi. File photo. PTI

Modi's move to bring Somalia into his speech on Kerala’s development by cherry-picking a statistical outlier is a diabolical trick to skew the development debate. He reportedly said that the infant mortality rate (IMR) of Scheduled Tribes in Kerala is worse than that of Somalia. Yes, every development indicator of the tribals in Kerala is worse than the rest of the people in the state, but where did he get the idea that Somalia, which had no government or even a constitution till 2012, fared better than a state that has a Human Development ranking comparable to a country such as Bahrain?

What’s the IMR of scheduled tribes in Kerala? According to the most recent Health Profile of Scheduled Tribes it’s 57 (per 1000 live births) for boys and 64 for girls. These figures are from 2001 and seem to have improved. According to this report that quotes UNICEF in 2014, it’s 41.47 in the worst affected district of Wayanad. Of course, this is much higher than the state’s average of 12.

So what is Somalia's IMR? It's 137, according to UNICEF. Is 57, 64 or 41.47 higher than 137? Whoever suggested this comparison to Modi is a sinister propagandist who trades in lies to defame fellow Indians.

Forget Somalia, let’s compare IMR of tribal children in Kerala with the rest of India and most importantly, the marquee state of Gujarat. According to the same Government of India figures, the national average is 84 (male) and 88 (female) and in Gujarat, it’s 59 (male) and 65 (female). What’s more, the highest of 110 is in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh.

It’s really foolish to preach development to Kerala, let alone twist facts and misrepresent ideas of development. Gujarat has indeed won praise from many quarters, mostly pro-market and pro-business agencies and publications, but that has been for the state being good for business and not for the well-being of the people. This report by The Economist does praise Gujarat for its GDP growth, exports, infrastructure and all the visible signs of economic growth, but it also highlights the fact that when it comes to reducing poverty, it fared worse than states of similar ranking.

The other points that Modi made in his controversial speech in Kerala also are of no consequence as far as the state is concerned. Despite all the charges he makes, the UN compares Kerala with high income countries, whereas Modi's home state’s equivalent is a poor Timor Leste (East Timor), which till a few years ago, was a lawless and unstable country.

Modi said in his speech: “The unemployment rate in Kerala is at least three times higher than the national average. The state can meet only 13 percent of their requirement of agricultural products. Even after 70 years of Independence, Kerala depends on other states for 70 percent of its power requirements. Similarly, most of the youth in Kerala are forced to leave their home state in search of job. Only through overall development, the state could be brought back to its past glory.”

Even if all these claims are true, does it really matter? Certainly not, because development is for the wellbeing of people and the state fares the best in India. According to the UN, Kerala’s human development is “very high” that no other state can match. In terms of numbers, Kerala’s Human Development Index (HDI) is 0.825, while that of Gujarat is 0.599, which is termed as just “medium”.

What do you need? Figures of industrial growth or quality of life?

What Modi presented was a bogus discourse that the BJP is trying to spread in Kerala. By picking and choosing misleading statistics (mostly on ill-defined growth) and comparing it with states such as Gujarat, they are spreading falsehood. Kerala’s development success is founded on a different socio-political paradigm. The state makes up for its economic shortcomings and production through remittances, which is not speed-money, but cash earned using their valuable skills and labour. If remittances were easy, how come other states could never replicate it? It’s a model that was made possible by a century-old social reform movements and transformational politics.

However, while resisting misplaced propaganda, Kerala also has to introspect because of the increasing volatility of remittances from the Middle East. Consumption and quality of life at this rate will not be sustainable without production if remittances fall. Domestic wealth generation must keep pace with social welfare so that the state’s growth is sustainable. But BJP talking about restoring the state’s past glory is laughable as the present glory is far better.


Published Date: May 11, 2016 03:20 pm | Updated Date: May 11, 2016 04:14 pm


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