In a historical first, the government of a state has absolutely ‘shocked’ Indian democracy by submitting its progress report for public evaluation on completion of the first year of its tenure. Unsurprisingly, this ray of change comes from Kerala where the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government is winding up its glorious first year with glittering achievements. The LDF came into power last year with a hopeful mandate from the people and a magnificent victory in the election. It had got its thirty-five point election manifesto framed by the voters themselves. An unprejudiced comparison between the manifesto and the progress report, undoubtedly, transfigures hope into assurance, an inviolable promise for a better tomorrow. This is why the anniversary message of this government has turned into an isle of hope not only for Kerala but for the entire nation.
History marks Kerala as the first state to elect a Communist government in India. This government,elected in 1957, was led by the veteran Communist leader EM ShankaranNamboodiripad and laid the foundation for development of Kerala. The state’s march ahead was driven by a combined force of subsequent Leftist programmes and epic struggles against anti-people policies. At present, it is known to be a developed state in a developing nation for having a high pedestal in human development indices.
The recent debates have positioned Kerala at the centre of national attention for two reasons. First, it has been implementing a multitude of development programmes and social security schemes in contrast to the nation-wide neoliberal agenda. Secondly, it has emerged into the helm of democratic resistance against the alarming rise of far-Right tendencies. Thus,Kerala ignites the hope of Left and invites the hostility of Right. This is what the ongoing media blitz against the state underlines. All these happened in a span of one year of governance which also made a leap towards the accomplishment of democracy by inviting people to assess the government. Of course, Kerala is sculpting an alternative.
Now, it is the time for an open discussion on how and to what extent Kerala has redesigned the concept of governance and redefined the notion of development. The LDF government had conveyed its message on the outset with a number of programmes that seemed to be a good start. The decision to increase welfare pensions and deliver them to the houses of recipients was the prominent among them. The acquisition of four government-aided schools from the brink of closure became a signboard to the education policy. The first budget won standing accolades from people and experts alike and was appreciated as the first blueprint for the construction of a New Kerala.
Thirteen public sector undertakings turned profitable during the first year of LDF-rule. This is a political message, rather than an administrative success, when read against a wider backdrop. The public sector all over India is at peril as a consequence of the LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization) policies prevailing in the national economy. No different was the state of Kerala. Most of the state-owned industries that are thriving todaywere in a quagmire of losses during the tenure of Congress-led previous government. It is nothing but the political will plus administrative skill that enabled the incumbent government to elevate these PSUs to the greenery of profit and prosperity.
Traditional industries such as coir, cashew nut, handloom, and fisheries have a substantial stake in the economy as well as the cultural heritage of the state and accommodate a considerable share of its working force. These industries where immersed in distress due to the indifferent attitude of previous government. The LDF had promised to adopt policy-level measures to rejuvenate them. Now, the production units have started regaining the breath and the workers are returning to welfare, thanks to the committed effort of concerned departments.
Kerala has advanced a long distance towards the universalization of education. The idea that education is a fundamental right and should be accessible to all irrespective of any criterion is well-practiced here with a wide network of government-owned and government-aided schools that provide quality education. The socialization of education has played a vital role in socialization of students. This process ultimately led to the moulding of a secular society which follows democratic ways of social interactions. Despite having to fight the capitalist invasion of education through private and self-financing institutes at several points of time, Kerala owns the legacy of a right-basededucation system. Here, education is not an upper class privilege, but a socially produced and socially consumed cultural commodity that determined the course of social evolution. An organized mission led by the government, teachers, students, and parents has taken the state’s general education to new heights. A dramatic improvement has been marked in the infrastructure of schools, quality of education, and the number of students seeking admission in state-run schools as a result of the collaborative effort of government and people to catalyze the development of educational sector. The declaration of a large-scalescheme to assist the repayment of education loans and the appointment of experts’ council to make a study of issues regarding self-financing education are other notable achievements that benefit students. The enforcement of Malayalam as a mandatory subject in all schools also attracted wide admiration.
Besides working for ensuring right-based education for all, Kerala recognizes healthcare and shelter as the rights of people. Ardram, and Life are two ambitious projects launched by the state government in relation with Navakerala Mission. Ardram consists of several schemes for the development of government hospitals and health centres. Kerala’s healthcare programmes are so as to bring relief for those who find it difficult to seek treatment from commercialized health industry. Life, another social security mission, aims to shelter the lives of homeless.
The need for addressing the questions of pollution, food scarcity, and other environmental hazards has made Kerala initiate the Harithakeralam Mission which comprises campaign and action for organic farming, water conservation, and waste management. Other administrative achievements to be mentioned include total sanitation in rural area and a cent percent household electrification.
The Kerala government is committed to ensuring social justice by the upliftment of marginalized sections of society. The announcement of special text books for differently abled students is a compassionate step to make education more inclusive. India’s first state with a transgender policy, Kerala made a bold move in this regard by including transgender employees in its metro rail service. Besides, it is the first state to install sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators in schools. The employment scheme for tribal youth, women empowerment initiatives through the world-renowned Kudumbashree mission, and welfare programmes for immigrant labourers are some of the other examples of inclusive growth and development.
Kerala Administrative Service and Kerala Bank are two future projects in top priority of LDF government. The former aims to improve the efficiency of administration by employing young talents in key positions and the latter to establish the state’s own bank by merging state-level and district-level cooperative banks. Kerala, a small state in the southern end, is all set to be the guiding lightfor the whole nation to script the history of a novel development experience.
The aforementioned policies and programmes ride against the national trend of neoliberalism and many of them integrate governmental machinery and people’s participation so that development trickles down to the bottom of social and economic pyramid. Imagination and implementation of a pro-poor and pro-people paradigm of development that agitates against the flow require enormous amount of political energy. How Kerala resists neoliberalism may remind us of the Latin American struggle against imperialism. The difference is that Kerala, as one of the twenty-nine states of India, is drawing its track through limited power and scarce resources. It has to strike a balance between the short-run need for surviving in the system and the long-run goal of reconstructing the same. However, the people’s government of Kerala, experience shows, continues to prove itself to be capable of confronting the challenges. This is how a New Kerala inspires a New India.