Washington Post reports that while the few surviving communist nations in the world have become autocratic, Kerala tells a different story of comrades who believe in electoral politics, Indian identity, individual freedom and enterprise
The southern Indian state of Kerala, which drew world’s attention in the 1950s by voting a communist government to power soon after its formation, is one of the few places on earth where a communist can still dream, a Washington Post report says. This may cheer up thousands of comrades in Kerala. While the few surviving communist states in the world have become autocratic, in Kerala, comrades are following the democratic path by embracing electoral politics, the report says. Communist governments in Kerala spend heavily on public education and health and the state leads others in literacy and health care. Although it may seem a paradox, the party of Marx also encourages youth from Kerala to go abroad, especially to capitalist Arabian Gulf, to make a fortune. These migrants are remaking Kerala’s culture, according to the report. While remittances from overseas workers have transformed Kerala’s landscape, the current communist government is making efforts to generate high-paying local jobs by planning new highways, bridges and industrial parks, the report adds.
Commenting on the Post report, a retired history teacher E. Bhargavi said while communism always acted as a leveller, the great leaps Kerala made in education and health care were mainly because of Christian missionaries who built churches and hospitals across the state before and after India’s independence.
“Kerala provided a fertile ground for communism to grow. Communism is pro-people and upholds certain values. But giving undue credit to one party means ignoring history,” Bhargavi said. She cited Indian President Ram Nath Kovind’s first visit to Kerala after taking office. Addressing a gathering, he had praised the state for its culture and communal harmony. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government immediately used Kovind’s comments to counter BJP who were blaming it for rise in political killings and jihadi terror in the state.
In his speech, Kovind was only referring to the contributions made by Hindu philosophers like Adi Shankara and social reformers like Sri Narayana Guru who were born in Kerala. Nowhere in his speech did he mention LDF government’s role in maintaining communal harmony, Bhargavi said.
But the Post report rightly said the government is pragmatic and honest when it comes to the welfare of Keralites working in the Gulf. It knows the state’s economy will be affected if the remittances from Gulf stop as Kerala is industrially backward to generate jobs. During his visit to UAE last year, incumbent Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan met with a large number of Indian workers at the Al Quoz labour camp in Dubai to get first-hand account about their problems. When Arab nations cut their ties with Qatar this year, Vijayan urged the federal government to ensure the safety of 700,000 Indians living there. Recently, Vijayan rolled out the red carpet for Sharjah’s Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi to get funds for his dream project Nava Keralam (New Kerala). Sharjah has shown interest in investing in education and health sectors. The chief minister may now turn to other Gulf countries for funds.
Kerala, the ‘mini-Gulf’
As in the case of expatriate workers, the LDF government is also concerned about the welfare of migrant workers from other states for whom Kerala has become a “mini-Gulf”. Most of these workers who come from Bengal and Bihar earn better wages there than in their respective home states. In fact, they have edged out local workers who have taken up other jobs. Government and private contractors now heavily depend on these migrant workers to get their projects completed on time. Recently, they were upset after migrant workers began to leave after rumours posted on social media warned them about attacks. The government quickly intervened and allayed their fears.
KB Ajith, a developer, says the LDF government is using thousands of migrant workers as vote bank in polls for local bodies. “Earlier, they did it with Tamils. Now they are doing it with workers from northern and eastern India. The government is offering them insurance and pension schemes if they settle down here,” Ajith said.