Towards Enlightened Humanism?
K. Saradamoni
DEVELOPMENT, POLITICS AND SOCIETY: LEFT POLITICS IN KERALA-A DISINTERESTED PERSPECTIVE by R.K. Suresh Kumar and P. Suresh Kumar APH Publishing Corporation, 2010, 239 pp., 795
June 2010, volume 34, No 6

The two authors undertook the study with a research grant awarded by the Achuta Menon Foundation and claim that theirs is a ‘disinterested’ (un-biased) perspective.

The book contains six chapters: 1. Development Perceptions: Dynamics in India and the Third World; 2. Production Forces and Relations; Kerala in the Formation; 3. Initiating Development: Parties, Policies and Personalities; 4. Strengthening the Kerala Model: The Achuta Menon Legacy; 5. Conflicts: Apparent and Real and the Debacle and 6. New Perceptions on Development and the Left and five appendices.

The authors begin with tracing the evolution of the thinking on economics in Europe. Understandably they begin with Adam Smith and trace the perceptions of Ricardo, Malthus, J.S. Mill and go to the marginalists and point out the emphasis given to capital accumulation, growth and efficiency.

What we do not get from the descriptions is that the thinkers and writers of that period were concerned about and were trying to understand the changes that were happening around them with the advent of technological innovations; industrial growth which in large measures erased agriculture, the livelihood of large sections of the population, their life-style and culture. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were also watching the above phenomena and came up with different ideas. They said that societal transformation occurs through the changes in the material means of production and social relations. They could not be oblivious to the misery in the world even if a section of the population in certain countries enjoyed greater comfort.

The authors of the book could not ignore the Great Depression which played havoc in the capitalist world especially the USA during the thirties of the twentieth century and the prescription of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist. However their treatment of the alternative to capitalism and the socio-economic politics tried out in the erstwhile Soviet Union is far from satisfactory. They have also missed out the bold demand that came from the nonaligned countries for a New International Economic Order where they as a right asked for a reordering of the world wealth between the North and South. Instead, one can see a history of the formulae for Third World Economic Development put forth by economists in the capitalist, mainly European, countries. The division of the world into first, second and third world in terms of ‘Development’ was an invention of the capitalist world. Through that they established that theirs was the pattern of development which the newly emerging ‘free’ countries (the old colonies) could emulate.

Coming to Kerala, the book shows how a region soaked in heinous forms of untouchability, rose to fight social inequalities, spread ideas of human dignity and socio-economic and political justice among the people at large. Unfortunately, the experience of the state which has come to be associated with a sex-ratio favourable to women, high female literacy, acceptance of small family norm, radical politics, etc., and earned for itself the adjective ‘Kerala Model’, is today suffocating with the contradictions that have been thrown up during recent decades. Ever since the first non-Congress-led political alliance came to power in the state and created history, the two ‘fronts’, the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communist Party (M)-led Left Democratic Front, have been coming to power almost alternatively in the state. When the Congress-led coalition came to power they found it difficult to change some of the initiatives taken by the L.D.F. during their tenure. One such was the ‘land-reform’ measures.

However, land reforms for which the left parties take pride did not result in increased production or productivity as it happened in many other parts of the world. Kerala witnessed the dwindling of areas under cultivation of major crops. On the other side, the state’s dependence on other states for not only rice, the major cereal consumed in the state, but vegetables, pulses, condiments, sugar and gur, plantain leaves and flowers needed for domestic, festival and even religious purposes has been increasing steadily.

A related area of failure on the part of the governments has been in the area of generating employment. Agriculture which was a major area in generating employment has become a non-rewarding and non-respectable occupation. The result is a large-scale exodus of employment seekers to other places in India or to other countries. Large sections of the population, skilled and unskilled, leaving for the middle-eastern countries gave relief to the state government, but their impact on the families left behind and the society at large cannot be ignored.

A sad reality of Kerala is that there are people within and outside who persist in believing that the state is different. The authors of the book do have doubts about the sustainability of the Kerala Model. However in their view ‘the state exhibits the paradox of political dynamism versus economic inertia’. They also see that the society on the whole is disillusioned. They point to climbing suicide rates, increasing alcoholism, rising divorce rates, ascending atrocities on women and children, the upsurge in crime rates, and swelling inequalities (p. 2) and conclude that the ‘the world is on the verge of extinction. The environmental issues threaten the continuity of human survival. The human values and dignity is trampled upon by the existing cultures. Women and children and the disabled are maltreated in all societies . . .. Peaceful living is eluding us’ (p. 160).

The authors have failed to see the octopus-like hold with which the old capitalism/imperialism in its new avatar of neo-liberalism/globalization is crippling and destroying people, communities, and nations. The Government of India knowingly accepted the New Economic Reforms, a fancy term for ‘globalization’. The Kerala Government, even under the Left Front rule cannot say that they considered alternatives. In welcoming foreign investments, encouraging ever-increasing number of institutions of higher education and research, star hospitals, IT institutions, call centres, special economic zones, casualizing lower levels of employment, they have shown that they have no definite notion of development. Not seeing the disparities that have come about in the state, the very visible, predominant new middle class that has emerged in the state for whom ‘development’ is largely geared, is not because the ruling Left parties are naive.

The authors appeal to the Left parties especially the CPI(M) to be open to correction and suggest that ‘in the 21st century, Communism could succeed in Indian soil through a Gandhian perception’ (p. 161). Such a beginning demands the demolition of many things which have come to be accepted as inevitable in ‘modern life’. That demands greater courage, commitment and perseverance on the part of all those who wish to see a Kerala where peace, harmony and justice prevail.

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