The Kerala Model: Its Central Tendency and the Outlier
Economists of the stature of Amartya Sen have been instrumental in continuously highlighting Kerala state's positive achievements of public action as the major factor in its achieving a relatively high quality of life despite relative economic backwardness.
Very recently, (June 1994) while delivering the first D.T. Lakdawala Memorial Lecture entitled 'Markets, Social Opportunities and Economic Development* Sen stated: ' We live in most diverse country, and in many spheres our records are extremely disparate.... In respect of certain variables like average levels of literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality etc. conditions in India are enormously adverse compared with China, and yet in all these respects, Kerala does significantly better than China.'
Elaborating on the 'Kerala Model* Sen pointed out that 'there are a great many things we can learn from within the country by using the diversity of our experiences, particularly in the use of public action— involving the public itself as well as the government. Despite the fact that economic growth of Kerala has been sluggish .... it has been able to achieve tremendous results in important areas such as literacy, life expectancy and mortality rates. The Indian government should try to emulate the Kerala experience.'
We know that this is much easier said than done. Kerala's achievements—often considered to be a paradox—can be explained only when we situate them in the specific historical context within which public action was initiated and evolved. The extent to which it is possible to emulate a societal configuration that has emerged, without partaking in the process through which it was created is a matter of debate.
Associate Fellow, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
Social Scientist, Vol. 23, Nos. 1-3, January-March 1995