Religious forces should not interfere in politics, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh has said.

He was delivering the Dr. K.N. Raj Memorial Lecture at the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (Costford) here on Sunday. Speaking on ‘Kerala-model revisited,’ he pointed out that the allegedly growing influence of religious and casteist forces in politics was detrimental. “Religious forces should concern themselves with devotional matters and give solace to people, and run hospitals and educational institutions. They should not dictate political choices,” he said. He stated that Kerala should learn a thing or two about development ethos from Tamil Nadu.

Fundamentalism

“Politics is pragmatic in Tamil Nadu, unlike in Kerala. There is an underlying development ethic in Tamil Nadu that is immune to political vagaries,” he observed. He lamented that intellectual opinion was mono-culturistic in Kerala. “A multiplicity of views is not encouraged. You cannot keep your doors closed to technology and innovation. A growing influence of fundamentalism has been destroying Kerala’s assimilative ethos. Kerala is not able to compete with other States in attracting investment. Productive sectors of Kerala economy betray stagnation,” he added. He said Kerala should convert some of its NRI remittances into investment.

Pillars

He observed that progressive politics, welfare economics, a reformist civil society, and social harmony had been the pillars of Kerala’s development experience. “The State’s achievements include superior human development indicators, empowerment of weaker sections, genuine decentralisation and enormous accountability (hence, less corruption compared with the rest of the country). Also, there is no economic stagnation,” he noted.

By a curious paradox, Kerala had the highest unemployment and suicide rates. “The State depends hugely on NRI remittances. There is undue dependence on federalism. If it is not part of a federal system, Kerala will starve. The State produces only 15 per cent of its rice needs. There is high consumption inequality, partly caused by income inequality resulting from certain patterns of NRI remittances,” he said.

Comparisons

He spoke about the recent comparisons between the Kerala and Gujarat models of development. Kerala’s achievements in human development indices, as a result of the State-spending on social sectors, were remarkable. Gujarat, on the other hand, reportedly spent less on social sectors. It was high on growth because of its entrepreneurial spirit. “Economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya of Columbia University had recently initiated a debate on the models in their new book. In the context of the debate, I will say the Kerala model is still relevant. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from it,” he said.

He lamented that nothing much had been done in Kerala to pay homage to the former Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon. “Mr. Achutha Menon was the best Chief Minister Kerala had. It is said that a statue of his has not been installed outside the State Assembly,” he said.

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