By Yashika Jain, National Law University, Delhi.

“To achieve as much as Kerala has done for a population of its size is no mean record in world history.”

   —Amartya Sen

The debate on economic policy has never been as riveting as it is today, based on the choice between the two ideal models of growth as put forth by two completely different states of the nation- Kerala Development Model and Gujarat Growth Model. The Prime Minister of the nation boasts about the model of governance that he has created in his tenure as Chief Minister in Gujarat and promises to take the nation in that very direction. The Gujarat Development Model may have become the desire of a majority of India, yet, there are certain areas, which are not ready to be transformed into Gujarat and in fact hold out against it.

On the other side stands internationally hailed Kerala Model of Development which is applauded for its achievements and often referred to as a real hope for the future of Third World countries. Environmentalist Bill McKibben says,Though mostly a land of paddy-covered plains, statistically Kerala stands out as the Mount Everest of social development; there’s truly no place like it.This conflict of choosing between the two models shall decide the future set of actions that would turn the nation towards one of the models. This article focuses on the Kerala Model of Development and analysis its merits and demerits as a prospective model of development for whole of the nation.


The Indian state of Kerala has served to be an enigmatic and a paradoxical model to the economists and various developmental experts. The popular principle of development states that without achieving rapid economic development, high standard of living cannot be achieved. However, the Kerala Model of Development has disapproved this principle and has produced unmatchable socio-economic results by focussing on people’s development rather than economic development. Various unfathomable achievements of this small state are: a high human development experience without a sharp rural-urban divide or gender disparity, an extremely respectable food and nutritional security, a social security system that covers most of the unorganized sector, a female-male ratio consistently well above that of all India average, remarkable fertility decline achieved as a matter of choice, exceptional cultural attainments like greater learning time and wider reading habit, collapse of an oppressive caste structure and imparting self-respect to the ‘lower’ caste/strata people, abolition of feudal relations of production in the agrarian sector, a multi- religious population flourishing in symbiotic relationships and many more.

This was a result of initiatives taken at both governmental and non-governmental level. The factors that contributed the most were quality governance and leadership, political participation and adequate maintenance of law and order. Apart from this, Kerala citizens’ high levels of activism through social movements and zeal for social change was a big support. Kerala’s resources such as technical education, tele-density, power and urbanization also enabled the state to more efficiently achieve these goals.

But, no model is perfect. Along with the pros, come the cons.  The initial agents that made possible the change that Kerala has brought, the agents like the Christian Church and their missionary organizations, social reform movements in various caste groups, trade unions and political parties whose activism actually made a difference, all of them are at present acting merely as pressure groups, busy either defending the status quo or extracting the maximum possible share of a cake that is not increasing in size. Large scale exploitation of resources has also been started. The model from the beginning only focussed upon social sector and not on growth, there has been a large scale increase in borrowings which is hitting the edifice of the model by causing the state fiscal problems.

However, all these problems do not hit the root of the model and are curable. Balanced approach towards development as well as social well being can overcome all these shortcoming of the model. This model portrayed that people need many more things other than economic growth; such as freedom to participate in social and political processes and activities, opportunity for spiritual growth, family life and relations, easy access to social support systems and quality health services, freedom from all forms of insecurities, clean environment, sufficient leisure time and so on. And the acclamation worthy aspect of the model is that State apart from recognising such needs, put in its best efforts to achieve them.

India, as a nation has achieved and continues to achieve, economic development. But all the benefit of this development goes to only selected classes. The rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer. We are left behind as a nation, because of the large economic gaps that have been formed among the various sections of population and lack of social development. A large part of the population is uneducated, has no access to clean water and sanitation facilities, can afford medical facilities etc. And in such a scenario, this model, focused upon social benefit is best suited. It has implied that there is a point where rich and poor might meet and share a decent life, and rather than wealth, living matters.  

Although it has already been established that the model is adequately suitable for a nation like India, yet certain things have to be kept in mind before it is considered for implementation across the nation.  First and foremost, it has to be ensured that the State takes the rights of all the classes seriously and  pledges itself for securing them. This would facilitate trickling of benefits to even the remotest of the sections. The State must not give in to the tyranny of majority so that the development isn’t lopsided.  

Second, the citizens must be kept abreast of the decision making process of the government so that the entire process is participatory and final reapers of the benefits have adequate say in the development process. Also this would ensure that the State remains aware of the ground realities and can focus upon the specific aspects of the social life of its citizens that are to be improved.

Third, since such development at a national level would not be an easy job and multiple obstacles will be faced, a qualitative change must be made in the attitude of the political parties, public, civil society groups and the media. Rather than nitpicking the shortcomings of opponents, they must strive to find out the solutions, so that India, too, can become a decent place to live in.