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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Socialism, decentralization and participation in Kerala


Just found this interesting e-book (in Spanish) on the Keralan way to socialism and development though decentralization and direct democracy:


ESTADO KERALA, INDIA: UNA EXPERIENCIA DE PLANIFICACIÓN PARTICIPATIVA DESCENTRALIZADA. RICHARD W. FRANKE, MARTA HARNECKER, ANDRÉS SANZ MULAS Y CARMEN PINEDA NEBOT, 2009. (PDF document).

Sadly I have not been able to find it in English version by the moment, though I presume that there exists one.

The paper is a critical reflexion on the achievements and limitations of the rather successful Keralan policies of the last half century, marked by a strong interest in decentralization and cooperative and participative development. The Indian SW state of Kerala has got an elected communist government since independence, except for a recent interlude at the hands of the Congress Party, that has applied innovative policies within the Indian and global capitalist frame, including a radical agrarian reform early on. Kerala is the Indian state with the highest human development index and 91% of its inhabitants are literate (compared with only 66% in all India).
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5 comments:

Manjunat said...

Kerala has experienced an alternating Congress(UDF) and Communist(LDF) governments since independence. It's in West Bengal that Communists ruled(ruling) for major part of post independence years. But West Bengal lags behind Kerala in literacy(around 70%). Frankly, for all its glorious past of literary accomplishments West Bengal is pathetically underperforming state.

Also, coastal districts of neighbouring Karnataka state (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi) have literacy rate around 90%. These are Tulu speaking regions and culturally similar to Kerala (matrilineal and Shamanic). But communists were never strong in these regions. After long Congress presence these districts are hotbeds of right wing Hindu nationalist parties.

Kerala has least percentage of Hindu population (55%) and sizable Muslim (25%) and Christian (19%) populations. These Muslim and Christians are generally prosperous and highly educated (Christians in particular). They have in fact absorbed a big chunk of Dalit population.

It is true Communists have implemented agrarian reforms but that is true in the case of neighbouring Karnataka (Congress) and Tamil Nadu (Dravidian parties). And for that matter India followed socialist economy until 1990.

Maju said...

Kerala has experienced an alternating Congress(UDF) and Communist(LDF) governments since independence.

Oh, well. I understood that from the paper but maybe I misunderstood or there's an error in it. It certainly has the oldest communist government of India.

Thanks for all your comments, Manju. It's an interesting criticism, an excersise of putting in perspective.

I thought this paper might interest you somewhat but, as said, I have not been able to find the original in English online. The paper looks constructively critical, mentioning what worked and what did not (or not to the extent expected).

An interesting item is that is said that since the beginning the Keralan plan included a sizeable budget for the communities as part of the decentralization and participation drive. It also mentions that communities have tended to invest this mostly in infrastructures and much less in the productive sector (soft credits, funding and developement of cooperative projects).

Another alleged partial failure is that women, while relatively implicated at local levels, have not actually "jumped" for the most part to higher tiers of political or economical responsability. Also there is criticism for the percieved distance between the communities and politicians, who seem not to get too well after all (grassroots tend to disregard politics at higher level and politicians to disregard decentralized administration).

MURALI said...

Thanx a lot for the informative post.

Anonymous said...

Most of the Muslim and Christian converts in India are former low caste Hindus.

Kerala had an especially cruel caste system at one time, maybe a lot of people there were looking for beliefs that didn't encourage the high castes holding others down.

'Karla Hoff, an economist at the World Bank who is currently working at Princeton University, and her colleagues reported the results of experiments conducted in villages in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (American Economic Review, vol 98, p 494). In these tests, two players started out with 50 rupees each. The first could choose to give his to the second, in which case the experimenters added a further 100 rupees, giving the second player 200 rupees in total. The second player could decide to keep the money for himself, or share it equally with the first player. A third player then entered the game, who could punish the second player - for each 2 rupees he was willing to spend, the second player was docked 10 rupees.

The results were startling. Even when the second player shared the money fairly, two-thirds of the time the newcomer decided to punish him anyway - a spiteful act with seemingly no altruistic payoff. “We asked one guy why,” says Hoff. “He said he thought it was fun.”

Hoff found that high-caste players were more likely to punish their fellow gamers spitefully than low-caste players, leading her to suggest that context is everything. It is not that people in Uttar Pradesh are nastier than elsewhere, but rather that the structure of their society makes them acutely conscious of status. The sensitivity of higher castes to their position makes them tend not to support any changes that threaten to level the social hierarchy, such as development projects. But higher castes can also put others down, safe in the knowledge that “untouchables” are unlikely to strike back. “If you’re low caste it’s dangerous to rise in status,” says Hoff. “You’ll get beaten up or worse.”'

Maju said...

Thanx a lot for the informative post.

You are welcome. I did not really expect this item to generate such interest - moreso when probably most Indians can't read Spanish. So I'm gladly surprised to find that it does anyhow.

Hoff found that high-caste players were more likely to punish their fellow gamers spitefully than low-caste players, leading her to suggest that context is everything. It is not that people in Uttar Pradesh are nastier than elsewhere, but...... that silverspoons everywhere are reared to be egoistic and mean, notably with lower classes. And that low classes everywhere are reared to be docile and submissive, as a survival trait.

It's just that in the religiously (morally) sanctioned caste structure the hypocrisy, the pretense of egalitarism, found elsewhere is more easily disregarded.

Anyhow, the guy who punishes someone else "because it's funny" is normally Thought as a sociopathic bully. There's nothing to justify that but elitist mentality (caste or otherwise) can support such sociopathic behaviours and "normalize" them when applied in the "moral" hierarchical context.