Why Not The Kerala Model?
Kerala model is a successful example of what happens when constructive work and decentralization of power are acted upon with sincere political will.
In India’s own literal backwaters, a small state has been quietly endeavouring, with an astonishing degree of success, to restore the greatest dream of the father of our nation, “Swarajya”, to its citizens. It is as good a time as any to challenge the assumption “Kerala model cannot be replicated anywhere else” and see if it holds water.
Through its movements led initiatives from literacy campaigns to community based policy planning of the People’s Planning Campaign to devolution of power through innovative programs like “Kudumbashree”, Kerala has proved and continues to prove the potential of decentralized power structures in bringing political, social and economic equality that is consistent with the Gandhian ideal of “Swarajya” and truly expanding democracy beyond electoral exercises.
Kudumbashree is the state’s flagship poverty eradication program that eloquently encapsulates decentralization of power, economic empowerment of the most oppressed and community involvement in policy making. Today more than one crore of Kerala’s population has enrolled in the program and actively participates in various initiatives through its more than forty lakhs strong neighbourhood groups.
Constructive work is the corner stone and the first step toward a Gandhian “Ram Raajya”. Yet, very few states have adopted this as state policy. Constructive work and decentralization of power should become the primary focus of the polity, without subverting it for the ulterior motives.
People’s Planning Campaign, as a result of adhering to the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution and the subsequent launch of Kudumbashree as its consequence, is one rare example when constructive work was prioritized over party politics.
It is very well known by this point that the historical reasons that existed in Kerala are different than in other states that has led to the current trajectory of the state’s community oriented political processes. But it is also equally true that each state in India has its own unique and rich history that has been constantly ignored by the political apparatus other than for electoral gains. This deliberate apathy has been substituted by the divisive rhetoric of the right sphere headed by RSS.
In conjunction to the Kudumbashree groups, Kerala has sincerely committed itself to the idea of devolving power by channelling up to 45% of its annual state budget to Local Self-Governing Bodies and Gram Panchayats. The state has ensured community participation at the Panchayat level in spending this allotted amount of money, thus truly enabling its citizens to be direct and active participants in the democratic process. With such engaged citizenry, the right has practically realized that it is foolhardy to engage in communal politics in a state like Kerala.
Every state in our country has the right to execute the 73rd and 74th amendment to the constitution that will invigorate the polity at the most grassroots level. It is also noteworthy that the current dispensation of RSS and BJP recognizes this fact and has done its utmost to dissuade the spread of grassroots politics because that space has been monopolized by the communal rhetoric of the RSS. Even while making jingoistic announcements like “Atma-Nirbharta” and “focus on the local”, not one of the central government’s incentives even mentions local self-governments or the Panchayats.
It is perplexing why parties across the progressive spectrum are not binding together under the flagship of constructive work and decentralization of power, keeping Kerala’s achievements as the chief focus. In the current context of the COVID-19 (Corona) pandemic, Kerala’s work is being lauded on the international stage, thanks mainly to its network of Kudumbashree units and strong Panchayats.
From taking preventative action on the pandemic situation as early as in December to handling the lockdown efficiently, to addressing the concerns of Guest (Migrant) Laborers in an exemplary way, Kerala is a successful example of what happens when constructive work and decentralization of power are acted upon with sincere political will.
In the current political climate, it seems like there is no viable opposition to the ruling dispensation of RSS-BJP. The hyper centralized approach to governing and decision making only serves to amplify the perception that no alternate exists. Notwithstanding this perception, a very strong and effective opposition can be built, one that is securely anchored in the ideology of constructive work and decentralization of power, with Kerala as an important reference point.
The central government has called on the people to go “vocal for local”. The Kerala approach has been practicing this more than most of the states. Recently, Chhattisgarh again seems to be following bottom up empowerment model. During the COVID-19 crisis, giving DM like authority to Panchayats in Odisha was a similar positive move toward delegating power to the grassroots. The opposition should lead the efforts to build a decentralized, participatory and bottom-up planning and governance system in the county.
Giri is Co-founder of PAIGAM (People’s Association In Grassroots Action and Movement) and Hindus for Human Rights, a US based advocacy group.