Socialist, Successful and (therefore) Unspoken of Kerala, India

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The economic and political systems of Kerala state, India.

The question that in my first post I said will be addressed in this blog was: why are efforts to end malaria, a preventable and non-fatal disease that is killing roughly 1.5 million vulnerable people every year not heightened, intensified, and integrated into international, domestic, and community-level disease response programs more fully?

I would like to re-phrase my question slightly now that I’ve done more research on one of the two locations of my case study and know that Kerala state, India has integrated efforts to end malaria into domestic and community-level disease response programs effectively. My main question is now more along the lines of: how does the economic system in place affect the ability of the state to meet the health care needs of citizens afflicted with malaria? By focusing on the economic systems in place in Kerala and Kenya, I can reveal private-public interactions shaping the health care sectors in each location and demonstrate which institutions (governmental or private/corporate) have the most agency in the fight against malaria.

 I will start by covering in this blog the economic and political systems of Kerala state, India, and will in my next blog analyze how U.S. bias against the economic system in place in Kerala has shaped media coverage of the state’s role in eradicating malaria. I will do the same in the following two blogs for Kenya, giving a historical account of the political and economic systems there followed by an analysis of their role in the nation’s attempts to decrease malaria rates amongst its citizens. I will then provide a critique of the Western mainstream media’s portrayal of the fight against malaria in Kenya.


The state government in Kerala has switched in the last two decades between the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Indian National Congress. At present the UDF is in power but both parties are follow Socialist principles and have demonstrated consistent loyalty towards providing high levels of social services and public goods to Kerala’s citizens. No matter which coalition is ruling, the government has to answer to well organized local activist groups which demand high levels of social services provided to them freely by the state. Strikes, protests and marches are common due to the strong presence of labor unions plus a highly literate and politically-conscious citizenry.

Kerala’s government has in the last decade transferred more power and agency to local councils at the panchayat and district levels and has empowered citizens by providing free health care and schooling for all, plus safe forms of birth control for women. As a result of this grassroots politics, Kerala’s citizenship is not stunted by many of the health and awareness issues plaguing comparatively poor nations, and Keralites are incredibly active, mobile, and informed.

Kerala stands out from much of the rest of the developing world in that it is protected from global finance institutions because it is a provincial state and because India is not under pressure from the IMF in the same way as is say, Kenya or other neo-liberal nations. Furthermore, although India has a high government debt to GDP ratio — about 75% in 2010 — it is according to Swiss economist Cem Karacadag “almost entirely financed domestically, thanks to India’s high domestic savings rate.” India’s debt is financed by internal holdings and is balanced by annual growth in GDP rates (around 6.7% in 2009 and 10.4% in 2010). Because India is not indebted to any foreign finance firms and Kerala is protected from global competition by the federal government buffer, the state government of Kerala has been able to focus on building Kerala from the bottom-up, and without having to do so under the rule of foreign investors and private businesses.

I maintain that malaria has largely been eradicated with the exception of a few cases (the majority carried by migrant workers immigrating to Kerala from other states) because Kerala’s neo-socialist governmental boards have always made providing free universal health care and schooling for all citizens a budgetary priority and because Kerala’s socialist economy has made any debt state owned. Socialist principles operating in Kerala keep means of production locally and commonly owned and controlled cooperatively, and have resulted in the creation of an extraordinary state that has defied Western notions of progress, development and a successful economic model. Below are some facts about Kerala that will give you a better understanding of how the state stands out from the rest of India and the developing world for that matter.

Although Kerala is a poor nation-state; the average income per household is US $330 per year which means that the state operates at one seventieth the GDP of the United States it achieves high levels of social development. While India as a whole has been slipping down the Human Development Index (HDI) ranking from 12th in 2006 to 134th today, Kerala has the highest HDI ranking in all of India. If Kerala were its own state it would rank seventy-seventh in world- ahead of countries with much higher GDP per capita, such as Turkey, South African and Peru.

Since the state of Kerala was formed on November 1rst, 1956, the ruling government has always dedicated a large portion of the budget to providing free public goods such as health care and education for all citizens. The resulting societal statistics speak for themselves: the number of boys and girls in Kerala schools is nearly equal; state birthrates are one-fourth that of the rest of India (lower even than in the U.S); the state has the lowest child mortality rates in India; the average life expectancy is 74 years (India’s average is 62 and the U.S. average is 78); the economy has grown at 9% in last five years- 60% from the service sector, 20% from manufacturing, and 20% from agriculture; and Kerala is one of very few places on the planet which meets the sustainability criteria of having low consumption rates as well as small families. Kerala is living proof that GDP levels are not the only or the best indicator of progress, and has demonstrated the ability to leverage its limited GDP to improve general quality of life amongst its citizens.

Kerala’s unique development patterns are a reflection of its Socialist economic system, publicly-minded government and the organized, active and empowered citizens who hold their political representatives responsible. In defying progress by social markers based on the health, literacy and agency of Keralites as opposed to the neo-liberal markers of progress adopted by the rest of the Indian subcontinent, Kerala has established itself as an extraordinarily mature hub within the developing world. In my next blog post I will develop a case for how Kerala’s Socialist economy and Social Democratic government have enabled the state to effectively meet disease-response needs of even its most impoverished peoples. From there, I will discuss the implications of Western bias against such economic and political systems in media coverage of Kerala’s successful eradication of malaria.