To Whomsoever it May Concern… (Including Potential Advisors to the Communist Chief Minister of Kerala)

Vinod Narayanan July 29, 2016

“To hear my fellow legislators on the other side tell it, nothing is more important in this country than the rights of estate and plantation owners. Apparently, if estates and plantations are safe, then the state is safe. The extreme excitement which some of my fellow legislators have displayed for the owners of estates and the idea of an estate or plantation, though not infectious, is certainly thought provoking. One would think that all would be well if there were nothing but plantations in Kerala, to go by some of the more fervent speeches… Unfortunately, I have to say to my fellow legislators that we would place the need for preserving forests, the need for producing food grain as more important on our list of priorities than the preservation and expansion of estates and plantations and the consequent enrichment of the owners of these estates, and it does not matter if the estate belongs to the father of VR. Krishna Iyer or the fathers of the legislators from the Congress, this is applicable to all parties and action will be taken against any who refuse to comply… I must also point out that my fellow legislators seem to be concerned with the estate owners but not at all with the hutment dwellers and workers of those plantations and estates. According to legislation proposed by them, those who dwell in hutments and work on plantations, mills, factories and workshops have no rights whatsoever. These are peculiar claims indeed.”

1

“You tell me that from April 5, 1957 when the government of communists took over, the Rule of Law ended. Let me say what we understand by Rule of Law. That there is a bias in State operations will be denied by no one who scrutinizes the historical evidence. The Greek city-state was biased against the slaves. The Roman Empire was biased against the slaves and the poor. Since the beginning of the Industrial revolution, the State has been biased in favour of owners of the instruments of production as against those who have nothing but labour of themselves. Since this is not Lenin who I quote here, but Prof. Harold Laski, I hope the honorable members on the other side will not take me to task on this as is their won't. If you say that India is somehow an exception, then I would quote back to you the Planning Commission’s request to all states to prevent forced evictions of tenant farmers and hutment dwellers from the feudal property. The Rule of Law did not end on April 5, 1957, sirs, and should you say that to the poor people of this land, they would never believe you. Indeed that is the day the Rule of Law began for them. ”

2

“In 1957, the quota for Backward Classes was raised from 35 to 40 per cent, bringing the total reservation to 50 per cent, with 10 per cent of the posts allotted for S.C.s and S.T.s.”

3

“The land reforms of 1967 included new pieces of legislation. The abolition of landlordism by the compulsory vesting of proprietorial rights in the government and their subsequent assignment to the cultivating tenants; the transfer of the onus of proof of ownership from tenant to the landlord in disputes regarding existence of tenancy; the broadening of definition of tenant to include those without documentation, mortgages, several kinds of sharecroppers, the victims of legal subterfuges aimed at evading land reform, and those ‘honestly believing themselves to be tenants’, by simply ‘deeming’ them tenants. Hutment dwellers were granted security of tenure; arrears of rent, if any, were reduced to one year, future annual rent was fixed at two days wages. The right to evict tenants was heavily circumscribed and eviction was to be restricted to within six months of the act. No hutment dwellers or tenants belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes communities could be evicted at all.”

4

“The standard view on development policy at the state level is as follows: if a state is to develop then there must be substantial investment within it; since state government resources are limited, such investment must come from private investors who must be attracted to the state through suitable inducements; and since all states must do this they must compete against each other to be attractive for private, especially corporate, capital. What is unique about Kerala under the recent Left Democratic Front rule is that it did not follow this policy. It did not join this competitive struggle with other states to make itself attractive for private corporate capital, for which it was much criticized by personages from the prime minister downwards as being “anti-development”. Not that it frowned upon or discouraged private investment, but such investment was welcomed within a policy framework, which offered no competitive concession for attracting it, which insisted upon a degree of government supervision (for example, 26 per cent equity in the setting up of information technology parks), and which eschewed coercion in land acquisition, to a point where projects often got delayed or even aborted for absence of land. (By the same token when projects did come up it was not uncommon for those on whose lands they were located to participate in the inaugural functions.) Kerala, not surprisingly, did not acquire fame like Gujarat as a destination for private capital, to the chagrin of many pundits sympathetic to the state. Remarkably, however, Kerala in the recent past has shown a slightly higher growth rate than the Indian economy as a whole, and only a slightly lower growth rate than Gujarat with which it is always compared unfavourably as a destination for private capital. The gross domestic product at factor cost in constant (2004-5) prices in 2009-10 was 25 per cent higher than in 2006-07 for the country as a whole; for Kerala the gross state domestic product was 28 per cent higher and for Gujarat 31 per cent higher. Growth rate, though much advertised these days by Central government spokesmen, is an utterly inadequate index for judging economic progress. Even by this criterion, however, Kerala, despite not joining the rat race for attracting capital, has performed quite creditably.
Kerala in the recent past has shown a slightly higher growth rate than the Indian economy as a whole, and only a slightly lower growth rate than Gujarat with which it is always compared unfavourably as a destination for private capital. The gross domestic product at factor cost in constant (2004-5) prices in 2009-10 was 25 per cent higher than in 2006-07 for the country as a whole; for Kerala the gross state domestic product was 28 per cent higher and for Gujarat 31 per cent higher. Growth rate, though much advertised these days by Central government spokesmen, is an utterly inadequate index for judging economic progress
Some may argue that Kerala would have done even better if it had also exerted itself to be hospitable to private capital, but that is erroneous. A state cannot both expand welfare expenditure significantly and be generous in providing inducements to private capital. State government resources being limited, a strategy of providing inducements to private capital takes up so much of these resources that little is left for increasing welfare expenditures noticeably. According to a report in The Hindu, for instance, the Gujarat government promised to give out Rs 31,000 crore, no doubt spread over several years, to induce the Tatas to shift their Nano plant to that state. With such largesse, clearly the scope for increasing welfare expenditure gets severely constricted. Putting it differently, we have here two alternative development strategies, which cannot really be combined. One uses the public exchequer to induce capitalists to invest in the state in the belief that this investment will generate growth. The other uses the exchequer to increase government expenditure on a variety of schemes, in particular welfare schemes, in the belief that this will not only directly benefit the people, but also, as a consequence, enlarge the domestic market, to cater to which there will be an automatic increase in investment, not necessarily of big capitalists but of a range of small entrepreneurs.”

5

The author is not an expert or even knowledgeable about the finer details of current macroeconomic thought. However, the rumors of an appointment of an economic advisor to the CPM-led LDF government's Chief Minister (CM) seems at first sight to be a heartening one. Clearly, this government takes its responsibilities seriously enough to engage full time the services of experts in many areas. Should she or he be unfamiliar with how matters are handled in Kerala, an advisor could, of course, look to the past and see how other communist chief ministers in Kerala have gone about their business. Some examples from the tenures of Com. EMS, who served two terms of two years each, set apart by around a decade in 1957 and 1967 as the first communist chief minister of Kerala and of Com . VS the previous communist chief minister of Kerala have been indicated above.

Clearly, communist chief ministers in Kerala do not intend to serve out their term or win multiple terms. Should those occur, the chief ministers may be glad to accept, but it does seem on the previous form that regardless of risk of dismissal or coups (which happened in the case of the first 3 elected communist governments in Kerala in 1957, 1967 and 1980), communist chief ministers are motivated to implement communist policies in the time available to them.

Therefore, one can speculate about what an advisor to the present communist chief minister’s function could be. Common sense indicates that advising the CM on expediting the implementation of the LDF manifesto for the 2016 elections would be at the top of the agenda.6 What parts of the LDF manifesto would then take preference would be the next question. Logically a parliamentary majority for the two communist parties alone would indicate sufficient strength for the passage of the most left wing portions of the manifesto. Also by that same logic, these portions of the LDF manifesto stand the best chance of being implemented by a government where the communist parties already have a simple majority by themselves. Therefore, it is logically sound to expect that the focus of any such advisor would be to aid the CM in finding pathways to implement these most left wing portions of the LDF manifesto first and in the fastest method that is available at the disposal of the state machinery.

References:


  1. EMS: Therenjeduttha Niyamasabha Prasangangal, EMS. 

  2. EMS: Therenjeduttha Niyamasabha Prasangangal, EMS. 

  3. Frontline, Issue 17, Aug. 14 - 27, 2004. 

  4. Page 294, Communism in Kerala, Thomas Nossiter. 

  5. The Kerala Strategy - Of a unique route to development, Prabhat Patnaik, The Telegraph, May 4, 2011 

  6. LDF Manifesto Assembly Election Kerala 2016 

Gita Gopinath, Kerala CM economic adviser, Pinarayi Vijayan, Politics, Kerala, Neo-liberalism, Note, Economics Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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