Trending hashtags and how it defines modern Kerala

A critical examination of the limits of Kerala's development model becomes imperative in the wake of the Dalit law student's and Narendra Modi's comparison of the southern state to Somalia

Trending hashtags and how it defines modern Kerala

With the long drawn electioneering is almost coming to a close now, how is Kerala reflected or  understood by the people elsewhere?

Pat may come  the answer. Through two hash tags. First it was #justiceforJisha and now, the more viral #PomoneModi, which has captured the attention of international media too.

The first response was more of a moral indignation, expressed after a Dalit law student was brutally raped and murdered at her one room hutment.

The second one  is generally viewed as ‘secular’  and 'modern' Kerala’s rebuff to prime minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to portray  the state as an under developed and lawless society. But beyond the obvious, these two trending subjects in a way speaks more subtly about Kerala society than it  meets the eye.

Modi’s statement comparing a tribal's life in Kerala with that of Somalia, has definitely sprouted as a part of  BJP's continuing effort to highlight his home state Gujarat as the only show piece for development in the country. This is what the ruling party has been doing for some time.

And  for Congress, another major party which  subscribes to the developmental vision and policies that BJP now pushes, can't for the same reason, effectively take on the ruling party on this. Of course the Congress party also is not less vocal in questioning the Gujarat model. But that is mere party politics meant to score  brownie points.

Here Kerala stands out. Especially when the fallacy of calling Gujarat as model state for development is becoming more and more obvious. Modi is oblivious of the fact, may be as a result of his ideological blinders, failed to recognise that Gujarat is no where near Kerala when it comes to social development.

His megalomaniac style which pushed him to even question the DNA of Nitish Kumar during the Bihar election could have prompted him to depict the social development that Kerala acquired in poor light.

Other reason why the Sangh Parivar is quite uncomfortable with Kerala is because they did not have any role whatsoever in the making of modern Kerala, which is far ahead in many social indicators when compared to Gujarat.

The Kerala Model of Development which gained currency among social scientists during 1970's when Thirunananthapuram based Centre for Development Studies  (CDS) brought out analysis of Kerala's  development with the help of United Nations. The study addressed how  Kerala was able to achieve  high social development indicators with relatively low economic growth.

The path breaking study, which later came to be  known as 'Kerala Model' captured the imagination of many international scholars including nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

Kerala could achieve this  due to many factors including the social reformation spearheaded by several reformers.  The role played by Christian missionaries in promoting education and the spread of the communist movement in the state also played important roles.

But in all this, the Sangh had no role, like they had no role in the national movement too.  Modi was essentially trying to question a developmental paradigm, in which his current party or its earlier avataars have any role.  This is similar to the way the RSS is now questioning the national movement in more subtle ways.

And Kerala has reacted to it, as it should have. And that made the news. These are all obvious factors which one could easily make out from the recent history.

But beyond the obvious lies the reality that Kerala is experiencing. And Modi, with his supremacist ideology, would never want to see that. Politicians from other ideological spectrum also do not want to address that issue- the limits of Kerala Model of development.

And this limits are being reflected when a Dalit girl, who was forced to live in poramboke or  government land, is raped and killed brutally. This limits of this model should have been addressed when a tribal boy was reported as rummaging for food in a garbage dump.

People came to know about it through # hash tags, and after some days, like all #hashtags it gave way to others.

Kerala's  mainstream political parties should have woken up to the limits of various methods of development that  the state followed  when tribals were forced to occupy land in Muthanga forest  in 2003.

After that, many land struggles were unleashed by different tribal and Dalit groups bring in to the fore the limits of land reforms that Kerala undertook when the communist party was in power. Despite having carried out land reforms, tribals and Dalits constitute the major chunk of the landless in Kerala.


Programmes like Laksham Veedu Padhathi  (100,000 houses programme) which might have been piloted with good intention, but has furthered the ghettoisation of the weaker sections of the society in the state.

After the Dalits - the traditional vote bank of the communist parties have of late shown political assertion through various identity based movements. Parties like the CPI(M)  have started feeling the heat and are now debating seriously the Dalits and marginalised sections issue. But the issues the Dalits and tribals are facing is not merely a class issue, that is, it can't be addressed from an economic perspective only.

The ill fated law student Jisha's life is an example of the caste prejudices prevailing in Kerala despite the social reforms. She and her mother was living in a one room tenement, without toilet and drinking water facility for years.

And even the local leaders of the political parties did not deem it necessary to engage with them. Jisha and her family were the odd ones out of from the mainstream of the society. There should be thousands of Dalits living in these conditions in various parts of the state. They are treated largely by  'the mainstream, well educated and politically aware' people of Gods Own Country with derison or neglect.

This is the limit of the social and political reforms that Kerala has  undergone.  Actually Jisha's tragic life should have awakened the society to the harsh limits of the the developmental  trajectory that the state have been following.

But the real tragedy is that even those who troll Modi for trumpeting his Gujarat Model,which is solely based on numbers, are actually talking in terms of mere growth.

Come what may, be it displacement, environmental degradation, all are obsessed with  growth and not concerned with development. No body seems to be serious in taking forward  alternative method of equitable distribution which took Kerala ahead of other states in social development indices, by critically examining the limits of that model.

Beyond the hashtags and trolls, the reality is left behind, and it seems it is quite natural in an election time to do so . But the larger politics lies beyond hash tags, trolls, memes and other momentary eruptions in social mediascape.