(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 30, 2011
M A Baby
THE International Congress on Kerala Studies convened at Trivandrum during January 1-3, 2011 by the AKG Centre for Research and Studies turned out to be a big success far outstripping the expectations of even the organisers. This was true in terms of the number of papers presented, the number of delegates registered, participation in discussions, spread and depth of issues deliberated upon, debates generated in media and society at large, publications brought out, and above all the lessons it leaves for development policy making and future struggles. Around 700 papers were presented in ten symposia and 77 technical sessions. Participants included nearly 3000 registered delegates and around 500 others who could not be given registration but allowed to attend the sessions. The approach paper prepared by the organisers and the papers submitted by the participants were published and circulated in advance. The new wave of development dialogue generated by the international congress has not yet subsided. It is being carried on in the media and numerous other forums. Interestingly, the Congress party in the state is now trying to match by organising a similar exercise. The approach paper of the international congress will be uploaded in the congress website soon for facilitating further discussion. The revised approach paper will be published later in Marxist Samvadam, a theoretical journal published by the AKG Centre for Research and Studies.
What the international congress represents is the rich legacy of democratic development discourse in the state. The present one in fact was the third international congress on Kerala Studies. The earlier two editions were of immense impact on development thinking and policy making in the state. The first congress took place in 1994 under the leadership of E M S Namboodiripad, one of the stalwarts of Indian communist movement, who was also the first chief minister of the state. But, the history of such participatory development dialogue in the state goes further back. The 1957 EMS government, which was the first ever communist led government to come to power through ballot, had the unenviable task of developing an alternative programme, which would help further the cause of welfare of the people and development of the state without breaking the limits imposed by the constitution and the federal structure of the country. The alternative programme was evolved through a long drawn out process of dialogue, struggles and experimentation. In this, the state conference of the Party held in Thrissur during June 22-24, 1956 and its resolutions had a central role.
It was acceleration of global political and economic changes during 1980s and early 1990s that prompted the AKG Centre for Research and Studies to convene the first international congress on Kerala Studies in 1994. The first congress was a massive participatory exercise which brought together nearly 1500 participants, drawn from among scholars, political leaders, social activists, etc to review the state’s development experience till then and to deliberate on a new development agenda. The first congress was instrumental in originating and developing a large number of new development initiatives including the People’s Campaign for Planning in the state.
The second congress was convened in 2005 in the context of major reverses suffered by the regional economy and society on account of the introduction of neo-liberal economic reforms. It helped build broad consensus against such reforms that threatened even the basic virtues of the Kerala model of development besides setting a clear programme for putting the train of Kerala development back on the right track. The present state government, which assumed power immediately after the second congress was trying to do exactly what the second congress suggested. Any impartial assessment would prove that the past five years have been of great fulfillment. It is the success of the present state government and the state’s economy at large that motivated us at the AKG Centre for Research and Studies to convene the third international congress on Kerala studies. As the approach paper suggests the state has already moved on to a higher trajectory of growth. In fact, since late 1980s the state’s economy has been maintaining growth rates on par or even above the national averages. Moreover, in recent years the performance of the state has witnessed major advancements in the area of physical as well as social infrastructure, social welfare and social security networks, and above all in public finance. The state has been able to overcome some of the seemingly insurmountable barriers to development. But, there are remaining as well as new challenges to ponder about. It was in this context that we decided to launch the third edition of the international congress to review the state’s development experience especially of the recent past and to set the development agenda for the next decade or so.
The inaugural speech of Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M) was a thorough review of earlier editions of the congress, which showed how the insights generated by them helped the state in defending its past gains from the onslaughts of neo-liberal policies. He highlighted the need to continue the resistance against such policies of the central government to build on the historical strengths of the region as well as to consolidate the recent gains. For full text of the speech see People’s Democracy issue dated January 9, 2010. The presidential address of V S Achuthanandan, chief minister of the state, was a comprehensive report on the achievements of the government. S Ramchandran Pillai, Pinarayi Vijayan, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, C Divakaran, N K Premachandran and O N V Kurup were among the speakers of the inaugural session. The approach paper was presented in the inaugural session by T M Thomas Issac.
The international congress perhaps is the first forum to recognise the progress of the state to a higher trajectory of development. The approach paper of the congress establishes this by analysing the growth episodes of the state since independence. Achievement of higher growth rates over the past two decades is reflected in the quality of life indices as well. But according to the approach paper, the higher economic growth has raised several challenges that need to be addressed urgently. First of all the tempo of high growth needs to be made sustainable. Secondly, the state should address the challenge of fighting inequalities, which tended to grow fast when economic growth picked up momentum. Third, the state should be able to find solution to the problem of acute unemployment. Fourth, the development process of the state should be made more gender sensitive and balanced. Fifth, it should be made more environment-friendly and sustainable. Last, but perhaps the most important goal is the need to maintain and strengthen secular, democratic, peaceful and progressive environment of social life in the state, which is a critical precondition for all advancement.
The high SDP growth registered during the past two decades was largely confined to the services sector. The agriculture sector of the state tended to lag far back as represented by systematic decline in the share of the sector in SDP. It was food production, which suffered the most. The secondary sector, including industries grew faster than the primary sector, but not fast enough to improve its share in SDP. Only making it more broad based can ensure sustainability of high growth. Both agriculture and industry should grow to sustain the tempo of growth in the economy as a whole as well as the services sector. Achievements of the present government suggest that it is possible. The present government has succeeded in reversing the trend of secular decline in food production. After long years of sustained decline, production of rice, milk, eggs, meat, vegetables and other food products started increasing in the state. The commercial crops, which continue to suffer from the shock of the East Asian currency crisis is now limping back to the growth path. One important contribution of the present government has been in the area of public enterprises. The previous UDF government, in their enthusiasm to emulate the masters in Delhi, was trying to disinvest and sell off the public sector units. By waving the magic wand of commitment, the LDF government has rehabilitated nearly all of them. Most of them are now making profits. Moreover the state government is in the process of launching many new public sector industrial units. The success in the public sector is slowly spreading into the private sector industries as well which has also picked up in terms of annual growth rates. The international congress outlined various measures to strengthen the success story in agriculture as well as industry. The spirit of the measures recommended is not that of a withdrawing and retreating state but that of active state involvement and leadership.
The state should play a very important role in building up physical as well as social infrastructure facilities. The public investment in roads, harbors, ports, metro railway, airports, energy, etc needs to be stepped up substantially. In industry, common facilities should be established. Growth in production should be supported by quantitative and qualitative improvement in the education. The congress outlined a well laid out strategy to further the achievements in the education sector. The state should strive to grow into a knowledge society. It has also proposed measures to overcome the present crisis in the construction sector, which is worsened by the shortage of construction materials.
Media has played a responsible role as a corrective force in Indian society, but at times, a casual and irresponsible approach is shown by sections of the media. The session ‘Whither Media’ discussed the role of the media in playing a corrective role and the aberrations in media ethics in the recent past. N Ram, editor-in-chief, The Hindu gave an exhaustive opening presentation in the session. Sashikumar of Asian School of Journalism was the moderator. P Sainath, Fredrik Laurin(Swedish Public Broadcasting), Prabha Varma and R Parvathi Devi made presentations in the session.
Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) inaugurated the special session on the role of the transitional governments and explained the role played by the Left governments in providing alternatives to the neoliberal agenda followed by the successive governments at the centre. Professor Carlos Alzugaray Treto of University of Havana explained in detail the initiatives and achievements of the Cuban government, resisting the attack by the imperialistic forces. The initiatives of the Hugo Chavez government were summarised by Milena Ramirez, ambassador of Venezuela. Fuad Cassim, special advisor to finance minister of South Africa and Prabhat Patnaik made presentations in the session. V V Dakshinamoorthy chaired the session.
The concluding speech was made by Pinarayi Vijayan, Polit Bureau member and state secretary of the CPI(M). He stressed the importance of implementing developmental projects at a fast pace without losing time and the necessity to address environmental issues in a dialectical manner. M A Baby presided over the concluding session. T M Thomas Issac presented the main conclusions arrived at different thematic sessions. C K Chandrappan, M V Govindan Master and C P Narayanan also spoke.