The Indian Economy Blog

October 22, 2007

The Dakshina Kannada Model

Filed under: Basic Questions — Ravikiran Rao @ 9:00 am

Everyone talks of the Kerala model, but to the north of Kerala lie two districts called Dakshina Kannada (headquarters: Mangalore) and Udupi, which, if I am not wrong, are doing just as well as, if not better than, Kerala. Actually, they used to be one district before Udupi seceded, so let’s just combine them into the district of “Dakshina Kannada”. 

The state and the district have a lot in common. They were created in the same way – Parashurama threw his axe at the Arabian sea and asked it to withdraw behind the limit the axe marked. Much of the culture is shared. The Yakshagana of DK is derived from the Kathakali of Kerala. Much of the religious rituals are closely related. The languages spoken – Tulu and Malayalam sound similar (at least to me, when I am very drowsy and someone is speaking Mallu, I imagine that I can understand.) The climate is the same, and though DK does not have backwaters, it is as beautiful.

More importantly, the socio-economic profile is similar. People have similar attitudes towards education. The schools in Mangalore are supposed to be the best in Karnataka. Every year, districts all over Karnataka fight for the second position in 10th standard results, because the first position is assured for DK. Education of women is given a much higher value than in the rest of the state.

People’s social and political awareness is also quite high. Just as the Keralites did, the people of DK too routinely fight against mega-projects that threaten to destroy their environment.

But this is where they differ. While the increased political awareness of the Mallus ends up as support for Communism, in DK, it does not. The people of DK, have, to my knowledge, never ever voted Communist. Their social awareness and activism has been channeled to voluntary groups, often caste-based, often led by religion, but very often not, into doing productive work.

That brings us to the Dakshina Kannada model. I propose that someone should formally study for DK the socio-economic indicators that make Kerala such a success story. My prediction is that Kerala and DK will end up in a dead heat. (For example, DK achieved full literacy just a few years after Kerala)

The result will be interesting because what we have is a natural experiment that is controlled for practically everything except what we want to measure – whether the communist governments actually made much difference. If DK turns out to be as good as Kerala, then we can say that it was the culture of the citizens that resulted in good governance and not the fact that Kerala got blessed with an enlightened government. It will also mean that the net effect of the communists on Kerala was negative, because the culture of strikes they brought in blocked industrialization and turned Kerala into a bodyshopper for Dubai.

Incidentally, I am not interested in claiming DK as a success story for economic liberalization. To be sure, DK is an interesting contrast in attitudes from Kerala. DK is one of the few places where you have support on the ground for free markets. DK has an entrepreneurial culture that Kerala lacks. In fact, I think that Mangalore lost out on a chance to be a financial hub when Indira Gandhi nationalized the banks, because many banks based in the region were caught in her web. But it is also true that just as Kerala owes its success to remittances from Dubai, DK also makes its money from the fact that it provides educational and religious services to the rest of India. So if my experiment turns out to be the way I want it to, it will prove that Communism is bad, not that free markets are good. But it is still worth carrying out.

Update: Mint was kind  enough to publish a rewritten and (I think, tighter) version of this post as an article today on the occasion of the newspaper’s launch in Bangalore.


  1. “The Yakshagana of DK is derived from the Kathakali of Kerala.”

    This is the first time I’m hearing that, and I’m (ancestrally) from DK, with a lot of relatives who’re Yakshagana fanatics. Can you please tell us where you got that info from? Saying it just from the common physical appearance of the two would be presumptuos. They might be related, for sure, but I’ve never heard Yakshagana was *derived* from Kathakali.

    Comment by someone — October 22, 2007 @ 6:26 pm

  2. DK and Udupi are what they are because of the scientific temper, interest in economics/financial growth, and religious attitude of the people there. If the Central and State Govts. take some more interest in the development of these districts, and channelize more resources, for development activities, the districts will become better; corruption is minimal compared to rest of the country (in these districts).

    Comment by Sunil S Chiplunkar — October 23, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  3. Your article is certainly thought-provoking. It’s brought out possibilities for further study, where none existed (in my mind). But I have one issue with it: A built-in spell-check cannot help with grammatical irregularities. Am specifically talking about the absence of the defnite article where required and its presence where it isn’t! Happens when you don’t re-write, so I’m certainly not accusing you of not knowing your English : )

    Comment by Prof. Higgins ka baap — October 23, 2007 @ 7:17 pm

  4. someone, I know that it is a controversial issue, but my source is a statement by K S Heggade in an interview I read. I will try to find the link. I thought that if a respected Yakshagana artist could make a categorical statement without being challenged, then probably the issue had got resolved. If I hadn’t read that, I would have made a softer statement – I’d have said that they are related, which they certainly are.

    Prof Higgins, can you be more specific? I can read through my post of course, but reading my writing is very painful, so I’d rather inflict on others than on myself.

    Comment by Ravikiran Rao — October 24, 2007 @ 11:32 am

  5. I am always amazed by the entreprenurial spirit and hard work of the people from DK.

    I remember the story of private buses making a roaring success against bleeding KSRTC buses.

    Udipi restaurant chains is another success story

    DK will grow leaps with some good support from Government.

    Comment by Sundar — October 24, 2007 @ 7:56 pm

  6. The success of DK is due to the presence of entrepreneurial caste/religions.
    The GSB and Muslims have true business/trading culture.The shivollis also possess some entrepreneurial culture.

    Comment by GVV — October 27, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

  7. Hi Ravi,
    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I am from north Karnataka, and have always felt a degree of envy towards DK for the kind of success it has had vs. North Karnataka.
    However, I would have liked it much better had your assessed DK against rest of Karnataka, in stead of Kerala. I believe DK has much more in common with rest of the state than it does with Kerala.

    Comment by Ravi Joshi — November 12, 2007 @ 4:29 am

  8. Ravi, I could have, but it would not have told us anything new. Of course, I do not want to exaggerate the cultural similarity between DK and Kerala – citizens of DK themselves consider themselves a part of Karnataka, and there is an entire district of Kasargod which is disputed because there are both Tulu and Mallu speakers there.

    Comment by Ravikiran Rao — November 12, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  9. [...] Mint  has published a post on the Dakshina Kannada model I made on the Indian Economy blog as an article in today’s edition.  I rewrote the post almost completely to make it an article. Did I make it better or worse? [...]

    Pingback by The Examined Life » Blog Archive » I Get Published — November 12, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  10. I’ve always wondered just how much of the emigration patterns have influenced politics/govt back home in Kerala; to be sure the socioeconomic conditions have changed largely due to the “dubai dollars”..does DK have similar patterns of development?

    Comment by rose — November 15, 2007 @ 11:46 pm

  11. The original DK district was in Madras state and the coastal belt had similar cultures. Your comparison of Kerala to DK and finding them similar is in order. Like Kerala, DK also thrived on NRI remittance. Mangalore and nearby centre Bantwal had communist MLAs and good number of followers in 50′s and 60′s.
    There were strikes by Tile workers, Beedi workers and in Cashew factories. The militancy has eroded these days in both places, much faster in DK.
    But the weakening of communism has given space for communalism – the slow poison to destroy peaceful society.

    Comment by Diwakar Shenoy — December 30, 2007 @ 9:49 am

  12. Well i partly agree with the article.Look, u cannot compare Kerala with DK.I was born in Udupi and grew up in Kasaragod.Iam part Kannadiga , part Malayalee.You people call DK as one of the most developed parts of Karnataka.I call Kasaragod as a backward area of Kerala.But in transport infrastructure and quality of life, Kasaragod par excels more than DK.Your highly “developed DK” is nothing when compared to the “mediumly developed” district of Kannur.About the literacy rate, more than half of the people who constitute your literacy rate come from Kerala, Maharastra and Goa.If you seperate their literacy rate,
    then the only left will be some 45% or so.Also, your banking industry largely thrives due to foreign remittence from Kerala, Goa, Andhra and Maharastra.Communist government in Kerala has only led to a peaceful neutral society there, thus creating a secular atmosphere.Your DK society is largely hindus and thus possess a religional touch.How much advanced u are, u always seems to be not so much.Actually, Kerala is supporting ur DK in spheres of Health(hospitals),education etc.Without Kerala, DK would be impossible.

    Also people of DK always fight for language.If they continue to do so, DK will become economically stagnant.Instead of fighting for language, please fight for the welfare of society, just as malayalees do it.U people are culturally more aligned to Malayalees.After all , we should fight for our country, not for other silly things.DK has a bright prospect.Pls utilise it properly.Or else, i will see my DK die…

    Comment by Arun — January 31, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  13. Why others thinks that there is only communist party in kerala.Infact congress also ruled kerala(more time in power than cpm just check the history of kerala politics).look at westbengal where cpm rules for more then 3 decades.i am a keralite i felt congress govt has done better than cpm when they are in power.But anyway i want cpm to be powerful in state coz they are important to prevent the growth of communal and divisive ugly party like Bjp in kerala coz people of different religion and caste lives here amicabily and help each other.

    Comment by nabeel — February 9, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

  14. I agree with you most points but to say Yakshagana is derived from Kathakkali seems lack of research on your part to make such statements.
    Even the Malayalam script was derived from Tulu Script(clickhere for details).

    It is the proactiveness and entrepreneurship of the people in various sectors like Transport, Education, Banking which has made this region developed than the rest of Karnataka. State Govt help is minimal in this regard.

    Comment by Raveesh Kumar — February 14, 2008 @ 11:44 am

  15. I agree with you most points but to say Yakshagana is derived from Kathakkali seems lack of research on your part to make such statements.
    Even the Malayalam script was derived from Tulu Script. Please go to the following link for details –

    It is the proactiveness and entrepreneurship of the people in various sectors like Transport, Education, Banking which has made this region developed than the rest of Karnataka. State Govt help is minimal in this regard. With Mangalore fast developing as business hub, great times ahead for people of DK.

    Comment by Raveesh Kumar — February 14, 2008 @ 11:46 am

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