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.