Last week, I had the pleasure of being in Kerala for the second time in two months. On a drive to Guruvayur from Nedumbassery, my companions included an awestruck north Indian resident of Mumbai and someone from Palakkad who had left Kerala in the 1990s. While the north Indian woman praised the state for its greenery, clean air and visible prosperity, the ex-Palakkad resident attributed the first couple of factors to a lack of industry in the state.
Many bemoan the fact that God's Own Country lacks the industrial development of states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The industrial prowess of those states are indeed remarkable, but let’s face it: mass employment in factories is an idea whose time is passing. Kerala, and India on the whole, have missed the industrialisation bus. This is the age of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence.
A growing number of countries are boasting of driverless trains in their mass transit systems. It’s possible that even a metro train driver job may become redundant globally in the next few decades! New factories are not just going to be economic busts but will end up polluting the clean air of the state. Kerala is one of the few states in India where the rivers are actually clean enough to swim in. It’s a tragedy that something as basic as this is seen as a luxury for most Indians. As a resident of Mumbai, I fret the fact that I can’t go for a daily swim in Juhu since the sea is just too filthy! It would be a crime against humanity to make Kerala’s rivers polluted. But I digress!
Need of the hour
With the Gulf boom in its twilight, the best way to economically empower the youth of Kerala is to bring about a visionary policy that supports and facilitates research and development (R&D) into technology that will shape the next few decades. The state has a large pool of talented youngsters and a functional education system. This to go along with tremendous social consciousness! On my recent trips, I was pleasantly surprised to notice the relative lack of honking from motorists and the fact that zebra crossings are actually respected. In most parts of India, zebra crossings are just lines on a road.
Basically, Kerala doesn’t have many of the woes and social ills of overpopulated states in other parts of the country.
The main focus of the authorities should be to convert the state into an information technology powerhouse. There have been successes on this path. Kerala’s IT parks have managed to generate substantial employment opportunities. It’s difficult not to be impressed with the KeralaIT.org website. Its lifestyle page sums up the Malayali ethos so beautifully: “We are a happy people. We love our mountains, beaches and rains; also, we love our world-class healthcare systems, digital governance, entrepreneurs, football, fast cars, English. Now you know why a Keralite thinks that he is a citizen of the world and yet feels at home? The saints, explorers, merchants and voyagers who landed here felt the same way. Today, investors, tourists, entrepreneurs and a host of other people feel the same about Kerala. In fact, everyone comes to Kerala more than once. We love them all. Indeed, if God has an address, it has a Kerala pin code in it. We love it too. So, welcome to Kerala!”
The state needs the best of technology companies to set up shop and open up R&D centres. There’s a saying in China that if you want to see the country’s past, visit Beijing, if you want to see its present, visit Shanghai and if you want to see its future, visit Shenzhen. The city that borders Hong Kong is now a global hub of innovation and also one of the most liveable cities on the planet.
Kerala needs to develop its own Shenzhen, a forward-looking city that attracts the top companies and brightest minds, and at the same time generates enormous employment opportunities for both the local people and outsiders alike.
However, there are complaints about the state still not being business and investment friendly. While many of these grievances could be politically motivated, there is more than a grain of truth in them. These are areas that need to be fixed in a hurry lest Kerala miss the innovation and information technology bus.