South India thus went ahead of North India
I recently re-read Walter Crocker’s book Nehru: A Contemporary Estimate. This single-volume book about the life and legacy of India’s first Prime Minister remains the best in the category and also tells many interesting things about Nehru’s country.
Just consider this comment made about the part of India where I myself live: ‘South India is given less importance in the Republic of India.
It is India’s loss and it is an injustice to South India because the South has excelled in certain important things – there is relatively less violence, less anti-Muslim intolerance, less indiscipline and crime in universities; better educational standards, better governance and better sanitation; There is less corruption and less interest in Hindu revivalism here.
Half a century after Crocker wrote these words, economists Samuel Paul and Kala Sitaram Sridhar wrote a book, The Paradox of the North-South Divide (Sage Publications, 2015).
Using comprehensive tables of statistics, the book argues that South India has done much better than North India in terms of economic development.
Paul and Sridhar have made two kinds of comparisons.
First, he compared Tamil Nadu, a large state in South India, and Uttar Pradesh, a large state in North India, face-to-face. He then expanded the scope of the respective regions and compared the four south Indian states—Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, undivided Andhra Pradesh and Kerala—with the four north Indian states—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Paul and Sridhar started with data from 1960 when per capita income in Tamil Nadu was 51 per cent higher than in Uttar Pradesh.
In the early 1980s, this gap narrowed to 39 per cent. However, the gap widened rapidly in the decades that followed, and in 2005 the average citizen of Tamil Nadu earned 128 per cent more than the average citizen of Uttar Pradesh.
Paul and Sridhar found that the average per capita annual income is currently $4,000 in the four north Indian states, while it is $10,000 in the south Indian states, nearly 250 per cent higher.
Paul and Sridhar’s analysis shows that there are two areas where the South has outperformed the North.
The first of these pertains to the Human Development Index, which includes female literacy rates, infant mortality rates, and life expectancy.
The second relates to important areas of economic development such as technical education, power generation and the quality and accessibility of roads.
Paul and Sridhar also found that the South fared better than the North on indicators of governance.
Government schools and government hospitals are better runs in southern states, with lower drop-out rates and higher stock of doctors and medicines in hospitals.
Compared to the slums of the north, there are far more and clean toilets in the slums of the south, as well as greater access to clean drinking water.
The startling conclusions of Paul-Sridhar’s book also include that the north-south divergence is a relatively recent case. In fact today it would be difficult to believe that the incidence of rural poverty in 1960 was higher in Tamil Nadu than in Uttar Pradesh.
The South began to outperform the North since the 1980s, and the gap has widened since the 1990s.
Paul/Sridhar’s study is based on data. This largely leaves out sociological or qualitative analysis.
It only briefly mentions the importance of the social reform movement in the South and does not speak at all of the relative absence of Hindu-Muslim conflict.
Yet these factors are certainly the key to understanding why the South and the North have diverged so dramatically in their social and economic development.
When the liberalization of the Indian economy began in 1991, the South was already in a better position to take advantage of this policy change, as it had a far more skilled and healthier labour force.
In the 1990s and 2000s, when factories, engineering colleges, software parks and the pharmaceutical industry flourished in states such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were never-ending communal and caste conflicts.
were entangled in the cycle. The horrors of Hindutva spread to the north as a result of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, while largely (though not entirely) it remained far from the south.
To understand why the South has done better than the North in recent times, we have to take a detailed historical perspective, not just decades of the past, but centuries of the past.
Access to the coast and the arrival of foreigners as merchants and travellers rather than conquerors led to an open-minded, rather than xenophobic (fear of foreigners) attitudes towards people elsewhere.
Coming closer to the present, since the South did not experience the horrors of Partition, it has also survived lasting bitter legacies. On the social side, Brahmin supremacy had begun to be challenged in the south much earlier.
Thinkers like Sree Narayana Guru and Periyar paved the way for an egalitarian approach, both in terms of caste and gender.
It is for sure that the South is by no means perfect. The persecution faced by Dalits in parts of Tamil Nadu brings shame to the state and its political culture.
In Karnataka, a southern state, Hindutva has begun to make steady inroads into social and political life, with little good results.
And in the 1960s, it may be true that corruption has been less in the South, now with massive gains from mining and infrastructure contracts in the post-liberalisation era, bribes or cuts in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. The craving for politicians is no less than that of their counterparts anywhere.
However, despite all, its social and economic development in recent decades, the importance of the South in the life of the Republic in political terms is less.
And soon it may be less. In fact, there is a proposal to allow the Lok Sabha seats afresh based on population.
If this happens, states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu that serve their citizens well, their negligible influence on the policies and priorities of the central government will be further reduced.
States that serve their citizens indifferent or obnoxious ways, such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, will have an even greater influence on the policies and priorities of the central government.
This growing disparity will put new burdens and pressures on the already fragile state of Indian federalism.