Tamil Nadu’s distinct growth path is in peril -Kalaiyarasan A and M Vijayabaskar

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published Published on Mar 25, 2021   modified Modified on Mar 27, 2021

-The Hindu

The political emphasis on welfare interventions is insufficient to address the emerging developmental issues in the State

A major concern in contemporary Indian development is the widening socio-economic disparity across groups and regions. Even when regions perform relatively better in one developmental dimension, it does not often translate into all round development. For instance, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala might have attained better levels of human development but that has not been backed by adequate dynamism in the productive economy.

Similarly, productive dynamism in Maharashtra and Gujarat has not been accompanied by commensurate improvements in human well being. The recent ‘Bhagwati-Sen’ debate best exemplifies this paradox. While Jagdish Bhagwati makes a case for a trickle-down approach where growth will translate into development as it provides surplus resources for human development, Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen argue for a capability-centred developmental path where investments in human capabilities will lead to economic development.

Tamil Nadu’s trajectory

Tamil Nadu, however, bucks this trend as it has managed to combine relatively high levels of human development with economic dynamism. What explains this distinct development trajectory? We argue that this trajectory can be explained through the pattern of political mobilisation in the State. Populist political mobilisation against caste-based inequalities accompanied by a political emphasis on inclusive modernisation have been critical to this process. As the State goes to elections next month, the media is abuzz with news of competitive welfare promises announced by various parties. What is seldom taken note of is that the State’s distinct developmental path is at stake.

We suggest that Dravidian mobilisation has institutionalised two sets of policy interventions — ‘economic popular’ and ‘social popular’, which have fostered a comparatively inclusive development pathway. While both share certain common characteristics, we find this analytical distinction useful. The ‘social popular’ pertains to rights-based interventions that ensure inclusive access to modern sectors and public goods. It has a definite redistributive character. Affirmative action policies, land reforms or legislation for equal property rights for women are some examples. ‘Economic popular’ policies are different. They are driven by electoral imperatives and tend to address issues of absolute poverty such as through expansion of food or education subsidies.

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