In recent times, I have come across a lot blogs, newspaper reports and even academic literature comparing India to other countries, notably China. A lot of these offer explanations for the current status of ‘development’ in India vis a vis other nations. The purpose of this post is not to refute the claim that India lags behind on many fronts but rather to debunk two myths. The first, that India lags behind its peers due to its ‘democratic’ political process, the second that India needs to learn entirely from other nations to fix its human development problems. The basic premise is that the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has to catch up with the state of Tamil Nadu (TN) before the nation of India catches up with anyone else.
How far behind is UP ? : A LOT. The human development index (HDI) is the most complete metric for measuring development out there. TN’s HDI in 2006 was 0.736, ranging from 0.842 in Chennai to 0.656 in Dharmapuri. If we assume that UP’s HDI improved from 2001 at the same rate as TN’s (it most likely did not) then UP’s HDI would stand at 0.538 in 2006. So TN’s least developed district is more developed than the average district in UP. TN’s infant mortality rate in 2005 was 37 with very little difference in urban (34) and rural (39) areas. By contrast, UP’s infant mortality rate was 76, almost double that of TN. Infant mortality is correlated with total fertility rate (TFR), which stands at 1.8 for TN and 3.8 for UP. Not surprisingly literacy (74.2 vs 61.6) , sex-ratio (987 vs a shocking 898 ) and nutrition (20% vs 33% malnourished) elaborate on the aforementioned HDI statistic.
On the economic front, the per capita income in 2006 was Rs. 24,308 for TN vs Rs. 10,637 for UP. TN generates 12,330 MW of power for its 62 million residents and industry versus 8597 MW by UP for its 170 million residents, almost 4 times less than TN per capita. Not surprisingly, 89 % of households in TN have electricity versus 43 % in UP. 58% households have a TV versus 33 % in UP. See shades of India/China here ? But these states follow the same political system. No one party rule, no suppression of media, no life-threatening pollution and no restriction on migration in TN. No riots, no terror attacks, no caste violence unlike UP.
Why ? : Reason no. 1: Politics
Look closely at the figure above. The one to the left is the results of state assembly election results in UP and the one on the right is the same for TN, both for the last 20 yrs. Some points stand out instantly, there are a LOT more parties in UP over this period. The Congress actually peaked in the mid 80’s and is almost dead now. The BJP and the JD peaked in the early 90s and gradually died over the 2 decades. The SP peaked in early 2000s and seems to be on the wane now. One party improves each year, the BSP. As bad as the situation in UP is today, the story of the BSP with a Dalit daughter of a clerk as its leader is remarkable in the dynastic tyranny that is Indian politics. By contrast, TN has a clear 2 party system, with governments changing hands each election! This bears out Manmohan Singh’s observation about the optimality of the 2 party system.
TN’s party system, though dynastic and ‘leader rather than issue’ oriented ensured both political stability and competition. This is not to say that TN doesnt have its share of problems, but it seemed to have a political system capable of handling most issues without the kind of instability seen in UP. Now why UP was so politically volatile is another matter, but in a nutshell it came down to the INC letting down the Dalits. What followed was an epic political caste war played out over many elections, many dead babies and mothers, many uneducated youth, many girl children killed in cold blood and 2 LOST decades of economic progress. One hopes for UP’s sake that this period is over.
Reason no. 2: Society
The caste system works different in TN vis a vis UP. UP has a multitude of castes, one for almost each profession. Even though the Dalits and Brahmins are the two important political castes, caste conflict has fractured UP’s social life. In many villages, the upper castes refuse to let lower castes access water, education and health care. Until the arrival of the BSP, UP’s Dalits werent really empowered. In TN, there were three clear caste divisions Brahmin, OBC and SC. There was all out war against the Brahmins, who were pummeled into political submission by the Periyar’s Dravidian movement. The DMK became popular due to the anti-Hindi imperialism agitations in the 60s, the AIADMK split off in the 70s and TN got its 2 party system. This is not to say that there is no caste discrimination in TN, but it is nowhere near the scale in UP.
The middle-class in UP likes to hide behind Bollywood, Noida and ‘Aryan’ superiority. This is to be contrasted with the TN middle-class who are much more involved in NGOs and public life in general.
One can only hope that with the emergence of the BSP, the spectre of casteism can be wiped of UP and the state can march to progress just like TN.