During pre-independence days it used to be 'What Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow'. With the advent of a leftist government in Kerala, it became 'What Kerala does today, India will do tomorrow'. Progressive legislations in land reforms, health and education sectors placed the Kerala Model on centre stage with many admirers among world intelligentsia. Seminars followed and reports were prepared on the newly discovered model for achieving development despite poverty. Subsequent governments followed the same policies irrespective of their colors and apparently we did make progress in all fields. But suddenly we find ourselves in a sinking ship with the much lauded Kerala Model turning out to be a hollow one. Right now atleast a dozen other states are far ahead of us in development and everyone knows that all Keralites in neat & clean dresses are not necessarily rich enough. Nature has endowed us to be God's Own Country but we are turning it around to be Greed's Own Country.
Kerala has always been a favorite destination for foreigners and in return, Keralites are fascinating travelers for ever. No wonder we had the first 'divine' conqueror to culturally integrate India in Adi Sankara (contrast him with the 'bloody' conquerors Alexander and Genghis Khan who killed in thousands to conquer). It was only natural that we found a relief valve in the Gulf in seventies and eighties when our small state was reeling under unemployment, poverty and Naxalism. But for this timely opportunity the history of Kerala would have been a bloody one by now. Thousands of our educated youth could fetch ready employment in the Gulf countries (booming with oil industry) was a made for each other situation. America and Europe supplemented this exodus by providing opportunities to hundreds of others in specialized categories. The results are in front of us to see. Things have reached such a state that about half the population of Kerala has something to do directly or indirectly with Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs ' pravasis). Except for the 'adivasis' and other marginalized sections of the society, almost all households have someone outside Kerala. The cult of 'pravasi Keralites' is overwhelming in the social and economic realms of our lives. It will not be completely out of place to say 'What pravasis do today, residents will do tomorrow'.
Any person who lives in a foreign country is an expatriate. But in the Gulf, the term is commonly used only for Western nationals. The entire labor force is divided into three major categories ' Expatriates, Nationals and TCNs. All the South Asians and Filipinos fall under Third Country Nationals (TCNs) and other two categories take up the first and second positions. Qualifications, position or salary do not change one's category and it depends solely on the passport. It was a different ball game for Indians in Europe and USA. But 9/11 has changed all that for good. The same type of classification will eventually seep in and all the charm of the 'melting pot' is slowly getting drained. Finger printing and constant surveillance would make the 'high-tech coolies' of the West no different from the 'low-tech coolies' in the Gulf. Already there is talk of making a 'Coolie Valley' out of Bangalore and the recent trend of outsourcing all the lower end IT jobs to India will make this come true sooner or later.
Wherever they are, expatriates (pravasi) as a group are always insecure. They have to be not only good in what they do but also have to keep their temperament if they are to survive in a foreign land. Given the uncertainties that envelope them, one cannot blame them for being servile, opportunistic and selfish. These are the traits that can make or break their careers in a highly competitive environment. Confined to a very small social domain for years together, it is no wonder that these very same traits become the group characteristics of the pravasis as well. The fine art of successful survival forces them to develop two distinct facets ' the front end for their days abroad and back end for the days at home. In alien lands they are embodiments of hard work and sweet talk. And at home they put aside all those qualities for venting their frustrations. It is not uncommon to find our erstwhile fire spitting trade union leaders laboring it out in the Gulf without any demur and returnees from Gulf making it to leadership of political parties advocating right to strike work. Thus pravasi personalities develop a decorated courtyard and a dirty backyard. Very rarely we find people who have transparent personalities with no hypocrisy to expose their dirty backyards to outsiders.
For a state like Kerala which is fast becoming the collective backyard of a pravasi crowd, the junks are beginning to pile up. Most of the educated youth go outside for work and spend their productive years for betterment of other's societies. Of course, the individuals earn money that finds its way to Kerala banks. But all those monies are again used for generation of wealth and assets outside the state. No new production centers are coming up in Kerala and all that flourishes are mere super markets and gold shops. Trading and tourism will never generate wealth for the state. And growth in services sector will only boost the coffers but never sustain the socio-economic development of any society. Kerala has been stamped as an unfriendly state for investment and it is not going to change in the foreseeable future. Even those who swear that it is not like that will invest only in Nagercoil or Coimbatore but never in Trivandrum or Palghat. Current trend is that all pravasi money is flowing into real estate investments in Chennai and Bangalore. Barring a house at one's own home village to maintain the foothold, no one is willing to invest even in Kerala land.
Another happening in the pravasi backyard is the skewed population pattern. The educated youth is out of the state and what remains are only the children and their aged grand parents. These parents have already done their work and they are back home looking for rest. Both the children and grand parents are hardly bothered about what is happening in the society at large. They are in their own worlds. This gives an unhindered playground for undesirable elements to rise in leadership in all fields including politics. It is hardly surprising to note that not even a single good leader has emerged in any political party in the last two decades. There is sheer dearth of talent and interest to take the lead in public life.
The pravasi effect is also accelerating many undesirable trends in Kerala society. All parents want their children to become engineers or doctors. Gulf money has helped many parents to overcome the old limitations of meeting heavy capitation fees. With only two children in each family and most of them becoming doctors or engineers, there will be strain on the arts and literature that keeps our culture alive. Malayalam litt'rateurs of tomorrow will be either part-time efforts or junkies who couldn't get through the science stream. The result of such an input into political arena is presently in front of us to see. Same fate awaits the vital fields of arts and literature. This can have serious consequences in our very existence as a distinct culture.
Environment of Kerala is also taking its toll on account of lack of interest on the part of its inhabitants. Most of our 40 odd rivers are mere waste water channels during summer. Forests are cut down because there is crisis of identity among conservators and poachers. Water table in most parts of Kerala is fast going down and scenes of poor villagers trekking miles to fetch dirty water (to drink) is haunting. Pravasis have already started thinking in terms of setting up desalination plants in their own villages because that is what they are used to.
In any way one looks at it, the future of Kerala looks bleak. While huge inflow of pravasi money has helped sustain Kerala economy for the last two decades, the direction of growth is not in a sustainable fashion. Youth of today who should take the lead tomorrow is simply not available and children of today are disinterested in Kerala. They are already looking for their productive years outside the state like their fathers and grand fathers. In the vacuum that is created, the less brained and short sighted political leadership is taking the state into easy highways of apparent growth in service sectors like tourism, higher education and five-star hospitals. It is like building up a huge hangar without proper foundations. The visual effects will be quite attractive but consequences can be tragic when a cyclone hits the coast.
The vital question to ask now is whether another Sree Narayana Guru or Mannam or Ayyankali will come up in the new society that is emerging. With everyone looking for good life outside the state, the chances are very little. A degenerating culture with groups of old men interested in promoting their own agenda will lead us to a blind alley in the not so distant future. An unexpected development in the world scenario that will force people back into their own territories may sound retrograde and unfortunate. But in Kerala's case this may be the only way to keep it God's Own.