The challenges of the Dravidian model of development
Shortly after winning the parliamentary elections, DMK leader MP Stalin wrote to his party cadres that this victory had given him a crown of thorns. The pandemic and the unprecedented tax burden must be his most immediate concerns. There are, however, other longer-term challenges, some of which are internal to the state and result from its relatively inclusive development trajectory. The growing concentration of power in the Union government and the erosion of political autonomy compound this challenge.
Tamil Nadu’s ability to combine relatively high levels of human development with economic dynamism can be attributed to the distinct political mobilization against caste-based inequalities in the state. In our recent book, The Dravidian Model: Interpreting the Political Economy of Tamil Nadu, we suggest that besides the extent of lower caste mobilization, it is the nature of the mobilization that makes the difference. He researched and ensured equal opportunities policies in modern expanding sectors through affirmative action policies and investments in education and health. He also succeeded in building a bloc of lower caste groups under a Dravidian-Tamil identity that subsumed and sought to transcend individual caste identities. The mobilization built a philosophy that questioned the privileges of caste elites and the naturalness of merit in caste society. When the bloc gained political power, it ensured a relatively inclusive development path through several political interventions.
Tamil Nadu has pioneered widespread access to school education through a host of incentives, the midday meal program being the most well-known. Over time, the mobilization and political response contributed to the creation of school and college infrastructure, in addition to broadening the horizon of the aspirations of lower caste households, and enabled one of the enrollment rates highest for women and lower caste groups. Among other factors, the falling cost of education has played a key role. According to the 71st cycle of the National Sample Survey (NSS) (2014), the average expenditure of an upper secondary student in a public school in Tamil Nadu was 2,862 rupees, less than half of the average of the whole of India of 6,916 rupees. The corresponding expenditure in Maharashtra and Gujarat reached Rs 8,788 and Rs 9,179 respectively. Over time, this support has also extended to higher education. According to the Pan-Indian Higher Education Survey (AISHE) 2017-2018, Tamil Nadu’s gross enrollment ratio (GER) is the highest among the major states. Almost 50 percent of young people aged 18-23 attend some form of tertiary education, compared to an average of 26 percent for India as a whole. It is important to note that it is more evenly distributed between gender, caste, class and space. School enrollment rates for women are 48 percent in Tamil Nadu compared to 25 percent for India as a whole. Although lower than that of the general population, the GER is also relatively higher for young SC. To add, according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO 2014-15), 32 percent of graduates enrolled in tertiary education take technical or vocational courses in Tamil Nadu, compared to 15 percent across India, 21 percent. one hundred for comparable states like Maharashtra and 20 percent for Gujarat. The average expenses incurred by a student pursuing a technical or professional course in government institutions in Tamil Nadu were Rs 35,084 against Rs 46,316 in Gujarat, and just over half that of Maharashtra (Rs 60,047). The average for all of India was Rs 42,069.
School results have generated positive links with the productive economy. If we compare the levels and extent of education of its workforce, Tamil Nadu does better than most states. It also feeds a process of “democratization” of capital in the lower echelons, with new entrants from backward castes and part of the Dalits, in particular through access to vocational education. Although large corporations continue to be primarily under the control of upper castes, ownership of small and medium enterprises for which the state is known has been opened up to lower castes. Although the share of Dalits among entrepreneurs remains low, the Indian Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry reports that the state is home to one of the highest concentrations of Dalit businesses in India. According to the 2013-14 economic census, one in four Dalit businesses in the “20-99 workers” category is located in Tamil Nadu.
Nevertheless, this broad base of access has led to new challenges through inequalities in quality, access and economic gains between castes and space in higher education. Disparities lead to inequalities in the labor market between castes and classes, which fuels claims of caste pride among some sections of the lower castes, particularly visible in resentment among sections of backward castes against mobility among the poor. Dalits. Such assertions open up the possibility of a Sanskritized mobilization of the lower castes in which the Hindu right has been involved. The BJP was able to partially exploit this sentiment and won four seats in this election.
The other challenge is external. The new education policy, for example, seeks to centralize education policies, restricting the role of state governments. Affirmative action on employment has already become less effective due to the downsizing of the public sector and has now eroded further. Besides introducing a quota for the economically weaker sections of the upper castes, the Supreme Court recently ruled against the possibility of increasing the total seat reservation to more than 50 percent. Importantly, he suggested that state governments can no longer retain the right to set their own reservation policies, such as deciding on caste delay. As a pioneer in the demand for greater autonomy for states, it behooves the DMK to mobilize parties across the country to resist this attack on federalism and social justice.
This article first appeared in the print edition on June 14, 2021 under the title “The Center and the Dravidian State”. The authors are with the Madras Institute of Development Studies