Politics and Economy

The economy of Kerala is as diverse as the physical geography of the land. Kerala is primarily an agricultural state. It relies on its natural resources for sustenance and income. The type of crops that Kerala produces varies from district to district. In the Highlands of Kerala which extend down from the Western Ghats, the chief agricultural products include tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom, and other spices. The Midlands of Kerala are comprised of the rolling hills and valleys. This is the area between the mountains and the lowlands. Intense cultivation of cashew, coconut, arecanut, cassava(tapioca), banana, rice, ginger, pepper, sugar-cane and vegetables of different varieties is performed here. The Lowlands of Kerala is the entire coastal region that borders the Arabian Sea. The many backwaters, swamps and river deltas comprise this region. The economy of this region includes the harvesting of rice and collection of coconuts. Fishing is also a major industry in this area, as is coir. The economy of Kerala was once heavily dependent upon the production of spices, namely peppar. This cash crop attracted many traders and created a huge trade industry for Keralites. In the past, Kerala has maintained a highly anti-capitalistic attitude. Large industries were discouraged from entering Kerala despite large natural resources, by high minimum wage laws, high state tarrifs and large worker’s unions. Today, due in part to a new liberalisation policy, private industry is beginning to emerge in areas like power, and textiles. This ensures an expanding economy that can remain competitive in the future.

Politically, Kerala represents a unique approach. Kerala was formed out of three political units- the princely state of Cochin, which dates back to the middle ages, the kingdom of Travancore, which was created in the 18th century, and the Malabar district which was the former Kingdom of the Zamorin of Calicut. As India itself was edging towards independence from Britain in 1947, Travancore, Cochin and Malabar intiallly entered India as separate units, before evenually uniting as one state. This was a period when the communist movement gathered momentum especially in Malabar. In 1957, the first Communist party was elected into office. Everywhere in Kerala are signs of its political ideology: roads are littered with small paper flags bearing the hammer and sickle; walls are plastered with portraits of Marx, Lenin, and Che Guevara.

Keralites pride themselves on being politically informed and opinionated. The result is a sort of activist democracy, in which well-informed citizens know their rights and feel empowered to take matters into their own hands. The tribes themselves have their own unique self government that relies on the leadership of a panchayaat –village chief, and his cabinet. They are not above the state laws, but are generally left to govern many political issues autonomously. These forms of government exist simultaneously and are a major focus of many citizens in Kerala.