The authors of the book The Paradox of India’s North South Divide: Lessons from the States and Regions make an eloquent case for progress being equally the consequence of intelligent and meaningful policy craft as well as of a strong demand for growth and betterment from the population within the state.
It is no surprise that some states have better starting points, attributable largely to historical factors (or even accidents), ecological munificence, or just enlightened leadership. The book explores why and how some states utilized or squandered these initial conditions, and arrived at the stages of growth that they currently experience. The authors opine that, on the whole, the south, blessed with a combination of these factors, and spurred by several campaigns and movements that empowered populations to develop pulls on the state apparatus, used their natural and social endowments to pull ahead of northern India on several key aspects.
Even so, the real paradox as I see it, is this: the development indices of a Raichur or a Koppal (both in southern states) are comparable to those in the nethermost outreaches of the BIMARU regions. In other words, it is not always that a southern state, with all its natural blessings and human resources, demonstrates the capacity to optimally utilize its limited resources to advance the prospects and quality of life of its citizens. How does this happen? Does the state apparatus willfully ignore the needs of its own district while gloating over its progress, fueled by the numbers of a Bangalore or a Chennai? What explains the fact that administrators in these districts of a ’good’ southern state lapse into sloth and torpid apathy, but awaken magically when transferred to a high growth area within the same state? This is the real paradox, and irony.
Talking of divides, it often strikes me that progress is defined and expressed in numbers and stories to assert that ‘we’ are ‘ahead’ of ‘them’ in some respect. And, when statistics are used to mask the cracks within the structures and systems of the governance monolith, the consequent warm glow often translates into smugness and nonchalance.This play of numbers and interpretations in the book might sit very well with those in power in the southern states. Or it might provoke jejune arguments for or against a proposition or two in the book. Or (dare we hope?) the book might stimulate creative conversation in the corridors of power—on the several measures necessary to nudge a state up the index so that it will attract further investment and, potentially, kick start growth processes.