Untouched by the interminable debate on Gujarat Model versus the Kerala model started by an argument between two economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is a little village called “Kerala” in Gujarat’s Morbi district.
The villagers here know nothing about Mr. Bhagwati’s analysis of Gujarat Model of development which he reckoned was superior to the contrasting Kerala model of development. One based on private entrepreneurship driven development and the other as Mr. Sen countered high social spending resulting in growth. Over the years, this debate has taken various shapes, with political masters of the two states hitting out at each other including the spat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest episode unfolded in April this year, when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan received flak for sending state Chief Secretary V. P. Joy to evaluate the Gujarat government’s e-governance initiative “Chief Minister’s Dashboard” that gives the CM’s office a greater control over various schemes and developmental projects operational in the state.
The twists and turns of these debates hardly make a difference for the villagers of “Kerala” about 10 Kms away from the Wakaner town. They are amused by the interest that their little hamlet is drawing just over its name.
There are no clear answers to how the village got its name except for an improbable myth that has been handed down over generations. Mukesh Bhagat the priest of the village temple tells the story. The entire area came under the Wakaner Princely State. The present site of the village was a dense forest, with a little clear which was used as an “akhara” for the saints. River Machchhu flows behind the village, back then slightly more closer than today. “One can’t say, whether it was intentionally planted or it all grew wild, the site where our village stands today had a dense Banana grove. About 150 years back, the river flooded and swept away the entire plantation. And remembering that was born in Kerala- the village of Kelas or banana”, he averred. The story hardly adds up the connection between Kela (banana) plantations to Kerala.
Ramesh Dhamji Bhai Ladher, a farmer, has not heard the names of the economists who spurred the debate and he knows very little about the homonymous state except that it has 100 percent literacy rate. But he asserts that Gujarat is far more developed. “Woh Shikshit hai aur hum vikasit hai (They are literate but we are developed),” he states without a trace of irony.
The common name has often resulted in hilarious incidents. 86-year-old Jayantilal Chaganlal Mistri, worked in several cities as a mason over the years recalls one such. “I was working in Ahmedabad. Out of the blue my manager called me to his office to meet some officer who had come from outside. The visiting officer had been told that I was from “Kerala”. He was expecting someone from down south, but here I was standing a Gujarati from the village ‘Kerala’,” he said breaking into a toothless smile. Needless to say, the officer expecting a Malayalee and getting a Gujarati instead was disappointed.