TN far better than BJP-ruled states but not role model: Economist Athreya

"BJP govt at centre is constantly pushing its agenda of what can be termed as a ‘corporate-Hindutva’ model"

Dravidian model TN VB Athreya
According to Venkatesh B Athreya, what exactly ‘Dravidian Model’ is can be a matter of academic debate, but the governor shows political bias by simply dismissing the term without engaging with it

Noted economist Venkatesh B Athreya has denounced Tamil Nadu’s controversial Governor RN Ravi for making loaded political statements but says that the southern state needs to do a lot more in many fields.

While insisting that Tamil Nadu has done a lot better than many other states, including BJP-ruled Gujarat, with its ‘Dravidian model’, Athreya told The Federal that it must scale up its performance in several areas including wage disparity, caste violence, domestic violence and democratic decentralization.

The Federal spoke to Athreya, a chemical engineer-turned-development economist who was formerly with the Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli, and has been involved in gender, literacy and development issues both as a planner and a social activist. Edited excerpts:

Governor Ravi commented that ‘Dravidian model’ is outdated and is a political slogan.


There is no unanimity of definition as to what exactly is ‘Dravidian Model’. A book written by two academics which explores the social and economic performance of Tamil Nadu using available secondary data carries the title ‘Dravidian Model.’ Some others have used the term more broadly.

This can be a matter of academic debate. But the governor simply dismisses the term without engaging with it. Characterizing the concept as ‘only a political slogan, a desperate bid to sustain an expired ideology’ shows obvious political bias and a non-serious approach to an important concept. I do not agree with the governor’s approach.

Also read: Dravidian Model: DMK Minister rebuts TN Governor’s charges point-by-point

What is your view on the Dravidian model?

The book establishes that Tamil Nadu has done better on several indicators of human development than a state such as Gujarat, hailed by some rightwing ideologists as a model to follow.

The Governor has said education standards have deteriorated in Tamil Nadu… 

Tamil Nadu is far ahead of most BJP-ruled states in human development indicators. There is no evidence to generalise that standards of education are going down. There is always room for improvement. The governor’s remarks are not backed by any serious evidence.

One may infer from survey reports on school education processes and outcomes that the quality of the teaching-learning process needs improvement but this is a constant challenge for all educational institutions everywhere. This is the case with all states.

Pedagogical aspects, professional training of teachers all need constant and careful attention. The state has its own institutional mechanisms to address these issues.  The challenge exists everywhere. A reasoned, fact-based critique is welcome, not random opinions.

Where will you place Tamil Nadu in education?

Tamil Nadu has done much better than Gujarat in human development indicators. Per capita income and growth rates are also comparatively good in Tamil Nadu when compared with several states of India. Learning from other states in relevant domains (such as Kerala in health care and democratic decentralization) will enable the state to achieve improved outcomes.

One politician said Kerala is like Somalia, demonstrating his ignorance of both territories. One chief minister from a state that performs poorly on health indicators claimed that Kerala, the leader in human development indicators, has much to learn from that state. Of course, this could be correct in a negative sense! This shows how the water is being muddied.

Also read: TN Governor’s controversial take on Dravidian Model ignites anger

What are the areas in which Tamil Nadu needs to improve?

The wage rates in Tamil Nadu are not at par with its growth achievements in terms of GDP. There is a huge gap between male and female wage rates in rural Tamil Nadu. The urban record is not exemplary either. The persistence of caste oppression against Dalits shows the rather limited progress in ensuring social justice in a meaningful sense.

Likewise, the National Family Health Survey data show that violence against women, and particularly domestic violence, is a blot on Tamil Nadu. The ferocity exhibited by those opposed to inter-caste marriages shows the persistence of patriarchy and caste discrimination and the huge distance yet to be travelled for achieving meaningful social justice.

As already noted, the state’s track record in democratic decentralization is far from impressive. Recent moves to extend working hours in industry, happily now withdrawn, reflect the policies of the Union government, not the declared policies of the state government.

We cannot comfort ourselves saying the situation in Tamil Nadu is better than several other states. We have to push to improve ourselves in all development parameters in an inclusive manner.

Dravidian parties, both AIADMK and DMK, claim credit for Tamil Nadu’s growth. Ravi seems to refute it.

Obviously, a governor is a political appointee. We have to keep it in mind when it comes to looking at what such an appointee says.

Whatever a government implements should not be seen as a government’s generosity. Governments do things both because an electoral democracy demands that they respond to some extent at least to the needs of the people, and because political forces mobilise people in struggles to achieve their articulated demands.

Irrespective of the party, the government of the day is under at least some pressure to fulfil the will of the people in an electoral democracy, however flawed. The political Left has played an important role in this.

Take the case of the 12-hour labour law withdrawn recently after pressure from DMK allies. Chief Minister MK Stalin acted correctly in withdrawing it. But the fact that the government passed the resolution in the Assembly shows that neo-liberal policies, championed by the Centre, have some supporters in the governance apparatus of the state.

Successive governments of Tamil Nadu have pursued the neo-liberal policies of the Union government for years, having also been in the ruling coalitions at the Union level. This has led to issues with wages, decent working conditions, etc. So, there is much scope for improvement.

Even while implementing neo-liberal policies, successive Tamil Nadu governments have put in place several welfare programmes, some of which are co-funded by the Union and state, and some by the state alone.

Also read: ‘Dravidian model’ the governance formula for all states: Stalin’s rejoinder to Governor Ravi

BJP says DMK has failed the state and its people.

The present BJP-run Union government is constantly pushing its agenda of what can be termed as a ‘corporate-Hindutva’ model.

Though it does not oppose neoliberal economic policies, the present DMK regime is consistent in opposing communalism and Hindutva. It is a good government in that sense. The role DMK is playing at the national level bringing together parties against BJP’s Hindu Rashtra plank is commendable.

So, you don’t subscribe to the Dravidian model?

The situation on ground (in Tamil Nadu) is much better than the BJP-ruled states. But I don’t see Tamil Nadu as a role model to be necessarily followed by all states. The issue of rural poverty is yet to be properly addressed, especially because of failing to do land reforms in the past.

The state is committed to the neo-liberal policy of the Union government. Its budgets reflect an obsession with keeping down the fiscal deficit even below the norms allowed.

Ravi cited many violent incidents to say all is not well with Tamil Nadu.

The statement that law and order is deteriorating in Tamil Nadu is not backed by evidence. Many other claims are also not corroborated. These are political statements which the governor should have desisted from. He should have stuck to his constitutional responsibilities.

There is a widespread view that the RSS-BJP combine is using the office of the Governor to create problems for non-BJP state governments. This is unfortunate. Using governor as an instrument to create disruption and to create disaffection among people against the state government is not conducive to democratic Union-State relations.