Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked up a storm ahead of the May 16 elections in Kerala with his comments comparing the state’s social indicator with that of Somalia. At a rally in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday, Modi looked to thrash the ruling Congress-led government for its alleged ‘lost glory’ and said that Kerala’s infant mortality rate among the scheduled tribes was worse than that of Somalia.
“The unemployment rate in Kerala is at least three times higher than the national average. Infant mortality rate among the scheduled tribe (ST) community in Kerala is worse than Somalia. The state can meet only 13% of their requirement of agricultural products. Even after 70 years of independence, Kerala depends on other states for 70% of its power requirements. Similarly, most of the youth in Kerala are forced to leave their home state in search of jobs. Only through overall development, the state could be brought back to its past glory,” Modi said at the rally.
The comparison to Somalia has created a political row, with various parties asking him to withdraw his remark. Incumbent Chief Minister Oomen Chandy has written a strongly-worded letter asking him to have some political decency while making such remarks. The controversy quickly spread to social media with #PoMoneModi (loosely translated as ‘Get a move on, son, Modi’) trending on Twitter.
Kerala is considered to be one of the best states in the county in terms of human development indicators like literacy, infant mortality, among others.
Spouting economic and social data at public rallies and platforms to make a point is not new. What stands out in Modi’s case is that the Prime Minister – in a country where PMs have historically not gotten actively involved in Assembly election campaigns – has been accused of using misleading data. What seems to have stung voters and rivals alike is the comparison of the state with a poverty-ridden nation which is known for its abysmal development numbers. However, it should also be noted here that not all that Modi said was wrong or misrepresented. Unemployment, for instance.
The Prime Minister said that infant mortality rate among scheduled tribes (ST) is worse than that of Somalia.
An infant mortality rate is the number of deaths per 1,000 live births. The number is a reflection of healthcare facilities in the state, in general, and pre- and post-natal care in particular.
As per latest data available from the ministry of tribal affairs, infant mortality rate among scheduled tribes in Kerala was 60 deaths per 1,000 births. Compared to that, the overall infant mortality rate in the state is just at 12 deaths per 1,000 — the lowest in the country —, according to data stated in the Economic Survey 2015-16. The case for comparison, Somalia, has an infant mortality rate of 85, data from World Bank reveals.
The comparison and the gap is not just incorrect, but it makes you question the motive behind such selective splicing of caste-based data, knowing full well that the general population figures are impressive.
Gujarat, the home state of the Prime Minister, in fact has an IMR of 36, much closer to the national average of 40.
Modi said that the unemployment rate in Kerala was three times than that of the national average.
A quick mathematical calculation of the data on unemployment available would say that he is largely correct in quoting this figure.
The unemployment rate per 1,000 persons for people aged 15 and above in Kerala is 99. The national average, however, is 38, data from Ministry of Labour and Employment reveals.
This can also be seen in context of Modi’s comment on most of the youth leaving Kerala in search of a job. While it is a fact that the rate of immigration from the state is one of the highest in the country, the state’s economy is also seeing big remittances from the Middle East and other regions of the world.
Reports state that from the entire chunk of remittances that come to India, almost 40% of it goes to Kerala. These stood at Rs 1 lakh crore ($14.9 billion) in the third quarter of 2015-16.
The BJP leader said that power situation from Kerala was abysmal as the state has had to purchase almost 70% of the power from other states.
While the number may be in question, it is well know that power has been a constant issue for the state, with the consumption going up exponentially.
Power generation in the state has gone from 8,350 million units (MU) in 2011-12 to 7,343 MU in 2014-15, as per this report. Meanwhile, the consumption rose to 80 MU per day in April 2016, and is set to rise to 100 MU per day by 2018. The state’s power ministry had also cautioned regarding the need to buy more power from other states in order to meet the growing demand.
Meanwhile, as per this report in The New Indian Express, in March 2015, daily power imports averaged 42 million units (MU), accounting for more than 60% of the daily consumption. Compared to that, the generation within the state stood at 28.51 million units.
Apart from these, there are other social indicators that paint a very different picture than what Modi’s tone reflected at the rally.
The literacy rate of Kerala stood at an admirable 94%, data from Economic Survey of 2015-16 states. This is 21 percentage points higher than the national average of 73%.
Human Development Index
This indicator largely talks about the quality of life of people. India’s HDI rank has been lower at 130, with a score of 0.6087 or 0.6089. Interestingly, if this is compared with the HDI score of states in India, Kerala zooms past India’s mark at 0.7117.
By comparing a state that has one of the best development indicators with one of the worst in the world shows the new depths that the Prime Minister has fallen to. While it is true that politicians often use questionable data to make their point, the degree of error in this particular case is alarming.