Monday,26 April 2021 08:11 PM IST
Finally the elections held in Kerala amidst the coronavirus pandemic has concluded and the winner will be announced on May 2. It could be the Communist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) or the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) which would be assuming power soon. Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by metro man E. Sreedharan is also in the fray but it is unlikely that they will form the government as conventionally in Kerala power keeps oscillating between LDF and UDF in every election.
Whoever may assume power, the real job begins after the new government is formed as the state is reeling with the Covid impact on one hand and loss of jobs due to coronavirus and business slowdown in Gulf countries which has forced many of migrant labour workforce to return back to Kerala as they lost their jobs in the countries where they worked prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.
For several decades Gulf was the destination of every Malayali looking to acquire status, earn money, buy property or get married, and more importantly send money back home to their families. A large number of people migrate from Kerala to Gulf countries every year, the educated ones take up white collar jobs while the less fortunate ones who are not that highly educated toil hard in blue collar jobs. Some after acquiring experience and expertise open their own business and do well in their career path. A number of Malayali individuals such as M.A. Yusuf Ali, EMKE Group (LuLu), Sunny Varkey, GEMS Education, Ravi Pillai, RP Group, P N C Menon, PNC Investments, Azad Moopen, DM Healthcare LLC, and many others have made their fortunes in the Gulf.
Nevertheless these migrants show the courage to work hard in tough circumstances to fend their family back home and educate their children and eventually helping the Kerala state also to prosper. This was so as the wages were better in places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Muscat, and so on, as against what one could earn in India. An Ashari (carpenter) for example, who has been forced to return from the Gulf to Kerala, may perhaps get around 10 per cent of the regular salary that he would be getting while working in the Gulf. Many foreign emigrants are now populating the broad spectrum of blue collar workforce in Kerala cities and towns which just a year ago were being done by migrant workers from other states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc.
Undoubtedly, there is stiff competition with migrant workers from other states. A number of the Gulf returnees find it tough to deal with the situation but there are very few options as earning something is any day better than earning nothing. In Kerala the minimum wage is about Rs.700 - 750 which would perhaps not even be a quarter of what they used to get abroad and yet some believe that they are lucky as many are there without any jobs. Kerala is currently witnessing a reverse globalization which could adversely hit the state’s economy sooner or later as the state’s revenue exchequer is boosted by the remittances that emigrants send back home.
Finding work and money for their immediate family and personal needs hasn’t been easy and the impact on economy and society cannot be gauged immediately as it is still unfolding. Kerala’s diaspora population was one of the primary reasons behind the state’s real advancements and now many of them are knocking the state government’s doors for help. Hitherto, working in the Gulf had been a status symbol among Malayali families as they could afford to buy property, build state-of-the-art houses that are rarely found in other states of India, drive a swanky car, and buy gold jewellery that women flaunt during weddings and buy other luxury goods. All this was possible as the workers used to get hefty salaries and good bonuses and it has all been wiped out by the global pandemic. Income from the Gulf after the good exchange rate is enough to have a luxury life in Kerala. Can families who were having a better standard of life now adjust to a new low profile life?
Kerala government will have a daunting task in dealing with this reality as there will be a steep fall in the money inflow as domestic consumption is heavily dependent on this monetary inflow and the stoppage of it will affect retail consumption and the health of banks and financial institutions. Returning back is a good option and many are keenly looking forward to it but the post-Covid situation may not be the same as there could be wages cut.
However, the new government needs to put Kerala on the FAST track mode of development for real progress. The state government needs to concentrate on developing fisheries and fertilizers, agriculture and Ayurveda, tourism and technology, enhancing the skill-sets of youngsters and the unemployed besides imparting social justice, as said by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in one of his recent election speeches. As this happens Kerala could see a new phase of growth notwithstanding the foreign remittances or lack of it.