Last month, as news spread of Bengaluru reeling under a serious water crisis, P. Rajeeve, Kerala’s Industries Minister, extended invitations to information technology (IT) companies in the city to set up shop in Kerala, promising them all required facilities, including water. Though the Karnataka Industries Minister M.B. Patil soon cautioned against attempts to take advantage of the situation in another State, it was seen as an attempt to showcase Kerala’s investment climate during an election season which has witnessed many claims and counterclaims regarding developmental achievements.

“No one had a problem when a State sent an aircraft to fetch the owner of a company which was facing labour-related issues in Kerala,” Mr. Rajeeve tells The Hindu, referring to the Telangana government sending a private jet for Kitex Garments Managing Director Sabu M. Jacob to take part in discussions to set up a facility in that State.

Though industrial stagnation in Kerala was an allegation which used to be raised in the past during elections, now even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government will not claim that, says Mr. Rajeeve.

17.3% industrial growth

“Kerala recorded 17.3% industrial growth and 18.9% growth in the manufacturing sector. Our IT parks are running in full capacity, while multinational companies are setting up facilities here. Licences have been issued to 24 new private industrial parks. More than 2 lakh MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) have been set up in two years,” says Mr. Rajeeve.

However, the biggest tussle in the developmental narrative revolves around the national highways (NH) in the State. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Thalassery-Mahe NH bypass just a week ahead of the election declaration, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) too was quick to claim credit for the completion of the much-delayed project, pointing at the State government’s spendings for land acquisition and the steps it took to speed up the project. Multiple roadshows by LDF and BJP leaders were also organised as part of this.

As the NH development works are progressing across the entire stretch of the State, this debate is replicated in various forms in the constituencies. In Attingal, for instance, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF)‘s sitting MP Adoor Prakash says that it was his interventions in Parliament which led to the ongoing works on the Attingal bypass and the NH stretches adjacent to it. “Though all the fronts claim credit, the people know who actually did the work. I was able to secure the required clearances for the bypass works,” says Mr. Prakash.

Spending by State

Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan disagrees with the LDF government’s claims regarding its contribution to national highway development.  “Many States are spending on land acquisition. In Kerala, the land cost is high, so the amount may be high, but the percentage is not high. So, there is no discrimination at all. The State government creates an impression that it is only Kerala that is giving,” says Mr. Muraleedharan.

However, as per a reply tabled by the Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways in Parliament in December 2023, Kerala was made to shell out ₹5,580 crore in land acquisition costs in the past five years, making it the biggest share among all States. Major States such as Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh have not spent any amount for this purpose, with the National Highways Authority of India taking care of all the costs.  

Meanwhile, the LDF has also foregrounded its efforts to protect public sector units, contrasting it with the BJP’s neo-liberal, privatisation policies.