On Sunday, Modi addressed a poll rally in Kerala, aiming to woo voters for the upcoming Assembly elections. The Prime Minister compared the state to Somalia in saying that the infant mortality rate among the Scheduled Tribes in the state was worse than the African country.
“The unemployment rate in Kerala is at least three-times higher than the national average. Infant mortality rate among the Scheduled Tribe community in Kerala is worse than Somalia,” he said.
He also commented on the lack of self-sufficiency in the state to meet its energy requirements and that most of the youth in Kerala had to leave their state to have a better future. “Only through overall development, the state could be brought back to its past glory,” he added.
Despite the social media outcry against Modi’s critical remarks about Kerala, there are some who think he may not be that far off from reality. The News Minute spoke to tribal activists from Kerala and here is how they reacted to Modi’s controversial comments.
Geethanandan: “The comparison with Somalia is an exaggerated one, but there are severe problems that tribal community in Kerala face. More than poverty, the core issue is malnutrition, because of which infants die. But Modi cannot wash his hands off blaming it on Kerala government as the state is a part of the nation and the centre too is responsible. Even the NDA here does not have any clear policy for the upliftment of tribals.”
Dhanya Raman:”The condition of tribal people in Kerala can be compared to Somalia. Tribals here receive rice as part of ration, but that is not enough to ensure there is no malnutrition. How can people live with just rice? I don’t want to get into a political debate, but things are bad, the health department does not even maintain proper data”.
Rajendra Prasad: The latest figure we have of infant deaths in Palakkad in the last five years stands at 595. We have also noticed that most tribal children in Attapadi have stunted growth. The condition in Somalia is different, and I am not sure if a comparison is correct. But we cannot whitewash the fact that tribals in Kerala are suffering.
In a detailed analysis of Modi’s speech, the Business Standard writes that comparison 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’.
The report says, “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. Gujarat, the home state of the Prime Minister, in fact has an IMR of 36, much closer to the national average of 40”.