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Bengal vs Tamil Nadu: Which state ranks better?

Last updated on: April 13, 2011 09:39 IST

Bengal vs Tamil Nadu: Which state ranks better?

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Parthasarathi Shome

Chennai and Kolkata, where I equally divided my school days, are two of my favourite places. I like to recall them as Madras and Calcutta, with their unique cultures, habits, beliefs and practices.

Calcutta's Park Street lined up Peking, Waldorf, Skyroom, Flurys, Kwality and others where we would be hauled once a month; the adults also had the option of Mocambo and Trincas, made famous by novelist Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's Parineeta.

Hollywood, (Calcutta's) Tollywood and Bollywood films were aplenty, shown in numerous cinema halls at three, six and nine p.m. with 10 a.m. Western movies on Sundays.

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Image: Kolkata.
Photographs: Courtesy, West Bengal Tourism.
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There were many pujas and gala weddings that extended through the evening, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.

Cousins and friends would regularly visit from elsewhere for education or medical purposes.

At Hindi High School, we sang Saraswati Vandana every morning. The intricacies of yoga, arts and crafts, music and dance - and not just traditional mathematics, history or erudite English - were taught by famous personalities of the teaching profession.

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Image: Grand puja in Kolkata.
Photographs: Courtesy, West Bengal Tourism.
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Arriving in Madras in 1960, Kwality was the only restaurant. Pal and Savera came years later, where I discovered Usha Iyer, who later became famous as Usha Uthup.

Weddings took place in the morning, putting my mother in a quandary over how much to dress my sisters and herself.

Accompanying evening receptions tended to serve Coca Cola, betel nut, beerha, kumkumam, chandanam, vibhuti and jasmine. My father explained that the best meal was breakfast and that dinner should be light.

Gestures were new: a rapid fist movement as a generic inquiry from domestic help would have my mother reeling.

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Image: Kwality restaurant.

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Slowly, she learnt some Tamil words, though she was eventually sent a domestic aid from Calcutta after word about a crisis travelled back.

I joined Don Bosco school. I recited 'Our father who art in heaven' every morning as did every Tamil-Brahmin or Dalit classmate.

We were taught by Czech, Indian, Irish and Italian priests. They also taught us to cycle, play tennis and table tennis, and swim sometimes in their cassocks at scout camps.

Though I could sense my nationalist father's unease about his children going to missionary schools, my mother's responsibility to her children easily allowed her to put us in "English medium" schools given my father's transferable service.

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Image: Don Bosco school.

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My reading and music interests broadened to include Jules Verne, the Beatles and Beethoven. Films were few and far between. There were Beau Geste and Seven Days in May, but I went with classmates to watch Parthal Pasithirum, Nenjil Oar Alayam or Kadalikkai Nerum Illai.

My parents were perplexed, though my father was distinctly happy at my "national integration". Much to the chagrin of my mother, who had to help me make up for lost lessons, my father would take us out of school willy-nilly when he went on a trip to the interiors in an air-conditioned bus or train for his work.

He believed that it would give us superior education. He could not have done better in exposing us to temple sculptures and ablutions, taut ethnic food, dresses (veshti for me and pawarai for my sisters), bharatanatyam arangetrams, music, kachheri season and temple festivals, when a platform boat would float round the temple tank with Carnatic vocalists and instrumentalists.

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Image: A Bharatanatyam performance.

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My attachment to both places continues intact. Over the last two decades, however, the impression is that there has been a decline of West Bengal and a rise of Tamil Nadu.

I would want them to be on a par, partial as I am to both. Tables (from the Reserve Bank of India, Central Statistical Organisation, Planning Commission and Economic Survey) compare the two states.

In the 1990s, economic growth of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal was higher than all the other states but fell below them in the 2000s.

It's heartening that per capita growth in West Bengal has almost caught up with Tamil Nadu, but the issues remain.

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Image: A comparison of growth.

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West Bengal's revenue expenditure as a percentage of gross state domestic product (GSDP) increased more rapidly and its capital outlay as a percentage of GSDP declined, while the latter for Tamil Nadu increased significantly.

West Bengal's development expenditure as a percentage of GSDP and social-sector expenditure as a percentage of GSDP are quite below all states while those of Tamil Nadu are far above.

West Bengal's per capita development expenditure has improved but is far below that of Tamil Nadu.

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Image: Kolkata.
Photographs: Courtesy, West Bengal Tourism.
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West Bengal's fiscal situation is worse. Deficit as a percentage of GSDP has improved but remains double that of Tamil Nadu.

Also, the public debt is nearly double. On both indices, West Bengal is far worse than the national average while Tamil Nadu is far superior.

It is safe to conclude that West Bengal's growth and per capita growth have been more on the back of posterity than Tamil Nadu's.

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Image: Labourers eat food at the site of a residential estate under construction in Kolkata.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters.
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Also, a comparison of social indicators reveals certain facts. In both states, infant mortality and literacy rates have remained better than the rest, though West Bengal has lagged behind Tamil Nadu.

But it's inexplicable how between 2001 and 2008 West Bengal's school enrolment ratio fell below all states. Finally, the percentage of population below poverty line improved in both states.

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Image: A villager undergoes an eye examination at a camp organised by Aravind Eye Care System in a village.
Photographs: Reinhard Krause/Reuters.
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Both states were ahead of the rest up to the 1980s. But Tamil Nadu improved above all states in the next two decades, while West Bengal just managed to reach that level.

The next government will have a harder time in West Bengal than in Tamil Nadu.

It should increase school enrolment and, more widely, reduce the inter-generational burden.

The writer is Director and Chief Executive, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.


Image: Eight-year-old Rupa performs on a tightrope at a roadside in Kolkata.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters.
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