US-India Global Review

welcome mats sold in hardware stores across the United States. There he greeted the 100 or so older women who had gathered in a mosquito-infested palm grove and assured them that they would not lose their jobs as the industry mechanized. "Make whatever quantity of coir you want and the government will buy it," he said as the women in orange, green and gold saris applauded. Then, he promised to double their salaries to about 300 rupees or $5 a day. Isaac estimated that the gov- ernment would have to subsidize the workers' salaries for about 10 years, until they retired and their jobs probably disappeared. He knew such subsidies were only possible because of the decidedly un-communist lives that the younger generations are pur- suing. Increasingly these young workers are fleeing Kerala's low- wage economy for the booming states of the Persian Gulf, leaving Isaac to oversee an economy unlike anything Marx ever imag- ined - one fueled by global demand for Kerala's healthy, edu- cated workforce. Even with the Gulf money, Isaac is still running the largest deficit of any Indian state. As finance minister, Isaac dreams of building new highways, bridges and industrial parks that might make it easier to attract high-paying jobs to Kerala - "the best physical and social infra- structure in all of India!" he often said. But, for now, his government has more pressing priorities: expanding Kerala's four interna- tional airports, each of which offers nonstop flights to the Gulf, and adding a fifth. Persian Gulf prosperity In the 1980s and 1990s Kerala's migrant workers found work building highways and sky- scrapers in the Gulf. These days their better-educated successors fill jobs overseas as accountants, nurses, lawyers, doctors and mid- level civil servants. More than one-third of Kerala's gross domes- tic product last year came from remittances. These migrants are remaking Kerala's culture. One of the most popular programs on local televi- sion is "World of Expats," a reality show that helps distraught family members find relatives who have gone missing in the Gulf. They are also remaking the state's humble landscape. Kerala is a place where big, gated homes - "Gulf houses" in the local lingo - sit next to simple houses. Many of the big homes also sit empty for much of the year, while their owners are abroad working. One government study from 2011 estimated that there were nearly 1 million empty or partially occupied 33 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JANUARY-MARCH 2018 Thomas Isaac visits an organic farm in his constituency of Alappuzha. (Vivek Singh/For TheWashington Post) As finance minister, Isaac dreams of building new highways, bridges and industrial parks that might make it easier to attract high-paying jobs to Kerala — “the best physical and social infrastructure in all of India!” he often says.

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