Thiruvananthapuram, India—Rarely does the Indian state of Kerala capture the world’s attention. It did so in July when a Hindu temple in its state capital was found to contain a royal ransom of solid gold statues and coconuts, piled together in a sealed vault along with sacks of diamonds. The treasure’s value is estimated at $22 billion, which likely makes the temple the richest in South Asia. Still, having recently visited Kerala, a splinter of land at India’s southwestern tip, we wondered whether the excited accounts of the discovery obscured a more relevant and remarkable story.

Kerala’s real treasure cannot be measured in dollars, pounds, or rupees. Its true gold is the example it sets—not just for India—of civilized coexistence among Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Comity has been abetted by Kerala’s developmental success, made possible in part by the empowerment of...

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