A New Journal: Review of Agrarian Studies

Review of Agrarian Studies is the peer-reviewed journal of the Foundation for Agrarian Studies (www.agrarianstudies.org), a charitable trust based in India and established in 2003. The major objectives of the Foundation are to facilitate and sponsor multi-disciplinary theoretical and empirical enquiry in the field of agrarian studies in India and elsewhere in less-developed countries. The Foundation does so in association with a wide section of people interested in the agrarian question, including persons associated with academic institutions, social and political activists, members of mass organizations working in the countryside, and other professionals and scholars.

Review of Agrarian Studies will appear in electronic and printed form. The online version is now live at www.ras.org.in or www.reviewofagrarianstudies.org. The online edition is free to all registered users. Do register now!

The journal invites articles on agrarian studies – on the forces and relations of production in agriculture and in rural areas, on living standards, and on different aspects of social formations in the countryside. The Review will carry theoretical and empirical articles on social, economic, historical, political and scientific and technological aspects of agriculture and rural societies. The Review also accepts photographic, audio and video material.

The Review will publish online first and aggregate online content into a print edition every six months. Rich media content (photographic, audio and video material, hyperlinks and interactivity) will be made available only online.

The print edition of the Review will be published jointly by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies and Tulika Books, one of India’s most important publishers of books in the social sciences. The HTML content of the Review is rendered online, and the print edition typeset, by TNQ Books and Journals, one of India’s leading providers of publishing services to scientific, technical and medical publishers worldwide.

Editor: V. K. Ramachandran (Indian Statistical Institute)
Editorial Board: Aparajita Bakshi (Indian Statistical Institute), Navpreet Kaur (Foundation for Agrarian Studies), R. Ramakumar (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), Vikas Rawal (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Madhura Swaminathan (Indian Statistical Institute)

Narayanpatna: Nachika Linga, the Most-Wanted

Satyabrata

On the 4th of December, 2009 an order was issued for the immediate arrest of Nachika Linga, leader of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS). He is now in the “Most Wanted” list of the government of Orissa. Posters have been put up by the government throughout Koraput and other regions of southern Orissa displaying a photograph of Nachika Linga and the “crimes” he had committed written underneath. Cash awards have been announced for anyone who helps arrest him. There are about 46 cases in Nachika’s name which include murder, attempt to murder, dacoity etc. Section 302 (punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code among other sections has been lodged in his name.

On the 6th of December, the Superintendent of Police, Koraput publicly announced (which he has no legal authority over) that the CMAS should be banned. Here it is necessary to take a bird’s eye view of who Nachika Linga is and what the CMAS has been doing recently.

Nachika Linga is one of the many indigenous tribals who inhabit Narayanpatna. Lately he became the Nayak Sarpanch of his area. Nachika Linga joined the CMAS which was leading the movement for land redistribution. It is necessary here to mention that the movement was never illegal. Even the issues that it raised were broadly related to a proper implementation of the existing laws. To be specific, there is an act passed by the Orissa Legislative Assembly in 1952 (Act 2) which says that the non-tribals cannot keep the lands of tribals in that region, and the CMAS was simply trying to get this law implemented. The authorities of the region till recently were therefore in constant dialogue with the CMAS. In fact, a collector who facilitated this dialogue most sincerely too earned the name so many progressive people are earning now-a-days: Maoist. Due to this movement, the local tribals were able to acquire their lands and the process of collectivization of ownership of land too was started. There were social reform measures taken within the movement, like limiting the consumption of liquor by the tribals to festive occasions only.

Evidently, the landlords and liquor traders who were thriving on land-grabbing, commercialistion of local economy found their ‘businesses’ hampered. They were ‘forced’ to flee the region. In ‘fear’ they joined hands with dominant political forces, and found the police and their actions the only mechanisms to reenter Narayanpatna. Attempting to limit the movement territorially, and to create ‘a civilian’ support base for the state’s brutal measures to suppress the movement in Narayanpatna, they formed ‘salwa judum’ like groups in adjoining Laxmipur. As reported earlier, two leaders of CMAS were gunned down and today there is a warrant in the name of Nachika Linga.

The whole organization which was giving an organized and definite shape to the spontaneous resistance of the rural poor in the region stands accused of a conspiracy to wage war against the state. Does it not seem parallel to the draconian measures during the initial days of capitalism everywhere through which the states declared every association of workers and poor as conspiracies? What is happening in India today demonstrates that such measures are not simply historical, but rather constitutive of capitalism – capitalists and their states invoke them every time they find it opportune.

There are press reports that inform about the return of the landlords and traders in the region. How brutal the police force in the region has been and whom in the region it is nepotistic to is no secret. Several tribals in fear of arrest and at gun-point have reportedly ‘committed’ not to indulge in any ‘unlawful’ activities of the CMAS. The clean image of the government of Orissa is being projected by the media at a time when a fascist political economy is being nurtured with its very own hands. Under such conditions, as old Marx would have said, force alone can impregnate this old society with a new one. This force has to make its development and is making its development within and in spite of this authoritarian bourgeois rule in the form of territorially limited movements, which have already nurtured many Birsa Mundas who are daily confronting the brutalities of the state – and Nachika Linga is definitely among them. The final expression of this force shall be in bringing down the authority of this state but that is possible only by generalizing the spirit of struggle beyond localities.

Narayanpatna: An Interview with Gananath Patra

Satyabrata

On the 20th of November three adivasis, including a leader of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), were gunned down near the police station of Narayanpatna. The CMAS has been struggling for the redistribution of land among tribals in the region. Nachika Linga and Gananath Patra have been spearheading the movement since its inception. The police alleges the CMAS of conducting violence. According to the police, hundreds of adivasis had come to loot the police station; the police had to fire in retaliation and hence the incident. Later, a section of media claimed that the government has issued a shoot-at-sight order against Nachika Linga. Kumudini Behera, another leader of the CMAS, is already under arrest. The following is a telephonic interview with Com. Gananath Patra.

Satyabrata: The media is projecting that hundreds of members of CMAS had organized themselves around the police station in order to loot weaponry. How much truth does this statement of the police carry?

Gananath Patra: It is ridiculous that the police is even able to say such things. Firstly, there were only hundred and fifty adivasis who had come to the police station. There was a genuine reason for that. The previous night, in the name of hunting down the Maoists, innocent adivasis were beaten, looted and women were molested in Kumbhari panchayat. They had only come to seek an explanation. They were naturally agitated because of what they had to face the night before but they had no intentions of looting the police station, they were unarmed; they came without even their traditional weaponry. Moreover, if they had intentions of looting the police station, they could have easily conspired that in the night. Why would they, in broad daylight, come to the police station unarmed!

Satyabrata: Curfew has been declared in the region with the enforcement of Section 144 of the IPC. Cobra battalions have reached the region. The situation is being militaristically dealt with by the government. Why so?

Gananath Patra: Due to the pressure of our movement, several landlords and liquor merchants ran away from the area, and they have organised themselves in adjoining Laxmipur in the name of a Shanti (Peace) Committee under the patronage of the BJD, the ruling party of Orissa. The State has its class character and this move only explicates it. The State is against the movement of the adivasis for their rights because their rights mean loss to the landed propertied classes which are the class base of the ruling party in that region.

Satyabrata: The state has militarized itself. What will its effect be on the movement?

Gananath Patra: We know very well that behind the military intervention of the State is its intention to militarize our movement in order to find a plea to brutally subjugate it. We know their intentions and we are careful about any move we shall be taking. The movement must continue.

Satyabrata: The CMAS is being projected as the frontal organization of the Maoists. Is that true?

Gananath Patra: You mean the CPI(Maoist). No. we have considerable differences with the CPI(Maoist) line, though they are our sympathizers and critics. I believe in Marxism-Leninism- Mao Tse-tung Thought, which has considerable differences with the Maoism of the CPI(Maoist). Our method of occupying and cultivating land is mass line task and has nothing in common with the CPI(Maoist).

Satyabrata: Why are you being projected as Maoists then?

Gananath Patra: We pose a danger to the status quo the ruling class wants to maintain and hence it wants us to be branded as Maoists. Then the matter becomes simple; pick up anyone who is against this status quo, brand him a Maoist and rob him of his movemental potentiality by either putting him behind bars or by gunning him down. History has been spectator to this strategy of several States at several conjunctures in the past. The state has banned the CPI(Maoist) to facilitate this purpose.

Satyabrata: Your message to the people who will be going through this interview.

Gananath Patra: The movement at Narayanpatna is the struggle of the indigenous adivasis against the exploiters. Time will show, if things go our way, we will be able to produce agricultural products in a quantity many times more than that produced under exploitation, and the produce will go to the producers. We don’t need any Green Revolution. Of course, the State is trying its best to subjugate the movement, but, this is our struggle – the struggle of indigenous adivasis against our exploiters. The State and the media have joined hands in projecting it as a terrorist movement and CMAS as a terrorist outfit. Let us join hands to prove them wrong.

The New Farm Owners

Corporate investors lead the rush for control over overseas farmland

GRAIN, October 2009

Click here for the table accompanying this article

With all the talk about "food security," and distorted media statements like "South Korea leases half of Madagascar’s land,"1 it may not be evident to a lot of people that the lead actors in today’s global land grab for overseas food production are not countries or governments but corporations. So much attention has been focused on the involvement of states, like Saudi Arabia, China or South Korea. But the reality is that while governments are facilitating the deals, private companies are the ones getting control of the land. And their interests are simply not the same as those of governments.

"This is going to be a private initiative."

– Amin Abaza, Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture, explaining Egyptian farmland acquisitions in other African nations, on World Food Day 2009  

Take one example. In August 2009, the government of Mauritius, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, got a long-term lease for 20,000 ha of good farmland in Mozambique to produce rice for the Mauritian market. This is outsourced food production, no question. But it is not the government of Mauritius, on behalf of the Mauritian people, that is going to farm that land and ship the rice back home. Instead, the Mauritian Minister of Agro Industry immediately sub-leased the land to two corporations, one from Singapore (which is anxious to develop the market for its proprietary hybrid rice seeds in Africa) and one from Swaziland (which specialises in cattle production, but is also involved in biofuels in southern Africa).2 This is typical. And it means that we should not be blinded by the involvement of states. Because at the end of the day, what the corporations want will be decisive. And they have a war chest of legal, financial and political tools to assist them.

 "What started as a government drive to secure cheap food resource has now become a viable business model and many Gulf companies are venturing into agricultural investments to diversify their portfolios."

– Sarmad Khan, "Farmland investment fund is seeking more than Dh1bn", The National, Dubai, 12 September 2009

Moreover, there’s a tendency to assume that private-sector involvement in the global land grab amounts to traditional agribusiness or plantation companies, like Unilever or Dole, simply expanding the contract farming model of yesterday. In fact, the high-power finance industry, with little to no experience in farming, has emerged as a crucial corporate player. So much so that the very phrase "investing in agriculture", today’s mantra of development bureaucrats, should not be understood as automatically meaning public funds. It is more and more becoming the business of … big business.

The role of finance capital

GRAIN has tried to look more closely at who the private sector investors currently taking over farmlands around the world for offshore food production really are. From what we have gathered, the role of finance capital — investment funds and companies — is truly significant. We have therefore constructed a table to share this picture. The table outlines over 120 investment structures, most of them newly created, which are busy acquiring farmland overseas in the aftermath of the financial crisis.3 Their engagement, whether materialised or targeted, rises into the tens of billions of dollars. The table is not exhaustive, however. It provides only a sample of the kinds of firms or instruments involved, and the levels of investment they are aiming for.

Private investors are not turning to agriculture to solve world hunger or eliminate rural poverty. They want profit, pure and simple. And the world has changed in ways that now make it possible to make big money from farmland. From the investors’ perspective, global food needs are guaranteed to grow, keeping food prices up and providing a solid basis for returns on investment for those who control the necessary resource base. And that resource base, particularly land and water, is under stress as never before. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, so-called alternative investments, such as infrastructure or farmland, are all the rage. Farmland itself is touted as providing a hedge against inflation. And because its value doesn’t go up and down in sync with other assets like gold or currencies, it allows investors to successfully diversify their portfolios.

We are not farmers. We are a large company that uses state-of-the-art technology to produce high-quality soybean. The same way you have shoemakers and computer manufacturers, we produce agricultural commodities.”

Laurence Beltrão Gomes of SLC Agrícola,
the largest farm company in Brazil 

But it’s not just about land, it’s about production. Investors are convinced that they can go into Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet bloc to consolidate holdings, inject a mix of technology, capital and management skills, lay down the infrastructures and transform below-potential farms into large-scale agribusiness operations. In many cases, the goal is to generate revenue streams both from the harvests and from the land itself, whose value they expect to go up. It is a totally corporate version of the Green Revolution, and their ambitions are big. "My boss wants to create the first Exxon Mobil of the farming sector," said Joseph Carvin of Altima Partners’ One World Agriculture Fund to a gathering of global farmland investors in New York in June 2009. No wonder, then, that governments, the World Bank and the UN want to be associated with this. But it is not their show.

From rich to richer

"I’m convinced that farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time. Eventually, of course, food prices will get high enough that the market probably will be flooded with supply through development of new land or technology or both, and the bull market will end. But that’s a long ways away yet."

– George Soros, June 2009

Today’s emerging new farm owners are private equity fund managers, specialised farmland fund operators, hedge funds, pension funds, big banks and the like. The pace and extent of their appetite is remarkable – but unsurprising, given the scramble to recover from the financial crisis. Consolidated data are lacking, but we can see that billions of dollars are going into farmland acquisitions for a growing number of "get rich quick" schemes. And some of those dollars are hard-earned retirement savings of teachers, civil servants and factory workers from countries such as the US or the UK. This means that a lot of ordinary citizens have a financial stake in this trend, too, whether they are aware of it or not.

It also means that a new, powerful lobby of corporate interests is coming together, which wants favourable conditions to facilitate and protect their farmland investments. They want to tear down burdensome land laws that prevent foreign ownership, remove host-country restrictions on food exports and get around any regulations on genetically modified organisms. For this, we can be sure that they will be working with their home governments, and various development banks, to push their agendas around the globe through free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties and donor conditionalities.

 "When asked whether a transfer of foreign, ‘superior’, agricultural technology would be welcome compensation for the acquisition of Philippine lands, the farmers from Negros Occidental responded with a general weariness and unequivocal retort that they were satisfied with their own knowledge and practices of sustainable, diverse and subsistence-based farming. Their experience of high-yielding variety crops, and the chemical-intensive technologies heralded by the Green Revolution, led them to the conclusion that they were better off converting to diverse, organic farming, with the support of farmer-scientist or member organisations such as MASIPAG and PDG Inc."

– Theodora Tsentas, "Foreign state-led land acquisitions and neocolonialism: A qualitative case study of foreign agricultural development in the Philippines", September 2009

Indeed, the global land grab is happening within the larger context of governments, both in the North and the South, anxiously supporting the expansion of their own transnational food and agribusiness corporations as the primary answer to the food crisis. The deals and programmes being promoted today all point to a restructuring and expansion of the industrial food system, based on capital-intensive large-scale monocultures for export markets. While that may sound "old hat", several things are new and different. For one, the infrastructure needs for this model will be dealt with. (The Green Revolution never did that.) New forms of financing, as our table makes plain, are also at the base of it. Thirdly, the growing protagonism of corporations and tycoons from the South is also becoming more important. US and European transnationals like Cargill, Tyson, Danone and Nestlé, which once ruled the roost, are now being flanked by emerging conglomerates such as COFCO, Olam, Savola, Almarai and JBS.4 A recent report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development pointed out that a solid 40% of all mergers and acquisitions in the field of agricultural production last year were South–South.5 To put it bluntly, tomorrow’s food industry in Africa will be largely driven by Brazilian, ethnic Chinese and Arab Gulf capital.

Exporting food insecurity

Given the heavy role of the private sector in today’s land grabs, it is clear that these firms are not interested in the kind of agriculture that will bring us food sovereignty. And with hunger rising faster than population growth, it will not likely do much for food security, either. One farmers’ leader from Synérgie Paysanne in Benin sees these land grabs as fundamentally "exporting food insecurity". For they are about answering some people’s needs – for maize or money – by taking food production resources away from others. He is right, of course. In most cases, these investors are themselves not very experienced in running farms. And they are bound, as the Coordinator of MASIPAG in the Philippines sees it, to come in, deplete the soils of biological life and nutrients through intensive farming, pull out after a number of years and leave the local communities with "a desert".

 "Entire communities have been dispossessed of their lands for the benefit of foreign investors. () Land must remain a community heritage in Africa."

– N’Diogou Fall, ROPPA (West African Network of Producers and Peasant Organisations), June 2009

The talk about channelling this sudden surge of dollars and dirhams into an agenda for resolving the global food crisis could be seen as quirky if it were not downright dangerous. From the United Nations headquarters in New York to the corridors of European capitals, everyone is talking about making these deals "win–win". All we need to do, the thinking goes, is agree on a few parameters to moralise and discipline these land grab deals, so that they actually serve local communities, without scaring investors off. The World Bank even wants to create a global certification scheme and audit bureau for what could become "sustainable land grabbing", along the lines of what’s been tried with oil palm, forestry or other extractive industries.

Before jumping on the bandwagon of "win–win", it would be wise to ask "With whom? Who are the investors? What are their interests?" It is hard to believe that, with so much money on the line, with so much accumulated social experience in dealing with mass land concessions and conversions in the past, whether from mining or plantations, and given the central role of the finance and agribusiness industries here, these investors would suddenly play fair. Just as hard to believe is that governments or international agencies would suddenly be able to hold them to account.

 Some companies are interested in buying agricultural land for sugar cane and then selling it on the international markets. It’s business, nothing more”

Sharad Pawar, India’s Minister of Agriculture, rejecting claims that his government is supporting a new colonisation of African farmland, 28 June 2009

Making these investments work is simply not the right starting point. Supporting small farmers efforts for real food sovereignty is. Those are two highly polarised agendas and it would be mistaken to pass off one for the other. It is crucial to look more closely at who the investors are and what they really want. But it is even more important to put the search for solutions to the food crisis on its proper footing.

References

1 – It was not South Korea, but Daewoo Logistics.

2 – See GRAIN, "Mauritius leads land grabs for rice in Mozambique", Oryza hibrida, 1 September 2009. http://www.grain.org/hybridrice/?lid=221 (Available in English, French and Portuguese.)

3The table covers three types of entities: specialised funds, most of them farmland funds; asset and investment managers; and participating investors. We are aware that this is a broad mixture, but it was important for us to keep the table simple: http://www.grain.org/m/?id=266

4 – COFCO is based in China, Olam is based in Singapore, Savola is based in Saudi Arabia, Almarai is based in Saudi Arabia, and JBS is based in Brazil.

5 – World Investment Report 2009, UNCTAD, Geneva, September 2009, p. xxvii. Most foreign direct investment takes place through mergers and acquisitions.

Some Comments on Partha Chatterjee’s theoretical framework

Political Economy of Contemporary India

Dipankar Basu and Debarshi Das

Sifting through the divergent viewpoints thrown up by attempts to make sense of the recent political history of West Bengal, one is led to the conclusion that the tumultuous events have taken many, if not most, by surprise. With the benefit of hindsight one can probably say this: a combination of an insensitive state power, an arrogant ruling party, lapping-it-up corporate interests, and cheerleaders-of-corporate-sector-doubling-up-as-media orchestrated a veritable assault – a perfect storm. Yet the peasantry, initially without the guiding hand of a political party – indeed at times against the writ of the party – fought on. Through this episode Indian political economy seems to have stumbled upon the peasantry while it was looking for a short-cut to economic growth through SEZs.

At the level of political practice this serendipity demonstrates lack of an organic link between the representatives of people and those they claim to represent. The Trinamul Congress, whose manoeuvrings range from rightist alliances at worst to unprincipled populism at best, was slow to react; but it learnt the ropes eventually. A nagging doubt remains though, as to whether it would not, at the end of the day, appropriate the movement and sell it off to the highest bidder. The charge is of course more serious against the communist parties. If confusion of politics was not bad enough, the largest party of the state failed to gauge the pulse of the people whose land it was taking. The Congress Party has perhaps been the most rudderless of the lot – veering towards resistance at one moment, getting pulled back by the central leadership at the very next.

At the level of theorisation too, things are in a flux. A case in point is noted political scientist Partha Chatterjee’s article in Economic and Political Weekly[1], which tries to present a novel reading of contemporary Indian reality and a new framework to comprehend it with. We shall present his position briefly and then examine it critically in our own attempt to throw some light on contemporary Indian reality.

Partha Chatterjee’s Analysis

Partha Chatterjee (PC henceforth), by his own admission, used to perceive the Indian peasantry as being endowed with a change-resisting character. External agencies such as the state or market forces were sought to be barricaded away, often successfully. But that has changed over the last twenty five years. Liberalisation of the economy, it’s incorporation into networks of the global flow of goods, services and capital, and more recently events like Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar, etc. have compelled PC, and Kalyan Sanyal, whose book he often refers to, to reconsider such a position.

Reconsideration of the earlier position leads him to discover that the state was not that external to rural society after all; that the rural economy has come fully under the sway of capital, and that the rural poor do leave villages for cities due to social, and economic compulsions [2]. These new trends, according to PC, have emerged and consolidated themselves over the last three decades. Another concomitant and noteworthy development is that market forces seem to have gained phenomenal power. The balance of state power between corporate capital and the landed elite has decidedly tilted in favour of the former. The managerial-bureaucratic class, i.e, the urban middle class, has also aligned itself with the interests of big capital. Straddling all these changes and in a sense providing an overarching theme of current economic reality in India is the process of primitive accumulation of capital.

Sanyal however avers, and PC concurs, that the primitive accumulation of capital that is underway in India today is very different from the classical variety of the same process. One of the major differences, according to PC, is that the dispossessed, separated from the means of production, can no longer find gainful employment in industry due to limitations of present day capital-intensive technology [3]. This is bad news for the ruling dispensation as social unrest may break out. Old tactics of armed repression is ruled out, because the globally accepted norm is to provide succor to the victims of primitive accumulation and not shoot them down. Compulsions of electoral democracy, which demands that even voters bereft of livelihood be heard, is an additional constraint. Thus, caught between the pressures of the global discourse on development and the demands of electoral democracy, the State adopts the role of transferring resources from the accumulating economy of corporate capital to the dispossessed masses, thereby reversing the effects of primitive accumulation.

We are therefore left with a curious situation. Corporate capital is dispossessing millions through primitive accumulation, but the dispossessed are neither getting absorbed into industry nor getting socially transformed, as they were supposed to, through proletarianisation. This floating mass of labour, this enormous but shifting population of potential workers have instead become a constituent of what PC calls “political society”. Owners of small capital – PC prefers the term non-corporate capital – along with small and marginal peasants, artisans, and small producers are important constituents of political society.

But political society, according to PC, is different from civil society; corporate capital hegemonises the urban middle class which forms civil society. Its support for pro-capital policies is unstinting. Demand for civil and democratic rights define its political agenda. Political society, on the other hand, is hardly a constitutionally valid entity. Its constituents do not enjoy the rights due to citizens; hence they do not qualify for membership of civil society. The economic precariousness of political society, accentuated by primitive accumulation, forces it to use various ploys to negotiate with the State. For the State, on the other hand, electoral compulsions of representative democracy is a binding constraint. Thus the State often looks the other way when negotiations with political society violates established civil society rules (urban squatters, and street vendors are a case in point, as PC mentions). But in the agrarian economy the degree of political consolidation is lower; therefore dependence on the hand-outs of the State is more pronounced. This does not however imply, PC mentions, that they are incapable of rallying on emotive issues and thereby nullifying the government’s machinations to divide and break. It is in the dynamic interaction between the civil and political society – which often coincide with corporate and non-corporate capital for PC – and in the success of the State in holding the two together through measures of “governmentality” that PC identifies the fate of the present political regime.

Some Comments

There are many points which are commendable about the article: acute observations, theoretical insights, incisive analysis and a crisp clear prose. For instance, some of the important observations worth highlighting and thinking about are: landed elite losing ground vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie, the breath-taking ease with which the urban middle class traded Nehruvian consensus for the Washington consensus, the accompanying depoliticization, and the rising friction between this class and the poor etc. These observations underline the sharp analytical prowess of one of the foremost social scientists of the country. But there are surprises and disappointments too and to these we now turn.

The biggest problem with PC’s analysis, we feel, is the questionable theoretical framework that he works in, a framework that he has borrowed from Kalyan Sanyal (KS henceforth). KS starts his analysis by pointing out that what is going on in contemporary India can be fruitfully understood as the primary (or primitive) accumulation of capital, in the sense in which Marx used that term in Volume 1 of Capital. We fully agree with him here; in fact one of us had argued along those lines some time ago [4]. The defining feature of the process of primary capital accumulation – forcible separation of primary producers from the means of production – is difficult to miss in developments in contemporary India. KS notes that all previous attempts at theorizing primary capital accumulation have been embedded in what he calls a narrative of transition. Thus, primary capital accumulation has always been seen, according to KS, as marking a transition, a transition from one mode of production to another, either a transition from feudalism to capitalism, or “from pre-capitalist backwardness to socialist modernity.” But “under present conditions of postcolonial development within a globalised economy, the narrative of transition is no longer valid”; that is “although capitalist growth in a postcolonial society such as India is inevitably accompanied by the primitive accumulation of capital, the social changes that are brought about cannot be understood as a transition.” And why is that so? This is because it is no longer acceptable, or so KS believes, that people dispossessed and displaced due to primitive accumulation should be left with no means of subsistence. And what makes the destitution and poverty of the people displaced by primary accumulation unacceptable? The current international context marked by the dominance of the discourse of development and human rights.

Alongside the process of primary accumulation, therefore, KS discovers a parallel and related process: intervention of the State to reverse the effects of primitive accumulation. Government agencies, in other words, step in to create conditions for ensuring the “basic means of livelihood” to those who have been dispossessed and displaced by the process of primary accumulation of capital. Thus there is, according to KS, two processes going on in parallel, “primitive accumulation” and a “process of the reversal of the effects of primitive accumulation.” It is the conjunction of these two parallel processes, according to KS, that invalidates the narrative of transition associated with the primary accumulation of capital.

The implication of this assertion, the assertion that the primary accumulation of capital can no longer be understood in terms of a narrative of transition, is stupendous. It means that current political economic processes underway in India will continue indefinitely; historical change, for KS, seems to have been stalled. Since current day reality cannot be understood as a process of transition, this would then seem to imply that Indian reality will remain unchanged in its essentials for a long time to come, if not forever. In more concrete terms, this will mean the presence of the huge mass of working people parked in the no man’s land between agriculture and industry for an indefinite amount of time, a population that has been simultaneously dispossessed by the primary accumulation of capital and provided an alternative “means of livelihood” by the postcolonial State.

As a description of contemporary Indian reality, this account probably has some intuitive appeal. After all it can hardly be denied that one of the most important characteristics of contemporary India is the huge population of what economists have called “surplus labour”: the huge population of working people who find stable, well-paying employment neither in agriculture nor in industry nor in services. Though KS’s analysis apparently attempts to understand this phenomenon of “surplus labour”, by all accounts the defining characteristic of contemporary Indian reality, it is, we believe, seriously flawed.

First: the Indian economy has been characterized by surplus labour for the past two centuries, it is not a new phenomenon; the primitive accumulation of capital was initiated under the long shadow of colonialism and ever since that time dispossession has been going on without commensurate absorption of the displaced labour in industry. In that sense the current scenario has a historical dimension that KS, and thereby PC, completely misses when he (a) locates the beginnings of this process somewhere in the recent past, and (b) identifies the supposed ameliorative interventions of the State in reversing the effects of primary accumulation in the current conjuncture as one of the crucial factors to reckon with.

To be sure, PC, identifies three factors that are different today from the time when Western Europe underwent primary accumulation of capital. First, there were opportunities for international migration of the surplus labour that are totally absent today; second, the technology of the early industrial period was far less capital intensive than current technology and hence had the capacity to absorb far more of the surplus agricultural labour than is possible today; third, the State did not intervene in Western Europe to reverse the effects of primary accumulation as it is doing today in India. Though the first two factors were present in Western Europe and contributed to mitigating the problem of surplus labour, they are not necessary. Japan and the Soviet Union had taken care of primary accumulation, and had industrialized, without having to export surplus labour to its colonies and using much more capital intensive technology that was used during the industrial revolution in Western Europe; South Korea had taken care of primary capital accumulation, and had industrialized, with much more capital intensive technology than Britain had used during its own industrialization and without the assistance of international outmigration of its surplus labour. Therefore, the absence of opportunities for international migration and the use of technologies with relatively higher capital intensity cannot explain the absence of industrialization and the continued existence of surplus labour in India. The answer lies somewhere else, in the domain of capital accumulation. In a dynamic context, the rate of absorption of labour, i.e., the growth rate of the demand for labour, depends on the rate of accumulation of industrial capital. Neither the lack of international migration, nor the increasing capital intensity of technology nor the ameliorative interventions of the State can explain the burgeoning ranks of surplus labour; it is the absence of a sufficiently rapid rate of growth of industrial capital in India that is responsible for the continued existence of surplus labour. This crucial factors is totally missing in KS’s and PC’s analysis

The primacy of capital accumulation becomes obvious once we look back at history and realize that dispossession without proletarianization is not a novel phenomenon. One just needs to recall that one of the principal issues raised by the Mode of Production Debate [5] was why India did not make the transition to capitalism despite being sucked into the global network of trade and commerce with the onset of colonialism. The answer, of course, is now well known. As colonial incursion willfully destroyed the socio-economic fabric of the country, peasants were evicted and deindustrialization, facilitated by the trade policy of the colonial State, exacerbated the pressure on land. But the economic surplus which was being generated in the process was largely siphoned off to the metropolis. Thus, in the colony, processes leading up to the formation of productive capital were conspicuous by their absence. Petty producers who were getting alienated from the means of production were joining the ranks of paupers, not those of the working class. Without a strong capital accumulation process, the excess labour could not be absorbed into profitable industrial activities; that is the historical basis of “surplus labour” in the Indian economy. One may refer to the mode of production in India using any term one wishes, as pre-capitalist, or semi-feudal, or semi-capitalist, or postcolonial, or something else, but the main point remains beyond dispute: absence of the growth of industrial capital and a concomitant growth of the industrial working class.

Somewhat related to this point about “dispossession without proletarianization” is the implicit assumption in PC’s analysis that peasant society had been stuck in splendid isolation till about the beginning of the era of liberalization; this is one of our major points of criticism of PC’s analysis that we wish our readers to ponder. The trend of viewing the peasantry in this manner, especially the middle peasants who are not very much dependent on the labour market for selling or buying labour, owes a great deal to the work of the Russian economist Chayanov [6]. But the putative efficiency of the peasantry sits oddly with the massive and recurrent famines India underwent as colonial rule tethered the country to global commodity markets. This position about the supposed insularity of the peasantry seems even more unconvincing when one recalls the state’s successful promotion of Green Revolution in north and northwest India starting in the mid-sixties. Nor does it seem consistent with Operation Barga in West Bengal, another orchestration of political parties and the state machinery, which was leaving a deep impact on rural Bengal right at the time when Subaltern Studies was undergoing its genesis.

To move on to another major problem in PC’s theoretical framework recall that one of the crucial links in PC’s chain of argument relates to the supposed interventions of the State in reversing the effects of primary accumulation; this, to our mind, is the weakest link in the whole chain of arguments that PC offers in his paper; there are both theoretical and empirical problems with this argument.

First:

PC, and many other scholars (including KS), we feel, seem to have misunderstood the notion of primary accumulation of capital. Primary accumulation of capital, as understood by Marx (in Volume 1 of Capital), is the forced separation of producers from the means of production. Whether this “free”, evicted (peasant) labour gets absorbed in industrial activity is a different question, it is not part of the process of primary accumulation. It depends on the pace of capital accumulation, as we have already pointed out. So, the assertion – implicit in PC’s analysis – that the “classical” pattern of primary accumulation led to industrial development is false. Primary accumulation led to the creation of a class of “free” labourers, period. What led to the industrial revolution and the rapid growth in the demand for labour and the strengthening of capitalism and thereby the absorption of surplus labour, was the rapid pace of capital accumulation and technical progress. Thus, distinguishing between the “classical” pattern of primary accumulation in Europe and the present pattern of primary accumulation in India does not seem be analytically useful.

Second:

PC’s whole analysis seems to be curiously oblivious of the neoliberal turn in the global economy, a fact that is amply reflected in policy changes in India too; we feel this is one of the biggest lacunae in PC’s analytical framework. The fact that radical scholars and activists have spent so much time and effort studying neoliberalism, understanding its genesis, structure and functioning must surely be known to a scholar of the stature of PC; the fact that he has ignored this vast scholarship, experience and political practice and has instead advanced the thesis of ameliorative state intervention is very significant and points towards a deep problem in his theoretical framework. After all, one of the defining characteristics of the State under neoliberalism is its gradual retreat from the provision of public goods and social services, especially those services that might benefit the poor and dispossessed. In the face of this well-known and well-documented fact, when PC asserts that the State has stepped in to do exactly the opposite, i.e., reverse the deleterious consequences of primary accumulation, one is more than surprised, one is appalled. Let us present some empirical evidence to dispel the illusion, if any, of the lately humane State, responsive to the needs of the poor, bowing before the pressure of the international discourse on poverty alleviation.

a. Distribution of subsidised food through ration shops is an old institution – not a device to make the pain of the poor bearable in the era of neoliberalism. During the last couple of decades, the decades of neoliberalism, the universal public distribution system (PDS) has been systematically dismantled; that is the hallmark of post-liberalisation India, not the strengthening of the PDS and increasing its reach. Priority sector lending, another device built by the Nehruvian state to help farming and related activities, is in a sorry state. In the last fifteen year 4,750 rural bank branches have been closed down: at the rate of one rural bank branch each day. During the year 2006 one branch was shutting down every six hours! [7]

b. The tale of microcredit institutions, an example of what PC considers the States intervention to reverse the effects of primitive accumulation, doing the job of offering palliatives has been questioned by many. The interest rates charged by micro credit institutions are often almost usurious. The motivation to harvest the middle ground between low interest rates of public sector banks (which are vanishing) and the exorbitantly high ones of village mahajans seems to be behind the coming together of corporate banks and NGOs in the micro credit venture. This serves two purposes. One, banks earn as much as 25% return, much higher than the organised sector return,[8] with an excellent repayment rate; a lucrative arbitrage channel thus opens up. Two, this credit model is then peddled as people-oriented, and opposed to a bureaucratic public sector model. This is then used to justify withdrawal of the state from its basic responsibilities towards socially and economically vulnerable sections of the population. That someone as perceptive as PC has fallen for the micro credit argument signals that the powers that be have been largely successful.

c. Contrary to the claim of the article, “social sector expenditure” has nosedived over the past few years. In 1996, rural development expenditure as a proportion of net domestic product was 2.6%. During the pre-liberalisation seventh plan (1985 to 1989) the figure was much higher at 4% [9]. From the mid 1980s to 2000-01 public development expenditure as a percentage of the GDP fell from 16% to 6%. The effects have of course been disastrous, especially in the farming sector where strong crowding-in effects of public investment is a well known fact. The growth rate of all crops fell from 3.8% in the 1980s to 1.8% in the 1990s, while total agricultural investment expenditure as percentage of the GDP fell from 1.6% to 1.3% [10]. Using a constant calorie norm of 2200 calorie per day, head count poverty ratio has risen from 56.4% to 69.5% between 1973-74 and 2004-05.

d. Guaranteed public work for the rural poor was attempted to be scuttled from the very top, i.e., by the officials of the State at the very highest levels. Social democratic proclivities of official communist parties, rather than the tactical calculations of the bourgeoisie, saw it through to some extent. To this day the corporate media loses no opportunity in tarnishing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act [10] as useless, wasteful and distortionary.

In short, any substantial evidence of the State taking steps to make primitive accumulation bearable, to reverse its effects by providing alternative means of livelihood to the dispossessed population, seems to be totally missing. PC seems to be oblivious of the fact that the phase of neoliberalism is characterised precisely by the opposite: withdrawal of the state from the economy and social sectors, not its intervention in favour of the dispossessed.

Third:

The analytical handle of political society did not seem to have served any great purpose. What was meant by this term was essentially what has been called the unorganised sector, the sector of the economy comprising of petty agricultural producers, tenants, village artisans, street vendors, small scale manufacturers, etc. Admittedly they are less equal than the rest but that is a derivative of their economic position in the country rather than being a defining feature of its own. Since this “unorganized” sector employs nearly 92% of the Indian work force, a close scrutiny of its structure and dynamics is long overdue. But did coining a new term serve any goal? Not one that we can see. In the bargain PC, of course, seems to have missed two crucial points.

a. Labour has gone out of the discourse and PC’s analysis seems to endorse this trend. Recall that PC uses the term “non-corporate capital” for an economic representation of political society. Reading PC’s descriptions of it, one cannot help suggesting that “labour” rather than “capital” should have been emphasized. After all nearly 40% of the agrarian population are landless labourers [12]; of the landowners, about 86% come under the category of small and marginal farmers, and they supplement income from land with labour income. Simple back-of-the-envelope calculations tell us that at least 55% of the country’s population could be counted within political society – this is the contribution of agricultural sector alone. To get an idea of the size of political society one needs to add the fast increasing chunk of casual labourers in manufacturing and services, petty manufacturers, and self-employed groups of the service sector. Their income source, as we have noted, owes more to labour than to capital. Hence the term “non-corporate capital” seems inappropriate, both as a matter of description and analysis.

In this context one needs to understand what PC mentions about the resistance to forcible acquisition of land. When land was being taken away, some of the villagers did not participate in agitations while some of them resisted fiercely. But PC forgets to examine who did what. Closer examination of these struggles reveal that peasants with little or no land at all – sharecroppers, farm labourers – were the ones who fought on [13], [14]. This perhaps illustrates that using a class-neutral term may not be very illuminating for socio-political analysis.

b. While describing maneuvers of political society in negotiations with the neoliberal state PC uses illustrations of urban labour: squatters, hawkers, etc. This leads him to conclude that demands of political society mostly fall outside the domain of the legally permitted. But what about demands such as payment of minimum wage, subsidised inputs and credit, support price for crops, right to livelihood, right over resources like forest produce, water? Surely these demands, on which political society has plenty of stakes, are entirely legal. One suspects that the urban bias in PC’s analysis and illustrations has pushed the article to dubious conclusions.

Conclusion:

As landholdings have undergone fragmentation and aspirations for urban comforts have soared, agriculture has ceased to be the site of intense class conflict. For the foreseeable future the big question of political economy will be to understand how corporate capital, with hegemony over the state and civil society, negotiates with the clingers-on of a moribund peasant society. Aside from the shortcomings of PC’s analysis, which we have critically examined, resistance at Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar perhaps signals that all is not yet over with the agrarian question. Managing political society through governmentality is hardly an answer. Land remains a vital issue on which livelihoods, and therefore lives, are staked. There are no shortcuts – employments would have to be found for the evicted if corporate capital has to reproduce itself without hitch. Moreover, electoral compulsions of representative democracy need not be met through resource transfer as PC has suggested. In a polity where parties deliver anti-neoliberal rhetoric before elections and do precious little once in power [15], actual transfer of resources is neither necessary nor efficient.

Notes and references:

1. Partha Chatterjee (2008): “Democracy and Economic Transformation in India”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43 No. 16 April 19 – April 25.

2. PC also hypothesises that the rural poor do not face an exploiter in the village any longer; or that since taxes on land or produce are insignificant, the state is not an extracting agent of the peasantry. Both these claims are questionable, but we shall let them pass.

3. Kalyan Sanyal (2008) “Amader Gorib Oder Gorib” (Bengali), Anandabazar Patrika, May 20.

4. See http://radicalnotes.com/2007/02/07/neoliberalism-and-primitive-accumulation-in-india/

5. Utsa Patnaik (1990) Agrarian Relations and Accumulation: The ‘Mode of Production’ Debate in India, (edited) Sameeksha Trust and Oxford University Press, Bombay.

6. Utsa Patnaik (1979) “Neo-populism and Marxism: The Chayanovian View of the Agrarian Question and its Fundamental Fallacy”, Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4, reprinted in The Long Transition, Tulika, New Delhi, 1999 provides a detailed criticism.

7. Sainath (2008) “4,750 rural bank branches closed down in 15 years”, The Hindu, March 28.

8. Mritiunjoy Mohanty (2006) “Microcredit, NGOs and poverty alleviation”, The Hindu, Nov 15.

9. Utsa Patnaik (2008) “Neoliberal Roots”, Frontline, Vol. 25, Issue 06, March 15-28.

10. Utsa Patnaik (2003) “Food Stocks and Hunger: The Causes of Agrarian Distress”, Social Scientist, Vol. 31, No. 7/8, 15-41.

11. Jean Drèze (2008) “Employment guarantee: beyond propaganda”, The Hindu, Jan 11, 2008.

12. There is ambiguity whether PC categorises landless labourers under political society or ‘marginal groups’. He mentions marginal groups are low caste or tribal people. By this count the landless are mostly marginal. But then he mentions marginals do not participate in agriculture; they are dependent of forest produce or pastoral activities. Going by the second stronger criterion we shall include the landless in political society.

13. Parthasarathi Banerjee (2006) “West Bengal: Land Acquisition and Peasant Resistance at Singur”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 46, November 18 – November 24.

14. Tanika Sarkar (2007) “Celebrate the Resistance”, Hardnews, April.

15. K C Suri (2004) “Democracy, Economic Reforms and Election Results in India”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 39, No. 51, December 18 – December 24.

Courtesy:Sanhati

Indian State enumerates “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas”

Ravi Kumar

[Government of India (2008, April) Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas, Report of an expert group to Planning commission, Planning Commission, Government of India, New Delhi]

It may seem surprising that the Indian state and its ruling political elite constituted a committee to study the radical left movement in the country. However, beyond this apparent incongruity, it is essentially a stocktaking exercise in order to design the initiatives for undermining class politics and mass upsurge against the free rule of capital unleashed under neoliberalism.

It is no longer a surprise that we have today a ‘powerful’ voice in the country, categorised as ‘democratic’, ‘pro-people’, ‘progressive’, and ‘secular’, but certainly not pro-working class, which has substituted the class based analysis. The report, which is being discussed here in brief, is also an addition to that burgeoning non-class, pro-people, humane capitalism framework of analysis. In this sense, one may read the report not only in terms of a response to radical left politics, but to any political movement which demands an alternative to capitalism.

The Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance, when it came to power in the year 2004 made an effort to portray itself as ‘sympathetic’ to the radical left movement when it expressed its concern for the “the growth of extremist violence and other forms of terrorist activity in different states” and stressed that it was “not merely a law-and-order problem, but a far deeper socio-economic issue” (see the Common Minimum Programme of the United progressive Alliance).

But in due course, as the government supported by the dominant Left steered itself through years, a marked change in the approach of the Indian state was seen. Different agents of capital, such as the Prime Minister of India, belonging to the Congress Party, as well as leader of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), started rejecting radical left politics quite unequivocally as the most significant security problem. L.K. Advani of the BJP said in 2006 that the “communist extremism not only endangers India’s national security and our democratic system, but also our precious cultural and spiritual heritage. The rabidly anti-Hindu propaganda of naxalites must be noted in this context”. The Prime Minister, in 2007, was concerned with the threat to spiritual and cultural heritage from communists but categorised the “Left Wing Extremism” as “probably single biggest security challenge to the Indian state. It continues to be so and we cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated this virus”. He appealed for a well-concerted response to this ‘virus’. He asserted, “we need to cripple the hold of naxalite forces with all the means at our command. This requires improved intelligence gathering capabilities, improved policing capabilities, better coordination between the Centre and the States and better coordination between States and most important, better leadership and firmer resolve. Improving policing capabilities requires better police infrastructure, better training facilities, better equipment and resources and dedicated forces”.

In the background of such a vocal and militant stance of the ruling class against the issue of radical left politics the constitution of committee acquires more interest. In the month of April 2008 a group of “experts” comprising of retired bureaucrats, intellectuals, and “activists”, brought together by the Government of India as an “expert group”, submitted a report to the Planning Commission entitled “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas”. Those who participated are recognised as belonging to the ‘progressive’ fraternity, which possesses a great deal of concern about the issues confronting the Indian masses. And the writers of the report have made at least one significant contribution by suggesting that “…the governments have in practice treated unrest merely as a law and order problem” (p.30) and that it should not be treated as such.

But the report has to deal with this dilemma of being an Expert Group constituted by an oppressive state (which remains silent on the issue of organisation and state patronage to private militias against the left) while ironically the members are also conscious of their ‘progressive tags’. It is from this dilemma the rejection of the political demand of the radical left emerges in the report. It says that “it has to be recognised, however, that no State could agree to a situation of seizure of power through violence when the Constitution provides for change of government through electoral process” (p. 59). Thus, without making an analysis of the politico-ideological basis of the support of such forces the report not only denies such ideologies a legitimate place but also assures the state that there is no alternative to it except that some improvements would make the world a better place. Due to such an orientation the report also fails to reflect on the character of the state as it has been in those areas where the movements are very strong. Its ‘coercive’ form (in Gramscian sense) or the extensive use of the Repressive State Apparatuses (in Althusserian sense) does not figure with prominence.

Rather the report proceeds further with its allegiance to capital, when it writes that “strengthening and reorientation of the law enforcement apparatus is a necessity to ensure justice and peace for the tribal…. The law enforcement machinery in the affected areas would need to be strengthened” and among the many measures they suggest setting up of “additional police stations / outposts in the affected areas; filling up the police vacancies and improving the police-people ratio”; and “sophisticated weapons for the police” (p. 59).

If one looks at the content of the report, it has nothing new to offer in terms of analysis or information. Its ‘sympathetic’ content has already been a part of the public discourse in the country. For instance, it tries to tell us with the help of government statistics and with the help of other works by intellectuals working on Dalits that the condition of Dalits (or Scheduled Castes) and the Scheduled Tribes has been quite dismal. They are poor, socially discriminated and politically powerless. It highlights the issue of displacement due to development projects as well. And the report attributes this to the poor governance among other things. But where is the newness in this, except that it is coming from a Planning Commission report? It is only in this context that the report deserves some amount of commendation.

Reiterating what has already been said by many social scientists the report recognises that “the inequalities between classes, between town and country, and between the upper castes and the underprivileged communities are increasing. That this has potential for tremendous unrest is recognized by all. But somehow policy prescriptions presume otherwise. As the responsibility of the State for providing equal social rights recedes in the sphere of policymaking, we have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing, with a gaping divide in between” (p. 1).

When it comes to talking about the causes of discontent, the report fails to get into the actual reasons or analyses of those causes. By not getting into why inequities become part of a social and economic system, and hence, political as well as cultural systems, the report overall makes an extremely superficial analysis of the situation. Inequity or discrimination that emerges is innate to the order of things in capitalism or where the motivation of the system/capital is towards maximisation of surplus through whatever possible means. Such a system by its very nature would pave way for discontentment of this kind and mobilisation of people in different forms. And that’s why the politico-ideological aim of the movements cannot be rejected flimsily and need to be seen as an intrinsic and indispensable part of the movements. By denying the movements their agency, by stripping them of their political understanding and goals what the report does is that it works towards delegitimising the actual ideological and political aims of an anti-systemic movement.

Nobody disagrees with its arguments such as “the genesis of discontent among Dalits lies in the age-old caste-based social order, which condemns them to a life of deprivation, servility, and indignity” (p.7) or that issues of land and wage are significant determinants which generate frustration and hence motivate people to organise. But it fails to get beyond these obvious reasons and also tends to make generalised and quite isolated conclusions, such as in the context of tribes it says that “apart from poverty and deprivation in general, the causes of the tribal movements are many: the most important among them are absence of self governance, forest policy, excise policy, land related issues, multifaceted forms of exploitation, cultural humiliation and political marginalisation. Land alienation, forced evictions from land, and displacement also added to unrest. Failure to implement protective regulations in Scheduled Areas, absence of credit mechanism leading to dependence on money lenders and consequent loss of land and often even violence by the State functionaries added to the problem” (p. 9). Nobody disagrees with these reasons but there are larger questions which any dialectician would raise such as how far is it possible to remain isolated, insulated, or without any exploitation when the present avatar of capital (i.e., neoliberalism), which determines the development and the character of the system, remains in command of governance. It is not the tragedy of such discourses that they mistakenly do such an analysis forgetting the interrelatedness of things, but it is the ploy of the dominant discourse to further such arguments. And the report quite successfully does so.

At one level, no one doubts its statements that emergence of militant movements “is linked to lack of access to basic resources to sustain livelihood” (p.11). Neither does one discount its argument that “the politics has also been aligned with” the dominant social segment “which constitutes the power structure in rural and urban areas since colonial times. It is this coalition of interests and social background that deeply affect governance at all levels” (p.22). It also rightly argues that “the benefits of this paradigm of development have been disproportionately cornered by the dominant sections at the expense of the poor, who have borne most of the costs” (p.29). But the report pretends innocence when it talks about how the dominant sections of society, i.e., the ruling class, cornered the benefits of the development paradigm. I call it pretentious ‘innocence’ because an analysis of the origins and then the trajectory of development paradigms in India would reveal how, as in other capitalist nations, such paradigms are intrinsically suited to the interests of the ruling classes and capital. The very notion of development is never class neutral, hence the way the benefits of development are “cornered” by certain sections is built-in the very design of the paradigm of development. There is nothing to be shocked about how it operates and what consequences it produces. It is a natural outcome of the rule of capital. The only way out is to oppose it and lay threadbare its dynamics, which the welfarist pangs of the report fails to achieve.

At a more fundamental level, the report seems ill-equipped to even examine the land relations in rural India that have conditioned the nature of rural struggles (including the element of violence). Sitting in the high towers of the state sponsored machinery and seeing the issues and the politics of people through administrative eyes, the bureaucrats and state-aligned intellectuals cannot go beyond perceiving resistances as effects of some laxity in social engineering. They can only lament for the “excesses” and call for playing by the rules. In statements like the following they demonstrate their ignorance of the political economic dynamics of rural society and ensuing conflicts, which could never be bound within the legal administrative framework imposed by the Indian state –

“Equity and law require that all lands of the owners having less than ceiling should be handed back to the owners subject to prevailing laws. Excesses of the Naxalites in this regard are not only unjustified but deserve utmost censure” (p.46).

Let’s look at a scenario in the violence affected Central Bihar’s Arwal district, where the “marginal/small farmers” (characterised by the size of landholdings rather than by land relations) from the Bhumihar caste were among the most vocal members of the militia of the landed, i.e., Ranvir Sena. In such a situation, how does one address the issue of class-ification and hence, drawing of the battle lines. It is not a question of whether the report is right or wrong in making such appeals but it is about the caution that one needs to exercise when analysing movements, which base themselves on class terms and call for radical political transformation.

The report paints a different picture of movements which are overtly political and which demand a change of political power as the only way of weeding out poverty, discrimination and exploitation. It seeks to deny them their actual aims and deprive them of their political orientation. Not only this but what it does is to make suggestions which can minimise the political influence of the radical left in the country through cosmetic humanisation of capitalism. Hence, one need not be surprised when the writers of the report say that “it is evident from the report that, excluding ideological goal of capturing State power through violence, the basic programmes of the Extremists relate to elimination of poverty, deprivation and alienation of the poor and the landless (p. 70). The understanding of class and the role of state as the agent of capital, intrinsic to the left movement (with different shades of debate around the mode of production), has been ignored and hence, capitalism as the enemy escapes our attention as responsible for large scale displacement, deprivation, exploitation and deaths. Inbuilt in this whole exercise is an effort to delegitimise politics of the left as a whole. Like any other safety valve mechanism, it is ultimately an attempt of capitalism in moulding, manipulating and destroying praxis of resistance.

Nandigram: Peasants Resistance against Land Grab

Ish Mishra

Machiavelli’s living role model for his Prince, Cardinal Caesar Borgias who subsequently manipulated his ascendance to the papacy of the Roman Church as Alexander VI, “did nothing but deceive the people and found enough opportunities to do so and did it magnificently”. If Machiavelli had to choose a model for his Prince in the contemporary Indian politics, where conquests are not decided by the war of sword but of numbers, he would face a great difficulty, due to abundance of modern Indian Borgias, nevertheless Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would be a serious contender. The West Bengal Government declared that in the process of “developing the state, the interest of agriculture shall not be compromised and that no land acquisition shall be implemented without the consent of the peasants and the local communities” and next day the chief minister, Mr. Bhattacharjee unleashes the rein of terror on the peasants by ordering Police firing in collusion with the CPI(M) patronized goons, as has been purported by the preliminary CBI inquiry. The philosopher of the European Renaissance had advised the successful Prince to kill quickly and reward gradually. If the political economy of Left Front Government, particularly after the take over by the “Marxist” Nadir – Budhadeb Bhattacharjee is any indicator, the CPI(M) seems to have heeded Machiavellian advices more earnestly than the Renaissance absolutist monarchies did.

The heinous act of killing, wounding and maiming innocent farmers, artisans and agricultural laborers – a crime against humanity – reminds the stories of the gory acts of medieval sadist despots. The Nandigram, that has become a common noun from proper noun due to the brutal repression of the heroic resistance by the farmers of the area against the expropriation of their agricultural land for creating “foreign territories” – the SEZs. It once again witnessed death of 14, protesters and injury to hundreds in police firing aided and abetted by CPI(M)’s lumpen brigade on the14th March 2007 on the orders of the Marxist Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, committed to the “development of West Bengal at any cost”. However, the peasants’ resolve not to be displaced at any cost forced the postmodern Nadirs to step back from their declaration of creating the SEZ for Salim group at any cost. The CPI (M) supremo Prakash Karat has gone all the way out to defend Singur “take over” for the Tata’s “pro-people” car factory and Nandigram atrocities and killings in the name of establishing governance as they don’t want to allow West Bengal into becoming a “Chhattisgarh”! A party refusing to part away with the prefix-Communist from their name despite acting as agents of corporate houses is using the “law-and-order” argument more dubiously than any social democratic party. This is being met by pervasive protest and condemnation, even by its allies and sympathetic intellectuals including the veteran Economist Ashok Mitra. Now Prakash Karat had declared that there would be no land acquisition for SEZ in Nandigram area. This wisdom needed so much of bloodshed and terror. Apart from the loss of lives and causing irreversible harm to the interest of the working people politically and economically, its ideological bankruptcy has made the other imperialist parties and rightwing lumpen elements into heroes. Prakash Karat to counter Advani, reminded of the state engineered Gujarat pogrom by Narendra Modi government in order to defend the repression at Singur and Nandigram. Well Modi and Bhattacharjee, despite opposite ideological declarations and pretensions bear many similarities. Prakash Karat defends the West Bengal Chief Minister as “elected by the people” in the same language as the Hindutva lumpen brigade defends Modi. Both of them take pride in “developing” their respective states with the same formulae as the Corporate led imperialist globalizations seeks to develop the “under-developed” and “developing” countries of the world.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced that there would be no forced acquisition in Nandigram and sent the police to kill the people resisting the land grab. One stark similarity between Kalinganagar and Nandigram is that at both the places people are firmly refusing to be displaced and the agitators were shot dead in a targeted manner. The one difference, which has gone unnoticed, is that Naveen Patnaik shed crocodile tears by announcing a judicial enquiry where as the West Bengal’s self claimed leftist chief minister and the CPI(M)’s leaders went out of way to defend the Police action in the name of law and order. The CPI(M) led left front government, despite opposition by some of the constituent parties of the front, had expressed its determination to go ahead with the plan of creating the SEZs at any cost, and has been forced to make a hasty retreat.

CPI(M) ideologues aided and abetted by its propaganda brigade are justifying the governmental decision in the name of the law and order, using Marxist and Leninist jargons, creating the confusion of the contexts by juxtaposing of 19th century England and early 20th century Russia over 21st century India. Probably for such Marxists of his time Marx had pejoratively said that “thank God! I am not a Marxist”. History never repeats itself. As a philosopher of the Greek antiquity had rightly said that every thing in the world is in continuous state of change and flux and that the only constant is the change itself. History does not repeat itself, it only echoes. The creation of “foreign territories” within the country under the SEZ Act 2005 echoes the creation of fortified enclaves in the costal regions by various – French, Dutch and English East India Companies – in the costal regions of the country. It appears that history has taken a full circle. But much water has flown down the Bay of Bengal. Capitalism and innately linked imperialism has made multiple advances since then. Imperialism in its latest avatar of globalization has become so ubiquitous that now there is no need of any Lord Clive, all the Sujauddaulas have turned into Mir Zafars.

European Renaissance was not the “rebirth” of classical antiquity. “Rebirth” is a myth. It was not the rebirth but the reconstruction of the society with the nostalgic memory of the classical antiquity, according to the needs of the new social forces that had matured in the womb of decaying feudalism. It announced the emergence of a new era which witnessed the emergence of a new species of hero – the hero of finance struggling to get money making included in the circle of virtues, even if on the periphery. This new hero proved to be very smart. In less than 150 years time it became the hero and moved from periphery to centre. The17th century ideologue of this new hero, John Locke declared in unambiguous and categorical terms, “governance is a serious matter; it can be entrusted with only those who have already proved their worth by amassing sufficient wealth.” Their demand for freedom and equality was interpreted as universal equality and liberty and which eventually led to universal franchise and territorial-national universal citizenship and establishment of representative democracies, dictatorship of proletariat and their reversal into capitalism. There have been many insightful presentations and discussions and shall be more on the changing nature of citizenship and its theorization based on the changing nature of the economic base structure and its political superstructure. SEZ is the cheapest and sure-shot technique of the latest stage of the imperialist capitalism leading to the erosions of citizenship rights of people working in and outside these “foreign territories”, which in essence are “Special Exploitation Zone” and its long term possible implications. Also the details of fiscal and revenue implications are beyond the scope of this presentation and constitute the subject matter of separate discussions. The country-wide intensification and radicalization of the resistance against the land grab campaign by the state and corporate nexus for industrialization/SEZ/real estate provides a ray of hope for the anti-imperialist struggles all over the world over and Nandigram has created a precedent by forcing the government to rollback.

Indian parliamentary parties have gone many steps ahead of their colonial predecessors in using the draconian colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894, in the sense that even they did not acquire the agricultural land for private capitalists in the name of “public utility”. But preceded by Kamalnath and Chidambaram, Man Mohan Singh also reiterated his government’s firm determination to go ahead with the SEZ plans at any cost. Seeing his sense of history with gratitude to colonialism for “civilizing” India into a “nation” as revealed by him while being awarded with an honorary doctorate at Oxford University’s University and his World Bank affinity, it is not unexpected. This has provided an opportunity to CPI (M) leaders to shift the blames and devise new methods of the expropriation of agricultural land for national/transnational corporate houses. The Nandigram has taken an initiative and shown the way. There have been reports of peasants’ resistance against SEZ from all the corners. Only future will tell how long and to what extent the peasants struggling for the right to land and livelihood can hold against the formidable nexus of Indian state and the imperialist capital.

Heroic struggle of the peasants of Nandigram and Kalinganagar have challenged and foiled the neo-imperialist strategies of land expropriation by the state-corporate-judiciary nexus and forced a debate upon non-devastating models of development by laying their lives. “Their martyrdom shall not go in vain and let us salute the martyrs of Nandigram and Kalinganagar and resolve to condemn the brutalities of Budhadeb Bhattacharjee and Navin Patnaik governments in no uncertain terms”, said an activist of the Kalinganagar movement. “These local battles would strengthen the international forces seeking human emancipation and an end to exploitation of human by man”.

(A modified version of the article was published in Red Star April 2007)

Bangladesh now: a showpiece of pax americana

Soumitra Bose

If things come the BUSH-BLAIR or rather EMPIRE way, we would have all over the earth what we now see in Bangladesh. The country is run now by what is eulogized as a “caretaker government”! Yes, care is what they are taking, of what, however is the question?

Political activities are banned. It is still an “ideal democracy”. No one is allowed to spell ill about the government, no one can and will criticize those handfuls that are running the show, or rather are seen as running the show. Show, however is actually run by the army, and everyone in the street knows it. There are “wise” men – a handful, who decide or decree whatever will be next step and there would not be anyone who can question.

The middle class, who has lived and thrived in Bangladesh for more than 35 years now is happy and even conceited as ever, because they feel and “see” that corruption is not there, political Mafiosi are all behind bars and yet the middle class as it is always throughout the world do not see what they do not want to! Just today, news came out that the Chief of the caretaker government is willy-nilly [as no one is allowed to directly mention even the name of the person for any allegation processing] involved in a huge financial scam. Social laws never go wrong… one has to give some time to prove them! When supreme power is bestowed on some one and the person is not answerable especially in the perspective of the most corrupt economy then obviously power would corrupt and absolute power would corrupt absolutely.

Democracy, of whatever sham form brings out the news some time down the line and makes powerful ones accountable in whatever inadequate way it can, but when democracy is shelved and withheld, it becomes the golf-lawn for political oligarchy.

Every one in the streets knew what happened in Bangladesh was a coup masterminded by US consulate. It all started like the following. The US under the aegis of their war against terrorism found out that Bangladesh housing all different hues of fundamentalists and Islamist terrorist and even some other terrorist whom the US considers dangerous. The US intelligence found additionally that the Bangladesh army is the most corrupt institution and Taliban literature and demagogy and pornography. Bangladesh army and the embedded pro-Taliban functionaries were looking up to a hypothetical situation of attacking India with the help of Pakistan and other Middle Eastern Muslim countries. Things did not turn up as they planned. Musharraf fell to US game plan and turned his guns against Taliban and fundamentalists. So the Bangladesh army functionaries who were polishing their armaments toward an imaginary India-attack lost the steam.

Meanwhile the US sprang into action. The US consulate increased the efforts of negotiating and coaxing and cajoling the political leaders, but could not get very favourable responses despite their bribing and threats. This was because of the incendiary situation created on one hand by the growing labour unrest and other political movements of the people against globalisation and the growing dismay of the people against the anti-Muslim US policies. Faced with this situation, the US slashed the final threat to Bangladesh army. They said all foreign stints for Bangladesh army personnel in peacekeeping missions abroad will be terminated if Bangladesh army does not clear the fundamentalists from within its ranks. Money became more critical factor than baseless dreams of creating Muslim Umma in South Asia. Almost overnight the army decided to take on the chaotic political turmoil. They moved straight to the capital, made the then caretaker government sign on a draft that is now the writ. This draft was written allegedly [as you would get the information from the streets] by Md. Yunus and Justice Debopriyo Bhattacharya. Yunus the Nobel Prize winner always nurtured the dream of becoming the supreme man and yet could not cope with political criticism. Bhattacharya, a Hindu fundamentalist, would champion the cause of the Hindu minority. A new government was formed whose members were nominated by the US consulate. The new government arrested the main political leaders on account of some or the other corruption and criminal charges. The way Bangladesh was running all these charges are actually true. But the ulterior motive was to stop all political activities, which they promulgated and did and every kind of manifestation or organization was banned. People found overnight the local political Mafiosi quelled and they hailed the military. The bite was realized later. The prices soared up, economy dwindled, and administration anarchy shot up and the producing forces found their voices gagged. All came very soon on the heels of the famous and heroic people’s upsurge of Phulbari and Kansat. People took up arms against the imperialist marauders and trans-nationals. TATA’s project was shelved and very interestingly and very co-incidentally those upsurges took place when across the border the other Bengal took up arms with iconic presentation of Singur and Nandigram. The South Asian intellectuals and the conscious people equated Phulbari, Kansat, Singur and Nandigram in the same line against imperialism and globalisation. This was too much. Messages need to be sent and liberalism was inadequate. US sent a message across the border within India and very concomitantly they pressurized Musharraf. When Leftists in Pakistan are jailed the ploy of “war against fundamentalism” fell flat. Peasants’ upsurge in the North West Frontier Province and Punjab in Pakistan, the Anti-SEZ movement in India, the rise of the Maoists in Nepal and the recent setbacks of the Lankan Army sent a counter message to PAX AMERICANA that people are now ready to take up arms at the drop of a hat. Bangladesh is the message of US imperialism. Phulbari, Kansat, Singur and Nandigram is the message of the people. Battle lines are drawn, the struggle will go on!. People of this vivisected sub-continent have lost all hopes on neo-liberal governance of repeated changes in form and essentially the same imperialist extraction. They are taking the path of massive militant upsurge. The future is going to be a totally unforeseen chapter of human history. What started in 1857 may spread like wild fire once again toward a second Freedom struggle.

Some questions about agrarian structure in contemporary India

Deepankar Basu

The first thing that probably needs to be clarified in the study of agrarian structure in India (and other parts of the periphery) is to understand agrarian structure as an articulation of various modes of production under which socially necessary labour is being undertaken. The concept of socio-economic formation, as an articulation of various modes of production, but distinct from the concept of mode of production itself might prove useful here. I feel that this is a very important point that is often ignored in much Marxist theorising.

Once we agree to understand agrarian structure as an articulation of various modes of production, several questions immediately arise. One, what are the various modes of production that are articulated in various forms in India today? Capitalist and pre-capitalist modes. That much is clear and widely agreed upon.

The next important question, of course, is this: which is the dominant mode of production in this social formation, in this complex reality formed by the articulation of the capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production? Which, in other words, is the mode that is dominating the others, shaping the others so as to fulfill it’s own needs of reproduction? Which is the dominant and which is the dominated mode of production? In this regard, the tentative hypothesis that I would like to advance is the following: contemporary Indian reality suggests that the capitalist mode of production is the dominant mode. It is capitalism, decidedly of a dependent variety, that is calling the shots in India today. All vestiges of pre-capitalist modes are articulated to the capitalist mode and are serving its needs in various ways. But it would be a mistake to allow the vestiges of these pre-capitalist modes to define social reality in rural India, its agrarian structure.

The question that will naturally follow is this: how to explain the stagnation in Indian agriculture? How to explain the rising rural distress? This is an extremely important question, but I don’t think it is necessary to take recourse to semi-feudalism to explain rural stagnation and distress. Dependent capitalism, of the type that has developed elsewhere in the periphery of the world capitalist system, is precisely a capitalism which entails stagnation, pauperisation and distress for the majority while a small minority grows at a very high rate. That has happened in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and is now happening in India. This is another tentative hypothesis that I would like to advance.

A very close friend of mine, who has been studying agrarian relations in Punjab for some time now drew my attention to three very important characteristics of rural reality in Punjab. These are: (a) the intrusion of ideological factors like “social pride” into the process of mechanization of agriculture (he informed that the possession of tractors in contemporary Punjab is more a matter of “social pride” of the peasantry than any capitalist incentives arising from production conditions); (b) the existence of a class of middlemen who procure agricultural product from peasants and also function as money-lenders, thereby givng rise to partially interlinked markets; and (c) the widespread use of migrant labour in agriculture.

What are the implications of these three characteristics for our understanding of agrarian structure in contemporary India? I would tend to interpret these three characteristics as the many factors, among others, which reproduce capitalist stagnation; I do not see this as providing evidence of the presence of semi-feudal relations in rural India.

The question that immediately came to mind regarding the first charateristic is this: What is the material basis of the “social pride” that comes from the ownership of tractors? An answer suggests itself almost naturally. The tractor manufacturer would gain enormously from the widespread existence of such “social pride”. Let us recall several campaigns by the local capitalist class (for example the “hamara Bajaj” campaign) where ownership of scooters and motorcycles and four-wheelers and tractors are given other, social meanings (like national pride, etc.)? Could something like that be in operation in Punjab too?

Existence of a large class of middlemen is important but does not really lend support to any semi-feudal thesis. The class of middlemen, to my mind, are representatives of mercantile capital; a class which makes profit by buying cheap and selling dear. It is important to remember that they have come up under the shadows of a partially paternalistic State and the pressure of rich and middle peasants for minimum price policies. Through them mercantile capital is getting accumulated in rural India. The fact that the credit market is partially interlinked to the product market through this class reminds me of the “putting out system” during the early phases of the industrial revolution in England. But, this system, I am told, has made a comeback through various kinds of “contract farming” in other parts of India too. For instance, Pepsi Co, HLL, Procter and Gamble and many other companies often do the same. They provide credit and other inputs to the farmers and the contract is that they will buy the product at pre-arranged prices. So, even though markets are getting interlinked, it is in a context that is very different from those studied in the early 1970’s by Amit Bhaduri and others. In this case, the capitalist character of many of the participants is beyond all reasonable doubt. So, instead of understanding this as an instance of semi-feudal relations of production, it is probably more helpful to see this as the specific manner in which the articulation to dependent capitalism takes place.

The importance of migrant labour, as my friend pointed out, can hardly be denied. But as I have suggested earlier, while it is important to understand the articulation of modes of production, it is equally important to identify the dominant mode? Moreover, the existence and growth of migrant labour, footloose labour according to Jan Breman, also seems to suggest that the various kinds of bonds that tied down labour to a particular plot of land or village or area is loosening. Doesn’t that gradually erode the semi-feudal basis of power in the rural areas?

Another related question that often comes to mind is this: are big and powerful feudal landlords left in India today, other than in small pockets? Does social, economic and cultural power in rural India reside with the class of feudal landlords? I have serious doubts that it does. I think, instead, that the social and economic power of the landlord class has been largely eroded. Rural power now rests in the hands of the middle and rich peasants, not in the hands of landlords. To a minimum that seems to be the case in large parts of India: Punjab, Haryana, Western UP, TN, Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, Gujrat, Maharashtra. Therefore another question arises immediately: does this define the character of rural India or do the remnants of semi-feudal power in pockets of Bihar, Orissa, Eastern UP, MP, Chattisgarh, Jaharkhand define rural India?