Vol. XL No. 47 November 20, 2016

Towards a Pro-Peasant Alternative

P Krishnaprasad

THE agrarian crisis in India is a reflection of the economic policies pursued by the Indian State and can be resolved only by reversing them altogether. The crisis has manifested in the forms of increasing landlessness, widespread indebtedness, massive peasant suicides and alarming distress migration from rural to urban regions. Between 1991 and 2011, around 1.5 crore farmers -- 2,035 per day -- have been forced to give up cultivation and look for other occupations in order to overcome their crisis of subsistence. The farm income is insufficient to meet cost of production and household expenses.

Genesis of the Crisis

The root cause of the agrarian crisis is linked to the neo-liberal economic policies and the agrarian relations existing in different parts of the country. Even after almost seven decades of Independence, right-wing political parties like Congress and BJP do not undertake their historical responsibility of accomplishing comprehensive land reforms. Instead, they are helping feudal landlordism to transform into capitalist landlordism. This is the major reason for the severe backwardness of the majority of the peasantry and the rural working class who also belong to dalit, adivasi, minority and other backward social sections. Only in the states of Kerala, Bengal, Tripura under Left Front governments and Jammu and Kashmir, land reforms have been implemented, of course at different degrees.

During the post-1991 neo-liberal era, the country witnessed systematic withdrawal of the State from agriculture. Whereas, the iron grip of both domestic and multinational corporate houses over the modern large agro-processing industries and trade has intensified. This is the crucial thing that enables them to establish dominance over the peasantry. It is in this context, we shall examine the shocking trend of more than 3.5 lakh peasant suicides that took place since 1995 -- as per the government data -- which had been never experienced in the history of India even during the British colonial era.

Indeed, the degree of crisis is differentiated across regions and crops and the present state of agrarian relations is characterised by expansion and intensification of capitalist development in rural India along with the existence of outmoded institutions and social formations which represent pre-capitalist or feudal era.

Characteristic Growth of Capitalism in Agriculture Today

All over the country, the developent of capitalism is uneven. The concentration of ownership of land, other agricultural assets, and agricultural and nonagricultural income has been intensified. The dominant class in the countryside is the rural rich nexus of landlords, big capitalist farmers and big traders. Apart from their control over land, they are also involved in business activities such as money lending, contract works, grain milling, trade and speculation in food grains and agricultural inputs, running cinema theaters, educational institutions and petrol pumps, transport, lease of agricultural machinery, construction, manufacturing, etc.  

On the contrary, the vast sections of the poor and middle peasantry are being transformed as hired wage workers at farm and non-farm tasks. The interests of this vast masses belonging to poor and middle peasants, agricultural workers and other rural working class need to be protected by building vast unity among them and mobilising them in the fight against the exploitation by the rural rich nexus.

Contradiction between Peasantry and Rural Rich Nexus

The struggle for abolition of landlordism and for distribution of land among the agricultural workers, poor peasants and landless needs to be further advanced wherever possible. Now under the neo-liberal policies, land grab and State support for land acquisition for the corporates has assumed menacing proportions. And the contradiction between the rural rich nexus and the peasant-rural working class masses manifests also through agricultural and nonagricultural capitalist activities. The rich exploit the poorer sections in many ways by means of low wages, high rates of rent, interest on money-lending, charges for water, tractors, harvesters and other agricultural equipment, storages, trade and so on. Hence the peasant movement has to take up all such issues of exploitation to fight the rural rich nexus and shall built unity centered on the interests of agricultural workers, poor and middle peasants and other toiling sections of the people including migrant labourers.

Peasants Disillusioned Under Modi Govt

After the BJP-led NDA government assumed office in 2014, certain sections of the farmers were expecting the Prime Minister may keep the promise made by BJP in its manifesto that MSP at the rate of 50 per cent above cost of production will be provided. But, the peasantry does not receive even the cost of production for many of the crops. On the other side, the price of food items has skyrocketed. For example, the price of moong dal is in the range of Rs 120 to Rs 220 per kg in different parts of the country, but the farmers are getting merely Rs 30 to Rs 40 per kg. In Shivpuri town of Indore region in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, onion farmers were forced to throw bundles of onion on the street since the price of onion crashed to a meager 20 paisa per kilogramme.

The corporate allegiance of the NDA government has been proved beyond doubt in the last two-and-a-half years. The Prime Minister had received the first major defeat at the hands of united democratic peasant movement -- the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan -- when he was forced to withdraw the infamous pro-corporate Land Acquisition Ordinance. The peasantry has been disillusioned earlier than expected and is gearing up to fight the Modi Raj after the bitter experience they had on issues of land and remunerative price.  

Corporate Takeover of Agriculture

The Union Budget 2016-17 has announced 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in agriculture, especially in the food processing sector. Another decision is to introduce e-marketing facility in agriculture markets all over the country. In the absence of remunerative MSP, the e-platform will be a centralised apparatus to facilitate cheap procurement of agricultural produce by the monopoly traders and industrialists. Eventually this will lead to the taking over of the entire infrastructure sector like warehousing, cold storage, transportation, processing and marketing networks, research and development, etc. by multinational corporate forces. The Company Raj –- the rule of corporate forces -- being imposed by the Modi Raj will force Indian farmers to further lose their land, cattle and other resources and become contract agents of giant agribusiness companies in future.

Peasantry and Capitalist Market

The capitalist growth in agriculture has a devastating impact on petty producers.  In the neo-liberal economy, capitalism has tightened its grip over the rural economy. Farming has increasingly become commodity production for the market. Lives of peasant households are highly dependent upon the market and the main source of their income comes from the sale of agricultural produce and animals. The government did not take any step to prevent the exploitation in the market by middlemen, monopoly traders and corporate agro-processing industries by ensuring remunerative MSP and facilitating procurement centres.

Importance of Large-scale Production under Peasant Cooperatives

The iron grip of corporate forces over large modern agro processing industries and market enables them to destabilise petty producers from agriculture land, taking over agricultural land and other means of production, and pauperise the rural masses. The studies conducted world over reveals that only 10 per cent of the value of the consumer products made out of agricultural products goes back to the primary producers while the rest -- 90 per cent -- is being shared among industrial processing and marketing forces and their middlemen.   

Capitalist industry and peasant agriculture can never expand alongside. In order to protect the interests of petty producers, the mode of petty production on agriculture needs to be replaced by large-scale production under peasant cooperatives. This only will ensure the benefit of economies of scale and provide support, protection and material progress to the peasants and agricultural workers and other petty producers as a substitute to their present pauperisation, misery and arduous toil under capitalism.  

Relevance of Modern Agro Processing Industries

Establishing crop-wise modern agro processing industries supported with the extensive use of science and technology is a precondition for large-scale agricultural production involving the small-holder peasantry. The procurement facilities of warehouses and cold storages also may be developed collectively by backward and forward integration. Combining production with procurement, processing and marketing under the aegis of social cooperatives of peasantry and working class can avoid intermediaries and help peasants to resist neo-liberal market exploitation to a certain extent. Social cooperatives can work comparatively free from day-to-day control and regulation of the State and free from landlord-rich peasant dominance. It can develop skills among peasants and workers for managing production democratically with worker self-management.

Benefit of Scale of Economies to Agriculture Workers

The benefit of large-scale production goes directly to agriculture worker and rural working class too. Training and placement of agricultural workers shall contain the vision of transcending their class base as modern industrial farm worker. This will make them capable of handling modern farm implements to avoid arduous toil,with stable and remunerative wage for decent living and all other employment rights and social security.

Social cooperatives of peasants and workers, undertaking direct procurement of agricultural produce eliminating intermediaries and their exploitation at all levels with independent and direct marketing of value-added products, will help enhance their income considerably. The basis of such peasant cooperatives lay with the alliance of poor and marginal farmers and agricultural workers.

Likewise, building an auxiliary atmosphere among the public all over the country to promote marketing of cooperative consumer products as a resistance movement against corporate dominance of market and FDI on retail needs to be initiated by the progressive peasant and working class movement akin to the ‘Swadeshi Movement’ during the British rule.  

Significance of Peasant Unity and Worker-Peasant Alliance

The wider unity achieved among the peasantry and agriculture workers in the struggle against the Land Acquisition Ordinance under the Modi government is significant. The trend of similar unity among dalits, adivasis, students and other social sections is positive. Trade unions have been able to forge wider and stronger unity for years now and that is still working as a bulwark against the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies on the country. The need of the hour is to build solid worker-peasant alliance to fight both the neo-liberal and communal forces. That will pave way to forge larger unity of the Left and democratic forces at all-India level. Kisan Sangharsh Jathas and Delhi Rally are in the right direction to advance the class struggle to develop a comprehensive plan of pro-peasant alternative which could address agrarian question in India successfully, especially in the present context of intensifying systemic crisis of world capitalism. (END)