After 100 Years of Peace-Land-Bread and 50 years of Naxalbari Peasant Struggle
Land Question: Where Do We Stand Now

Sandeep Banerjee

On the day our daytime and nighttime were equal (2017 Sept 22), during a march of All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee, Yogendra Yadav told us, “So, what we are witnessing is the beginning of something that can only be described as a peasant rebellion”[1]. What fuel his optimism are — outbursts of peasants’ movement in various part of the country in the last 12-14 months, and also, “Second, they are being run by different organisations, but the demands are actually common. Every single protest boils down to two demands: fair and remunerative price and complete loan waiver or freedom from debt. This de-facto common agenda has emerged in the formation of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee, bringing together more than 150 farmer organisations. So, there is a possibility.” And so the task as he visualizes is, “A lot of work needs to be done but if there was one opportunity for creating a nation-wide farmers’ struggle, today is that moment.”[2]

Minimum Support Price (MSP) or “fair and remunerative price” is a demand that had burst into the scene in 1980 through the famous Nasik Movement. MSP was the main issue but an underlying demand all throughout in these movements was ‘loan waiver’. Even, from the seat of the government this was announced 30 years earlier in Haryana[3]. Therefore, those demands which Yogendra Yadav (henceforth YY) tells us, “Every single protest boils down to two demands”, were with us since almost 40 years. And these movements cropped up from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Western UP. But in the 1977-87 phase also there were echoes of some ‘old’ loud voices, voices demanding ‘all land to the tillers’, which were there in Andhra (including Telangana), Bihar and MP (including Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh). It was only 10-20 years from the Naxalbari Peasants struggle[4].

Subsequently, one waxed and the other waned. Words like agrarian revolution, democratic revolution, means of production, modes of production etc. de facto retreated. Demands more and more got centred distribution, market, prices etc., than production and production relations. Land to the tillers was seen to me ‘no more viable’ or even ‘impractical’ even in the sphere of ‘discourse’ among the intelligentsia. Agriculture became less of a necessity, livelihood, way of life and more of an investment where proper return was the chief criterion. The ‘lefts’ were proud and happy with their ‘land reform’ in West Bengal which surpassed figures of other states.

In the 1990s several factors of agriculture again became important to the economy as a whole. We may see some pertinent points. Firstly, the evils of chemically pushed hybrid (HYV) agriculture started getting manifested – more and more chemical use to get same level of yield, depletion of groundwater, depletion of micro-nutrients and exhaustion of soil are among most pertinent ones. Though, the late comers in Green Revolution were yet to taste the same. Secondly, liberalisation led to reduction in subsidies (starting from 1993-94), which in turn moved up prices of fertilisers in an uneven way (increase in prices of P and K was more than increase in price of N, leading to worsening of N:P:K input ratio). Thirdly, diminishing return in agriculture was amply apparent. And fourthly, shift towards commercial agriculture, away from basic foods, increased vulnerability.

As all answers were to be sought in market (and everybody knew revolution is not at all a practical word and equality is just a utopia, haven’t you seen what happened in Russia, East Europe, China...) the question of influencing the biggest player, the state, came to forefront. Lowering of input price (= subsidy) and making higher the output price (= MSP). History, geography, economics etc all worked hand in hand so well to shape this inside popular consciousness that we could understand this ‘situation’ even without the help of our learned friend YY.  Only some small detail are missing here in this generalisation, for example, demand for irrigation water[5], outbursts against insufficient electricity supply[6] etc which are all related to basic needs of green revolution.  

Hic Rhodus Hic Salta
The practical communists, the lefts, are very much there in the ‘platform’ of 150 0rganisations YY mentioned. To the impractical ones, the vulnerable species of revolutionaries, the pragmatic leaders are as if saying – here is Rhodes, show how high you can jump. Is there anything else in the objective reality?

The land question came back with a bang in 2006, but in a different way. Militant protests erupted against govt taking away land from the peasants for the capitalists. Kalinganagar, Sigur, Nandigram, Raygarh, Jagatsinghpur, and also around Niyamgiri gave a sudden jolt. These movements are still relevant, e.g., Bhangar fight against power-grid land acquisition which is still going on. But still, these were not movements for total land reform, for ‘all land to the tillers’. So again the question that haunted was – did the land question become outdated?

Statistically speaking, the much vaunted land reform and agricultural development of the lefts in WB is also based on hollow ground. E.g., the CPM always cites ‘total production’ figure for rice to show WB as ‘no: 1’, and never shows the data on real scale for comparison, that of yield of rice (kg/Ha) in which WB is not among the top 4 states in India. Also in the case of land reform, they show total number of ‘beneficiaries’ and total amount of land that changed hand, not the % of land that changed hand (and land per capita given to the landless peasants). In the latter count, i.e. % of land for which ownership changed, WB figures will blush in shame in face of imperialist led land reform figures in South Korea or Japan (Wolf Ladejinsky’s figures). Less than a fourteenth of the total agricultural land changed hands due to that much hyped land reform during left front regime (1977-2011) and previous 10 years (1967-77); the much publicised ‘Operation Barga’ was not at all meant to change ownership of land. Nonetheless, statistical figures do not fight for change, peasants and the land hunger (if any) in their mind matter most.

In the last 10 years there were indeed some ‘movements’ in which the peasants (not the party that they followed) showed the land hunger in them.

“Even ordinary women/men are in the forefront and facing the repression boldly. They are absolutely not cowed down by this heavy-handedness. If the police brutally throw them out of occupied lands, they are returning back with greater determination the next day. In Nellore, where there has been a most atrocious attack on women, children and old by the police, the people refused to vacate the lands despite our people trying to persuade them to retreat temporarily. A spontaneous bandh was observed by all sections of Nellore town in protest of the police brutalities...[7] ” That was from Nellore, AP in July 2007.

“Holding banners and flags and raising slogans, nearly a thousand landless farmers who arrived from different parts of the district marched from Ambedkar Circle to the office of Deputy Commissioner here on Wednesday demanding cultivable lands for landless and residential plots for homeless.”[8] And this was from Raichur, Karnataka, in July 2016.

Shortly after that we hear slogans in Gujarat— તમે તમારું ગાયનું પૂંછડું રાખો અને અમને અમારી જમીન આપો (you keep your cow’s tail, and give us our land)[9]. That was when thousands of Dalits marched from Ahmedabad to Una, Gujarat, in August 2016.

And thanks to their organization and leaders, they did not tie this land hunger with availability of ‘surplus land’ de facto and de jure. Perhaps they understand that this ‘surplus’ is only relative to land policy of the govt. where land possession above certain ‘ceiling’ (varies from state to state) is legally forbidden. CPM etc left parties have sanctified the law of this system so much that they cannot even think of anything beyond legality under this regime. But under certain conditions, as we saw in Nellore, peasant masses went beyond consideration of what might be lawful and acted spontaneously. If all land can be given to all real peasants, toiling peasants then also not much land can be given to each household.  (Btw, a toiling peasant is not an agro-entrepreneur. An agro-entrepreneur or a capitalist landlord hires labour to perform all the agricultural operations and he only manages the ‘farm’. On the other hand, a Kulak, i.e. a rich peasant, is a peasant himself who performs agricultural operation along with hired labourers. Agricultural operation includes sowing and harvesting ad also nurturing, looking after plants.)

We have seen above a few peasants movements with demand of land. This only shows the presence of the demand in the mind of the peasants themselves (the organisations concerned only articulated this). If organisations put forward such slogan in their agitation-propaganda continuously perhaps they will feel the presence and intensity of this desire or need. But then also we find in history how difficult it is to conclude that certain sections have become agro-labourer and they do not have this land demand in their mind. (We may recall a story from Russia during early soviet years, interested readers may read thatgiven in the footnote section.[10])

If an averaging happens in India a peasant household will get a maximum of, say 0.75 Ha in WB, about 1 Ha in Andhra Pradesh, about 1.75 Ha in Madhya Pradesh and so on[11]; which is meagre and will not bring a lifelong solution to all problems of Indian peasants. But a democratic revolution only is a start of a solution, in which solution will be done by the peasants themselves. Most likely to overcome the size and ability constraints they will move towards making cooperatives and eventually to social ownership of social means of production.

Razor’s Edge
But there is a warning sign. If leaders of these movements gets in a parliamentary grouping with target of winning next parliament and assembly elections and ‘reforming’ the system from within, well, we have seen in the past how effectively bourgeois parliament (and even state governments) can accommodate and reform these parties or groups or platforms and make all of them system-slaves.

[Moreover, in the interview YY stated once “We are passing through a historic phase for Indian farmers’ movement. Historic because the farmers face a triple crisis today: economic – of not being able to obtain income; ecological – where a certain form of agriculture which was advocated to them as progressive agriculture has reached a dead end; and existential – a crisis to life itself, manifested in farmer suicides.” But in the demands he and naturally all other organisations focused were debt-relief and MSP-subsidy... clearly economic. The ecological problem was mentioned but not given due weight in general. Learned persons owe their knowledge to the society and it is expected that they will bring this neglected question of ecology and the necessary changes in agriculture in forefront. Otherwise we are doomed.

It is also to be mentioned about the Punjab villager's fight for land in 2008-09. "Paramjeet Kaur, mother of three, isn't scared to go to jail if it is for a good cause. She has already been to jail twice for capturing panchayat land allotted to Dalits under the Punjab Villages Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961. She proudly narrates how on April 22, 2008, she along with several landless Dalits, seized 22 acres of land " [Interested readers may read the full story here ]

14-October, 2017


2. ibid

3. “After sitting in the chief minister's chair, I will call my finance minister and the chief secretary. I will ask them to draft an order waiving all loans taken by my brothers in the villages. You will all be free from the burden of loans the moment your man Devi Lal signs the order and puts the Haryana Government's seal on it.” And he did it.

5. Farmers hold SDM as hostage, 30 hurt in police lathi charge Then, “The tehsil town of Gharsana and the neighbouring Raola in Sriganganagar district of Rajasthan were brought under curfew on Tuesday morning after the previous night's clashes between the police and the farmers agitating for irrigation water. The troops deployed late on Monday evening took over Gharsana town, which was till the other day virtually under the control of farmers who had laid siege to the Dan Mandi area for the past seven days. The troops carried out flag marches in the town.”

6. Farmers stage dharna in protest against power supply disconnection

7. Peoples Democracy 2007, July1, Interview with B V Raghavulu, “We Will Continue & Intensify The Land Struggle”

8. Landless farmers demand agricultural lands, residential plots, Raichur, July 20, 2016

9. Dalit Asmita Rally August 6, 2016

10. It was in March 1919. Lenin was addressing “Session of the First Congress of Farm Labourers of Petrograd Gubernia” and he ended his speech declaring the hope of formation of ‘All-Russia Farm Labourers’ Union’ soon. But some queer comments cropped up from those ‘farm labourers’ or whom they thought to be agricultural proletariat. They demanded, in front of Lenin, private vegetable plots and permission to keep and raise animals! Lenin was amazed. He said, “If private vegetable plots, animals, poultry, and so forth, were permitted again, we should revert to the small farming that had existed hitherto. If that were the case, would it be worthwhile to have all this bother. Would it be worthwhile establishing state farms? It goes without saying that if you discuss this question and, knowing as you do the conditions prevailing in Petrograd Gubernia—I am told that this Congress consists solely of representatives of Petrograd Gubernia—if on the basis of your experience of what has been done in Petrograd Gubernia, and in spite of all the arguments in favour of common production, you arrive at the conclusion that a temporary exception should be made for this gubernia, we shall re-examine the question.” 

Oct 21, 2017

Sandeep Banerjee [email protected]

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