a) Persistence of Feudal Survivals

Statutory abolition of old pattern of zamindari as well as other forms of large-scale landlordism akin to serfdom has spawned a downsized landlordism of both old and new variety and an alliance of bourgeoisie with these landlords. While new capitalist landlords employ capitalist methods of production and employ hired labour, they freely resort to various forms of extra-economic coercion. With the intensification of agrarian crisis features like usury and bondage have resurfaced quite aggressively in many areas of advanced agriculture as well. Side by side with this new type of landlordism, old-type landlordism, including absentee landlordism, too exists quite extensively, extracting surplus in a semi-feudal manner from tenants and sharecroppers. The predominance of absolute ground rent in such tenancies, whether legal or illegal, acts as a major barrier to the free development of capitalism.

Despite so-called land reforms, land ownership and operational holding patterns are highly skewed. In terms of ownership, marginal (0.01-2.49 acres) and small (2.50-4.99 acres) holdings account for 80.4 per cent of total holdings, but together they own only 43.43 per cent of the total owned agricultural land while medium (10-24.99 acres) and large (25 acres and above) holdings, though numbering only 3.6 per cent of total holdings own 34.63 per cent of the total (all figures are from 2003 NSSO data). The degree of landlessness among rural households has been on the increase. Totally landless households among rural households have risen from 25 per cent in 1987-88 to 41 per cent in 1999-2000. In fact, these figures understate the real proportion of landless households, for households owning a meager 0.01 acre are included in the marginal and not landless category. The decline in the proportion of medium and large holdings is also deceptively overstated because it hides the phenomenon of benami transfers.

The figures of distribution of operational holding reflect a largely similar pattern, but they also reflect a significant degree of reverse tenancy (hiring in of the land of poor peasants by rich and well-to-do farmers) – while 3.6% of total ownership holdings belong to the 10 acres and above range, 7.4% operational holdings belong to this range.

Though reverse tenancy is sizable and cash rent is widespread, the form of money rent, by itself, does not indicate the development of capitalist relations in tenancy. This is because, in most cases, the money rent does not represent capitalist ground rent over and above “normal” profit to the cultivator. Rather, it represents some arbitrary surplus extraction by the landowners, often using all forms of extra-economic coercion, including even forms of labour service.

The land market is also not free. It is highly distorted by the semi-feudal landlordism marked by excessive rent extraction and forcible grabbing of the land of the poor through under-pricing over and above the monopoly landownership. New land concentration is also taking place side by side.
Despite the apparent development of a class of “free” agricultural proletariat, the agrarian labourers, and the labour market in agriculture, are not really free in most of the cases and labour relations are marked by all sorts of semi-feudal distortion and extra-economic coercion including caste dominance.