Myth and Reality: Agrarian Scene in Left Ruled Bengal (1977 – 2002)

Myth and Reality: Agrarian Scene in Left Ruled Bengal (1977 – 2002)

Myth and Reality: Agrarian Scene in Left Ruled Bengal (1977 – 2002) (This article, first published in Liberation Annual Nutnebr 2002, has been updated on the basis of two important documents released in May 2002 : (a) Document of the 20th State Conference of CPI(M) held in February 2002 and (b) Draft Agrarian Policy Document of the West Bengal Government.) BOTH ADMIRERS and critics of the Left Front Government (LFG) concur that its spectacular success in holding on to power rests on its achievements on the agrarian front — on its solid rural base. On 21 June 2002, the LFG completed 25 years in office; would it not be in the fitness of things to use this occasion to make a fair assessment of its agrarian programme and to examine the emerging trends in political economy and class relations in the Left-ruled state which boasts the most stable government in...

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Publisher’s Note

On 21 June 2002 the Left Front Government in West Bengal celebrated a record 25 years in office at a stretch. This occasion has also inspired a steady stream of articles and commentaries, assessing the achievements and failures of this government in such diverse areas as civil rights and political democracy, education and health services, industry and infrastructure, and of course, agriculture, in this monograph we have preferred to zoom in on the last-named, and decidedly the single most important area. Have the much-celebrated land reforms heralded a relatively egalitarian rural order? Which class forces have harvested the biggest benefits from Operation Barga and Panchayati Raj? What was the real extent of productivity growth in agriculture over the last 25 years? And what are the implications of the ‘improved’ Left Front’s “new agriculture policy” the Chief Minister is desperately trying to push through? How do changes in agrarian relations in this state compare with all-India trends? How does the ruling CPI(M) cope with questions of class struggle in rural Bengal? Arindam Sen, member of Central Committee, CPI(ML) and Liberation editorial board, discusses these and other questions in some detail, and that is followed by a brief resume of our movemental intervention in the agrarian scene of West Bengal in recent years. – Central Committee, CPI(ML) Liberation References: Basu, Dipankar (2001): Political Economy of ‘Middleness’ Behind Violence in Rural Wast...

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Left Front Reforms

Three Pillars and Gaps Galore RHETORIC APART, the immediate programme of social-demo­cratic reform in post-Naxalbari, post-Siddhartha[1] Bengal is known to have rested on three main pillars. In this section we discuss these one by one, and then go over to the other gaps and failures. A. Land Redistribution OF ALL the ceiling-surplus land vested with the state since 1953 (when the West Bengal Estate Acquisition Act was passed) and the year 2000, as much as 44 per cent (6 lakh acres) was obtained in the five-year period between 1967 and 1972, thanks to the energetic ini­tiatives of the two United Front governments (not to mention the pres­sure mounted by the glorious peasant upsurge of the late 1960s, Naxalbari in particular); another 26% (3.5 lakh acres) had been ac­quired earlier. We lean this from Table – 1, which also tells us that during the LF regime the momentum declined rapidly – so much so that in the last 20 years of its rule only 1.53 lakh acres were acquired, which amounts to almost a quarter of what was achieved during the very short UF regime and almost a half of what was obtained during the 14 years of Congress rule. How about the actual redistribution of the vested land? Table 2 shows that if one takes 1977 as the median dividing the post-1953 period of land reforms, almost 60% of...

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Trends in Political Economy and Class Relations

IN SECTION I we have considered the consequences of agrarian reform (and the lack of it). But these do not fully describe the goings on in rural Bengal. Closely related but basically autonomous trends in political economy also contribute, in more fundamental ways, to the reshaping of class relations and contours of class struggle. In this section we propose to consider some of these broad, largely pan-In­dian, trends in the typical context of Left-ruled Bengal. A. Merchants Capital: Spreading Tentacles TO BE fair to the LFG, it did try to extend institutional credit cover to the rural poor when it first came to power. But the success was limited and short-lived. In 1979-80, about 6% of a total of 22 lakh bargadars and pattadars received bank loans (Ghosh, 1981). Even this could not be maintained because the cooperative credit struc­ture soon fell into a state of limbo, thanks to corruption and misman­agement, while commercial banks stopped whatever meagre advances they had extended to the poor peasants once the latter became defaulters. The 1980s saw the moneylenders on a comeback trail, and the situation steadily worsened ever since. According to the latest round of rural investigation[3] conducted by the CPI(ML)’s West Bengal State Committee, mahajani loans (loans taken from village moneylenders) constituted 28.51% of the total rural credit while credit from cooperative societies accounted for only 7.06%. The rest 64.43%...

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Kowtowing to the WTO and the Central Government

“What governments gave out with a flourish they often took away by stealth.” Wrote William C. Thisenhusen, summing up his study of agrarian reforms in the Third World in general and Latin America in particular. (Thiesenhusen, 2001) This has been precisely the case with the Left Front regime, as the first two sections in the present article revealed. They also brought into focus the growing domination of upwardly mobile middle and rich peasants and the corresponding state government policy of “betting on the strong” — the trusted bourgeois strategy of relying on and supporting these sections for agrarian development and stability. From these findings we now move over to a study of the LFG’s second generation reforms (“our second phase in agriculture”, as Buddhadev Bhattacharya told Ananda Bazar Patrika, 12 May), about to be introduced after the first set of reforms ran into a blind alley. When the Union Budget 2002 advocated further liberalisation, commercialisation and corporatisation of agriculture and recom­mended contract farming and corporate farming as the best roads to prosperity, all sections of the Left denounced that as the latest instance of shameless surrender to the WTO. They were particularly angry with the Centre’s pressure tactics : state governments were promised liberal aid packages if – and only if – they took the prescribed path. The CPI(M) in its 20th West Bengal State Confer­ence said : “The...

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Towards New Initiatives and a Thorough Reinvestigation

THE FACT that West Bengal has seen not a single sustained move­ment of the rural poor over the last two decades despite our best efforts cannot be explained simply by referring to the CPI(M)-LFG’s class collaborationist policies and terror tactics. For these policies to succeed, for the whole social-democratic politics to succeed, a proper material foundation and a suitable .correlation of class forces were needed. And these were available, first, in the development, however lopsided, of productivity and productive forces during the 1980s; and second, in the suitable changes in the production relations which gave rise to new dependencies or symbiotic relations among mutually op­posed classes and strata. But today we see agrarian growth tapering off, the elements of conflict inherent in various dependencies and at­tachments coming to the surface under the impact of the national agrarian crisis now spreading to this state, and new fault lines com­ing up in the social base on which the present regime survives. Fresh scope is therefore certainly coming our way to end the stalemate. But that demands new initiatives on peasants’ and agrarian workers’ de­mands, a deeper, more comprehensive study of the agrarian scene and a better systematisation of our rich but scattered ideas on the dynamics of class struggle in a state which saw the extreme revolu­tionary offensive followed by the extreme counter-revolutionary ter­ror and then fell into a sordid social...

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RESUME: CPI(ML) Initiatives on the Peasant Front since 1993

On the morrow of the May 30 panchyat poll of 1993, five agrarian labourers were butchered in Karanda village of Burdwan district (another died later at the hospital) and thirty others severely injured at the hands of CPI(M) goons. The goons also set fire to the houses of the agrarian poor. Their only ‘crime’ was that, breaking away from the CPI(M), they had dared to show the ‘audacity’ of contesting elections under the banner of the CPI(ML)-backed Indian People’s Front (IPF). Ramnarain Goswami, the CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP, was widely believed to have masterminded the brutal attack. The CPI(ML) organised widespread protests and also a 12-hour successful Burdwan district bandh on 3rd June, 1993. A protest march to the Writers’ Building was also organised on 8th June, 1993. The entire press in West Bengal, including the section sympathetic to the CPI(M), exposed the CPI(M)’s political terror. Peasants had been killed before in CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal – the killings of jute growers in Jalpaiguri and peasants agitating for electricity at Shantipur in Nadia be­ing just two well-known instances. But earlier it was the police administration which used to kill, with the CPI(M) providing the ‘political defence’. But in Karanda, it was the party which directly perpetrated the massacre. It was in the backdrop of an on-going tension in the CPI(M)’s rural social base and the consequent unleashing of terror by...

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