22 December 2005

People Must Defeat the Agenda for the Agrarian Catastrophe

The miserable living condition of peasants and agricultural laborers in 21st century India is a fact that no political force can ignore any more. With over 75% of the population dependent on agriculture and a majority of them living at or below subsistence level, any claim of "Developed India" lacks credibility. It is not a coincidence that the government of India, the big business houses of India, political parties of all hues and even the international financial institutions have placed "agrarian crisis" as the main problem to be taken up for solution.

The Finance Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram and the Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh of India want to resolve the "agrarian crisis" by transforming the Indian agriculture to a fully market driven sector of the economy. The Indian government sees the private investors as the social force that will resolve the "agrarian crisis". The finance ministry has deployed budgetary tools (tax concessions, tax credits, concessional investments) to promote private investment in agribusiness. Projects such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the National Rural Health Mission and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have been launched to provide skilled and stable work force for the investor class.

Private capital invests solely on the basis of rate of profit. If agriculture lacks investment, it is only because it is less profitable. Since rate of profit in agriculture is universally lower than that in manufacturing and service sectors, such government initiatives to give handout to private investors are aimed at making investment in agriculture lucrative. The bet is that what is good for investors will also be good for peasants and agricultural laborers even though history teaches that what is good for capital is not good for labor and vice versa.

Mr. Prakash Karat, the leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has emerged as a champion of the "market mechanism" approach. He has called for an "agenda to enhance material production" through stepped up investment in agriculture. He is the champion of partnering with "private sector investment and foreign direct investment" to increase industrial and agricultural production to resolve the "agrarian crisis".

If the "agrarian crisis" would in deed be because of low rate of profit that scares private investors away, the government initiative would help. However, any dispassionate analysis of the Indian economy and especially the agrarian sector will show that the main social forces impacted by the "agrarian crisis" are not the private investors but the poor peasants and agricultural laborers. The reason for the crisis is that those who work the hardest to create the agricultural products do not own the land and the means of production.

Most producers are engaged in near-subsistence production process as a result. They have to hand over a substantial portion of the produce to the land owners as rent, share cropper payment or farm products. Low rate of profit is a result of the production being mostly subsistence production. "Agrarian crisis" can be resolved by involving the producers directly in the solution of the ownership (of land, water resources, pasture etc.) question and distribution question. Giving more power to the investors will only make the situation worse.

It needs no proof that the response of the authorities in India is a reactive response to the prospect of various trends in peasant and landless laborer movements merging in a single movement of a new kind. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's has given the following rationale for his "New Deal" for rural India:

As I look at the history of India in the last 50 years, the gap(between rural and urban India) has widened. It has not become narrower and there lies the great danger for social, economic and political stability. We have to reverse this trend (through the "new deal").

The fear Mr. Chidambaram and Mr. Karat have is that rural people may be close to giving themselves a program to resolve the agrarian problem in their favor. The farmers, peasants and agricultural laborers view the lack of control over land and other resources as well as the profit-driven disposition of the agricultural products by the investors and owners of land as the main obstacles to increasing agricultural production because the fruits of any increase disproportionately go to the land owners and investors in stead of enhancing rural prosperity. They see the mad rush of private investors (rich land owners, bankers and agribusinesses) to take control of water, forest, grazing land etc. as immediate threats to their existence rather than being factors of their prosperity. Mobilization of the rural masses under banners such as "water is a right", "land is a right", "forest cover is a right" in response to this encroachment is a new development in India. These movements in defense of rights are beginning to merge with struggles of farm laborers for wages, of farmers for fair procurement prices or seed and fertilizer supply and of peasants for land rights or share cropper rights.

If all the movements of rural people are examined carefully, it is easy to see that they are directed towards the authorities in power in the form of appeals to resolve the problems of the countryside. These struggles would thus appear as political struggles but with a crucial difference - that they are not yet articulated or directed towards people taking power to their hands. The rural people still view the government and the state as "givers" and they are appealing to the authorities to redress people's problems. Within the parliamentary democratic system, they are still looking up to political parties in hopes that a new set of elected representatives will implement people's appeals. A real political movement of the rural people aimed at creating a new kind of political power in their hands and wielding that power to reorganize agricultural production has still not gripped the mass consciousness.

Far from being a danger for stability, the victory of the people's movement of the new kind will bring stability to the polity and the country. This new movement will ensure that people themselves decide how to organize land, water and forest resources to best meet the needs of the rural people and provide for the food needs of the country. It needs everyone's full support.
Two visions appear to be in sharp conflict- one to boost profit of agrarian investors and the other to create power that would let peasants and agricultural laborers organize agricultural production. CPI(M) leader Mr. Karat has taken a stand on the side of big business of India even though many laborers, peasants and farmers look up to the communists for leading their struggles. Mr. Karat has no reason to fear the outcome of people's struggles as it would only brighten communism's future. His current position could potentially create difficulty for the rural people's struggles.

World-wide, there is a rising consciousness amongst farmers that food is a right and farmers are responsible for providing the food supply of their nations. They are rising in large numbers against the WTO driven agrarian policies favoring the big capital to reap profits from agriculture sector globally by negating the rights of the farmers and the people as a whole. They are recognizing that the WTO driven policies of the Indian government and other governments are driving the world towards catastrophic water and food scarcity. They are recognizing that India is a party to the agenda of world capital for lopsided development of cash crops and profit-making agribusiness when it is sitting at the WTO table.

The recipe that the government of India has advanced to enable private capital to invest in agriculture sector, especially by financing the rise of agribusiness, has its origin in the discredited IMF model of economic "growth" to solve poverty through "trickle-down" effect. If not others, Mr. Karat knows this very well. Growth in capitalist economy first and foremost means growth of profit. Private capital will invest in agriculture only if it will provide equal or better rates of profit compared to the manufacturing and service sector. But because agriculture lags behind industry in productivity in general, and the character of land capital is qualitatively different from money or industrial capital, government subsidies have been in place in all the countries to "lift" the agrarian sector and attend to food security. With changed conditions, those policies are up for change and WTO is leading the charge to change the policies in favor of capital over people and their national interests.

In short, agrarian crisis is objective and its resolution requires the social forces engaged in agriculture to come to the forefront of socio-economic movement in every country. If the WTO driven agenda supported by the main capitalist countries of the world succeed in making agriculture fully capitalist, it will bring huge shortages of food and water globally. This must not be allowed to happen.


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