Conversion of Parliamentarism to

Social Fascism:

An Indian Experience


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Land Reforms Permitted by the Class State: Results

Way back in the early 1950s Prof. Prasanta Mahalanabis estimated about 18% of the total cultivated land [1.3 million acres] might be obtained as above celling surplus as fixed by the then Land Reforms Act. However, as per the latest amendments in 2000, to the W.B. Land Reforms Act 1955, the ceilling surplus land stood at … percent of the total cultivable area in West Bengal. As a result of the explosive Tebhaga Movement in the 1940s the 1955 Act in chapter III dealt with Bargadars (share-cropper) in Article 15 regarding "Certain safeguards for land cultivated by bargadars." Under Rule 2a of the West Bengal Land Reforms (Bargardari) Rules, 1956 provides that heirs of a deceased bargadar should determine as to who amongst the said heirs of a deceased bargadar will continue as bargadar within 30 days of the death of the original bargadar. Article 16 of the 1955 Act legalized the produce of land cultivated by a bargadar, to be divided between the bargadar and land owner in the proportion of 50:50 "in case where plough, cattle, manure and seeds" are supplied by the person owning the land, and "in the proportion of 75:25 in all other cases". Article 17 added some safeguards regarding "Termination of cultivation by bargadar."

In any case, the land reform measures as per the 1955 Act moved on slowly depending on the initiatives of the bureacrats. The United Front governments under the CPM leadership in 1967 and 1969 were voted to power through mass discont against Congress rule and its pro-jotedar bias. The peasants themselves went in for seizing vested lands. The Naxalbari uprising and its consequence spurred both the Indira led Congress regime at the Centre and the state U.F government further to implement the unfinished job of the earlier governments in respect of land reforms. At the outset we have referred to the decision of the Indira regime to avert agrarian conflicts in India. What is notable is that in her image – building for herself Indira raised some pro-people slogans at that time.

So even after the exit of the U.F government, the notorious S.S. Ray government in West Bengal did not generally dare to reverse the process by forcibly taking away the lands occupied by the peasants, instead the Congress government in West Bengal reduced the family based ceiling level to 52 bigha or 17.29 acre from 25 acres. It is also notable that the S.S. Ray government in the face of steady demands from the bargadars conceded even a little more than two thirds of the produce to bargadars, if bargadars bear all the expenses for cultivation. Despite such legal moves, the S.S. Ray government never tried to seriously bring into force the new enactments.

Rice Short-fall by 2007

Bengal is moving from being the rice bowl to the begging bowl. West Bengal is likely to move from still surplus rice production to not being self-sufficient in rice production by 2007 if it continues its current rate of agricultural growth. It has been highlighted in a paper for the State Development Report, commissioned by and since submitted to — the Planning Commission. The research suggests that India’s largest rice producing state will fail by 2007 (rice accounts for 95 percent of the state’s food grain production) because of the slump in agricultural growth in the past decade. The findings of the report – Agriculture in West Bengal: Current Trends and Directions for Future Growth – which studies states’ agricultural pattern from 1951 onwards are that the rate of production of food grain fell from 5.15 percent in the 1980s to 2.39 percent in the 90’s while rice production slumped from 6.28 percent to 2.19 percent over the same period.

(The Sunday Statesman, 18 May 2003)

The assumption of office by the Left Front in 1977 like an unexpected windfall led the CPM leadership to think over the prospect of winning the poor peasants in favour of the party, taking recourse to constitutional measures. In the first flush of enthusiasm, the ‘Left’ Front in 1977, started implementing the old land reform acts including the amended parts under the S.S. Ray ministry. What was new was the acceptance of fact that henceforth the bargadar shall not be required to prove himself as a bargadar, instead the landowner whose land the bargadar cultivates has to prove his/her raiyati right on the land. This helped check the ejection of bargadars at will. Later the ‘Left’ Front further lowered the land ceiling but this could not alter the situation in any considerable way. Even the Supreme Court in one case observed that the ceiling could be still rationally changed and more ceiling surplus land could be detected. It should be mentioned here that even in the high sounding ‘Operation Barga’ the ‘bargadars’ did not become rightful owners of land by destroying the feudal system.

In the early years of the ‘Left’ Front, between 1978 and 1981, ‘operation Barga’ was started with much fanfare. The victory in the general elections in 1982 and the victory in the Panchayat elections in 1983 saw the steady ebbing of interest in Barga and waste–land distribution. Firstly, under ‘Operation Barga’ they registered about 14 lakh bargadars cultivating only 8% of the land in West Bengal. (Economic Survey 2002-03) For argument’s sake, if unregistered bargadars too enjoy some sort of stability and constitute another 14 lakh peasants, then the impact of ‘Operation Barga’ is found only in 16% of the land.

It is learnt from various researches that in no case was sharecropping in more than 20% of the land. Naturally, 80% of the West Bengal land is free from the impact of Operation Barga. It must be added here that ‘Operation Barga’ has not dislodged the landowners or stripped them of their ownership title to their lands. Instead, avoiding all risks and production cost they enjoy at least 25% of the produce in the semi-feudal pattern by virtue of being landowners as a parasitic class. It is learnt from various studies that share-cropping is basically limited to paddy cultivation and a bargadar earns in a month as much as a contract labourer in a factory; the only difference being that such factory labourer works as an individual while the labour of a share-cropper is family-based.

More than that it is an irony on the peasant front where 3.02 percent bargadars have been forced to part with their rights i.e. they got ejected from the land. Now take a look at the CPM peasant front’s dictate to its cadres in its 32nd session in 2003 : "…. Is highly important to initiate movement among bargadars against the opportunist tendency prevailing among bargadars about not to cultivate properly or not to part with the share of the owners of the lands…"123 This warning against so-called dereliction of duty, avoidance of looking after the interests of the owners and productivity, etc., in all sectors characterizes the so-called More-improved Left-Front functioning.

The ‘Left’ Front could not produce any real alternative, but ensured, in reality, as in the rest of India, the retention of an increasing number of landless or bargadars alongside the land owning sections. In West Bengal from 1971 to 1981 and from 1981 to 1991 (covering both the period of Congress and ‘Left’ Front rules) the rate of increase of the number of landless peasants surpassed the landowning peasants. In this period small land owners have increasingly been dispossessed of their lands.

On the other hand while the percentage of marginal peasants has increased, the middle and small peasants have come down in number. (Subhendn Dasgupta, Sarkari Krisiniti: Aamader Bhabna, In Paschimbanger Krisiniti, Mrittlika, Jan. 2003 Kolkata, pp. 50-51) Even the 32nd session of the CPM led peasants’ front Paschim Banga Pradeshik Krishak Sabha held on January 23-26, 2003 admitted this crucial reality. It stated that in West Bengal "… capitalist relations are developing steadily, but have not completely developed …… replacing the big jotedars and Zamindars, owners of small plots within ceiling have come up who have grown as owners of so many things like water, manure and agricultural implements. A section of them has also turned into usurers (Mahajan) ....."124

In reality the agrarian sector in West Bengal provides a dismal picture with the landless peasants having no job as agricultural labourers throughout the year in addition to non-receiving of just wages; the marginal, small, and middle peasants keep losing out for want of remunerative price and storing of the produce, the problem of escalating agricultural expenses, the chronic problem of obtaining loans for poor peasants, etc. It goes without saying that one of the major reasons for those problems lies in the crucial emergence of the new jotedar usurer class which control and exercise power in rural Bengal.

It is a fact that the old type of jotedars or landlords are very few now-a-days, but this does not mean the poor and landless peasants have been liberated from feudal type control, extra-economic exploitation and coercion. It is also a fact that in respect of land possession the new rich do not match the earlier landlords, yet this new class does not till the land on its own, and they continue in tandem, both in the supervision of cultivation and various types of business. They are the suppliers of pump sets, tractors on hire, they deal in seeds, manures, pesticides, etc., they own the husking machines and control the wholesale market of rice and other produce from land. Most of them are close to the parties in power, many have also turned into leaders of the CPM.

What is notable is that instead of eliminating feudalism, this new rural rich retain the features of feudalism. The deception of the poor peasants, through under-payment of wages; the colossal presence of agricultural labourers without jobs for half of the year; the leasing out of land or giving out in barga; forcible sale of produce by the peasants much below the market price; the widespread tentacles of usurers charging high interest rates; the strong correlation between poverty level of manual labour on the one hand and the caste status; etc. — are all pointers to the distorted capitalist penetration retaining semi-feudal relations.

This apart, in West Bengal like other states in India, exploitation through semi-feudal and distorted capitalist cultural exploitation is sustained on the basis of domination by the priesthood, the dominant cultural elite orienting the consciousness of the peasantry towards fatalism, superstition, obscurantism, casteism, fundamentalism, etc. The ‘Left’ Front rule in its compromise with imperialism, semi-feudalism and the Indian big bourgeois class has in every way retained the feudal cultural practices. Its cultural elite have displayed all pretence, particularly in cities as carriers of progressive culture, but those opportunists and careerists themselves preach and nurture orthodoxies, Brahmanism etc. in order to save the ‘Left’ Front and themselves.

Let us set down a few facts about land reforms in West Bengal. Way back in September 1970, the Chief Ministers’ Conference noted with concern the all India struggles for land occupation. The Central Government called it the land grab movement and called for remedial measures to check the situation. The conference was inaugurated by Indira Gandhi and presided over by Babu Jagjivan Ram. It formulated the guidelines by making the family as the unit comprising 5 members for the distribution purposes. Ceiling limits were reduced to between 18 and 54 acres in irrigated and non-irrigated lands respectively.

The Naxalbari struggle and its increasing impact turned out to be the most compelling reason behind legal measures or guidelines for official land reforms. With total support of the Indira Congress, the CPI – led Achutha Menon government in Kerala went in for a constitutional way of land reforms. The earlier CPI General Secretary C. Rajeswara Rao observed about the success in this regard expressing pride in this way in December 1988: "This type of thing was done, and I am proud, under Achuta Menon’s government. The Congress Party also had to agree and could not object. So, thorough-going reforms were implemented in Kerala…. Now the same thing is being done in West Bengal by the Left-Front government of Jyoti Basu…."125

Before certifying the West Bengal ‘Left’ Front’s land-reform measures Rajeswara Rao referred to the wrongs done by militant peasants in the 1970s: "…. Groups of persons taking the law into their own hands and forcibly occupying what they considered to be land wrongfully held by rich or absentee landlords or owned by the government. State governments as well as the government of India understandably disapproved of such movements based on forcible occupation of land. State governments took action to suppress it…."126

It makes it abundantly clear that Jyoti Bassu’s government received the accolade from the staunch supporter of the Indira Govt. imposed Internal Emergency in 1975 and the then top most leader of the CPI, dismissing the efforts of the peasants forcibly seizing lands beyond ceiling going out of the tame constitutional legal way. The CPM in West Bengal after assumption of power in 1977 became double cautious about the seizure of lands by peasants.

On the occasion of the West Bengal ‘Left’ Front government’s stepping into 26 years, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya as C.M. and CPM Polit Bureau member went into his dramatic best. In an ebullient mood he asserted "….The most distinct picture of our success lies is the fact that in our State 72 percent cultivable land is in the hands of poor and marginal peasants … 15 lakh bargadars have been recorded! It is a fundamental matter. After coming to power we have rescued 11 lakh acres of land and got it distributed … This ownership character of cultivable land, what we call land reforms – within this structure, it is this which stands out as the most important aspect of our political programme in the 25 years."127

This is the demagogy of a leader continuously floundering into the swampy land of parliamentarism. One can easily match such propagandist claims with similar endeavours of Central and State governments run by other political parties. Facts, reality in the fields do not substantiate the tall claims. The World Bank, other international bodies, non-Marxist economists and such other people having unflinching faith in constitutional, legal reform measures have patted the ‘Left’ Front government on its back as a model to avert agrarian revolution. Sunil Sengupta and Haris Gazdar128 discovered that out of the total cultivable land in West Bengal, the Khas or vested land has not crossed even 10 percent till 1977.

The Agricultural Minister Mr. Kamal Guha, a Forward Block MLA, himself criticised the Big Brother CPI(M) against the forcible realisation of land tax. He said the prolonged movement of the peasants forced the government to waive such tax and now they are forced to pay through their nose. He also assailed at the new agricultural policy geared to bring about variation in agricultural crops.

(Sanbad Pratidin, 6 July, 2003)

As the tempo of land acquisition has distinctly ebbed since 1977 some people like to think that there is not enough land for further acquisition. Upto June 1986 the vested land distributed in West Bengal was to the tune of 8.28 lakh acres and out of that only 2.02 lakh acres was distributed since the ‘Left’ Front came to power in 1977. The Recorded barga land of about 8 lakh acres and the distributed 2.02 lakh acres under the ‘Left’ Front i.e. about 10 lakh acres provided some incentive to the poor peasants in West Bengal. What is notable is that this total land constitutes nearly 7% of the net cultivable land in West Bengal. Even upto September 2001 the total vested land distributed in West Bengal was 10.58 lakh acres and the bargadars registered were on 11.08 lakh acres. They together constitute only 15.5% of the net cultivable land. The rest 85.5% land ownership, remained outside this process.

Thus, it is the glaring fact that the much-touted land reforms in West Bengal have touched around only 15% of the land; the rest 85% land ownership remained outside the land-reform measures. This is a fact about the land reforms in West Bengal, dependent on the state bureaucrats.129 More than that what puts to shame the parliamentary Marxists is the unsavoury fact that out of the 10.73 lakh acres distributed vested land around 60% i.e. 6.28 lakh acres was distributed during the earlier Congress regime even before the Left Front’s Land reform programme was kick started.

According to the West Bengal government data in the ‘Left’ Front period the number of landless agricultural workers between 1981 and 1991 rose from 45.9% to 46.4%. In the whole of the 1970s their number increased by 6 lakh while in the decade 1980 it jumped twice that number i.e. 12 lakh. It shows clearly that the lands owned by peasants through vest land acquisition is much less than the dispossessed lands of the peasants who sold out their lands being thrust into economic distress.130 Ajit Narayan Bose found that in the last 30 years in West Bengal the number of land owners and share croppers have increased by 16.58 lakh. And many of the owners themselves do not till land, they supervise the agricultural activities. Such supervising families are basically engaged as teachers or in services in the government or private sector.131

It should be mentioned here that the above rural elite class is the main beneficiary of the ‘Left’ Front largess. This opportunist section is the prop of the ruling parties in rural West Bengal. The ‘Left’ Front is now the protagonist of market-assisted land reform. The landless peasants who were given land now face dispossession. In 1995 when the director of Agriculture of Burdwan district was asked about the status of the peasants who were distributed lands he quipped that in that district 60% i.e. 2,24,051 of them, who owned 80 thousand hectare land, were being compelled by economic pressure to sell out those lands. And in most cases the purchasers were big landowners or the nouveau riche in West Bengal.132

In another study it was found in 2002 that for various reasons 13 percent of the Pattadars who obtained pattas from the government lost their lands.133 According to the latest National Sample Survey in 1992, while 58.3% rural poor families, comprising mainly the families of agricultural workers or sharecroppers, owned only 6% of the land in India. In West Bengal the poor peasants families comprising 55.4% owned only 3.9% land. In "Marxist"-ruled West Bengal in 1992 38.2% agricultural families had no land. The same survey states that the all India figure of the landless peasants was 34.1% in that year.134 This clearly proves that the land control and ownership pattern in Left Front’s rule in West Bengal is not significantly different from India as a whole. In addition to that the major failure of the West Bengal Government lies in non-implementation of minimum wages of the agricultural workers.

The steady increase in the agricultural workers, who do not get work many months in a years, the rise in the new rich, continuous increase in dispossession of land, etc. belie the claim of the massive change in West Bengal under ‘Left’ Front rule.


123. Paschimbanga Pradeshik Krishak Sabha, 32nd session, January 23-26, 2003, p. 15

124. Paschimbanga Pradeshik Krishak Sabha, 32nd Rajya Sammelan, January 23-26, 2003 p. 68

125. C. Rajeswara Rao, Inaugural speech, Y. V. Krishna Rao (ed), Trends In Agrarian Economy, People’s Publishing House, 1989, p. 5

126. Ibid P.4

127. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Rananiti- Ranakaushal, Bam front Sarkar, Ibid p. 18

128. Agrarian Politics and Rural Development in West Bengal, In Dreze and Sen (eds) 1977

129. Ajit Narayan Bosu, Paschim banger Arthaniti o Rajniti, Prakashak Nagarik Manch, Kolkata, 2003, pp. 121-122

130. Ibid. p. 123

131. Ajit Narayan Bose, Pasachimbanger Khetmajor : Samasya nasanpat? (West Bengal’s agricultural workers: Problem or asset?) In Paschimbanger Krishiniti, Krishaker Bhabisyat, Mrittika, Kolkata, Jan. 2003, p. 59

132. The Statesman, Feb. 25, 1995

133. Times of India, August 23, 2002

134. Ajit Narayan Bosu, Paschimbanglar Arthaniti o Rajniti, Ibid. p. 123

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