Republic Day Special Series




Chapter VII: A Second Partition (Part 3)

Economic policy of the British had resulted in a continuous flow of village people from villages to towns in search of livelihood. Further, social inequity of villages had pushed out a large number of people from the depressed class to the cities.

Those who had social and economic were, left villages and that created a vacuum. No one was left to defend economic interest of agriculture and countryside. The urban educated had deep rooted interest in the socialistic pattern of society New class of rural refugees elite and depressed classes joined their ranks to creation of a socialistic society, rather than one passed on enterprises and risk booming. In a; sense, nation got partitioned second time. This was not a territorial partition but a notional one. Urban western educated, who drew their sustenance for a modern economy and industry can be called”India”and they obtained inheritance from the British of colonial exploitation, while, those in the countryside, leaderless, largely illiterate, eking out their livelihood on agriculture, became”Bharat”and continued suffering under the new colonial exploitation and even after the independence. White Britishers were replaced by the less fair ones, but this division cleared the way for exploitation of agriculture with Stalin-like ruthlessness without the need to use Stalinist tanks.

In the pre-Independence years, election in the erstwhile undivided Province of the then Punjab, were worn by the Unionist Party, which consisted of the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh farmers and it defeated the Congress that led the city traders. It is remarkable that while Sir Chotu Ram leader of the Union Party was alive, the Muslim League was unable to open a single branch in the Punjab Province, The Union Party had proposed”land alienation Bill”. making it impossible for the Muslim leaders to seize land of the defaulting farmers. The Bill was opposed by the Congress Party under the leadership of Lala Lajpat Rai, who argued that seizure of land was the fundamental` to the vocation of money lending and this right was denied. Money lending was disastrous consequence for the farmers. This post-independence days, there was no Sir Chotu Ram nor Lala Lajpat Rai. Villagers became leaderless. More elite sub-caste amongst farming community became spokesmen for Agriculture. 

However, the commitment of this new class of leaders to the rural cause was at best superficial They could be easily induced by offer of political carrots to compromise on even the vital interest of the countryside. These leaders joined en-masse the socialist brigade persuaded that socialism was way to destroying the Brahminical domination,. the new rural leadership thus became subjugated to”India”and turned traitors to their own country fellows.

Independence came 50 years back. The British rule of 150 years had squeezed dry both the agriculture and artisans, Villages had been all reduced to start poverty. The country suffered at the same time from extreme scarcity of food.

During the period of Second World War, the armies of the allied nations were improvisioned from India with revitaillements. The Government in consequence was left with little stocks of food, Resulting famine was disastrous, particularly in Bengal. 

Hundreds and thousands of people perished. It was a comprehensive system of rationing that ensured some sort of supply of food-grains, sugar, kerosene etc. During the war period, very inferior quality grains lime milo and corn were being issued through ration shops. Two years before the Partition were marked by nation-wide conflagration in States like Bihar, Punjab and Bengal. Communal riots did not remain confined to cities but spilled over into the countryside. As a result, production of food-grain declined. Refugees moved in groups all over the country looking for shelter. Special arrangements had to be made to provide rations for such ambulatory community. Briefly, even before the Partition, the position of availability of food-grains was extremely difficult. The Partition and mass scale migration of refugees made the situation even worse. The territory ceded to West Pakistan included the West Punjab, which had become, thanks to the massive programme of irrigation, dams and canals carried out under the British rule, reservoir of food-grains for the country. By comparison, East Punjab which had come to India, which correspondents to the Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh of today, had made little progress in the food production.. On the eastern side, there were similar complications. Jute was the main produce of Bengal. In fact most of the jute production in the worked came from there. Practically all the jute producing districts went to East Pakistan, while the jute mills con-centered in Calcutta, came to India. Soon after Independence began armed conflict in Kashmir, which put a further strain the supply of food. Till 951, India experienced severe shortage of food and prices that rose continuously, making lives of even relatively well to do families very precarious.

Suspending Rationing:
Agriculture which had had precarious situation due to continuous waves of invasions and wars, 1949-1950 were the two years of good monsoons. Suddenly food seemed to be acutely scarce. Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, the then Minister for Civil Supply, decided to close the rationing system and created upon market for grains and pulses. Prices of food-grains in retail market began to fall. This decline in prices did not reflect adversely on the prices obtained by the farmers. Had this situation continued, there was probably no need to talk of what went wrong with the Independence. However, abundance of supplies, free market and declining prices are not to the taste of the people who prospered by stock piling and black marketing. A large number of employees of the Civil Supply Department were understandably unhappy at the prospect of losing their jobs.. All these forces combined to encourage hoarding and other means of pressurizing the market. Soon, food-grain prices stated rising and finally, sky rocketing. The Government ought to have prepared itself to this kind of situation by building up some stocks. Why was such a primary precaution not taken ? Was there some sort of wicket plan behind this, o r did it happen exclusively through administrative inertia, inefficiency and lack of foresight, it is difficult to say positively, one way or another.

There was repetition of this 28 years later. In 1978-79 during the regime of Janata Party, Choudary Charan Sing, attempted to de-license sugar and abolish levy system. Prices of sugar collapsed. There was panic among sugar factory owners. Had the government acted by entering into the market to support it and building some emergency stock, the situation could have been easily remedied. In that case, probably the next season would have been normal and the system of levy”would have disappeared”The Government gave a knee jug reaction. In open market, there could be spells of hardships and confusion. Hoarders and black marketeers do try to profit from absence of regulations. Experience world over shows that this kind of aberration is brought under discipline by market forces and through pressure of consumers. The Government certainly lacked this kind of faith in the capacity of markets to regulate themselves. The Janata Party Government had its own socialist bias. Understandably therefore no sooner than the sugar lobby started protesting. The government surrendered and reinstated levy system. Employees working for the system of civil supply of sugar were also largely instrumental about the government’s capital. Second attempt at liberalisation of agricultural marketing too failed n this manner.

Mrs. Indira Gandhi made an attempt exactly in opposite direction. She announced nationalisation of the entire system of food-grain market. There was no chance that such an absurd experiment would succeed. It flailed soon and nationalisation had to be scrapped within a few months. 

Bureaucrats’ Thirst for Control over Economic System:
However, they are not prepared to take the entire responsibility for running the economy. They much prefer that the farmers, workers, traders and industrialists should run the economy. leaving crucial point of control in the hands of Bureaucrats, thus giving them ample opportunity for obtaining supplementary income. Understandably, therefore, policy of opening up pursued by Kidai and Charan Sing and also Indira Gandhi’s nationalisation, both failed abominably. Normal commerce in food-grain remained the responsibility of the private sector, whether the government and its army of officials controlled the public distribution system and vast machinery of Food Corporation of India that controlled procurement, storage, transport and also distribution. Decisive control of food-grains through were firmly in the hands of the bureaucracy. 

(... continued in Part 4)

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