Republic Day Special Series




Chapter VII: A Second Partition (Part 4)

Tyranny of Essential Commodities' Act:
Kidwai’s attempt at liberalisation failed. The system of rationing was firmly re-established.. Then followed a period of stagnation in food production. Population continued to grow.

Socialist............ drove board of people from the countryside to the urban areas in search of livelihood. The population continued to grow incessantly. It got increasingly concentrated in the urban centers. The distribution in these centers virtually collapsed. There arose a psychosis of scarcity and the country got caught up in a vicious cycle of want. Sometimes the monsoons were scanty, sometimes they poured in abundance, sometimes they were floods, some time storms. The reasons varying but the supply of food every year consistently was short of demand.

A question needs to be asked : If the country really lacked food-grains to meet the reasonable consumption requirements of the population. For a family of typical size, counting the young as also the old can avoid starvation if it gets one quintal of food-grains per head per year. In 1965-66 the whole county was under the shadow of famine. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister, exhorted the people to go without food one day in a week. The 1965 war with Pakistan the economic policies received a re-orientation under the slogan, Jai Jawan Jai Kisan. Soon thereafter, the Green Revolution appeared on the scene. A Agricultural Prices Commission was created to recommend reasonable prices for the agricultural produce. In the history of post-independence India the year 1965-66 marks a milestone in food production. That year came to 80 lakh tonnes which gives an average of two quintals per head, instead of one. Even taking into account food grains that used as raw material in the industry, there was clearly no scarcity to justify the bulla-ballow. The black marketeers and the bureaucrats had combined in mutual interest to promote food scare. This psychosis continued till 1970. Today, it is said that the country has become self-sufficient in food. The fact is that the per capita availability of food grains as diminished while that of proteins has gone up. That may be the reason why the requirement of per capita of food-grains has diminished. In any case, it is difficult to maintain that the country lacked food at last till the day of Lal Bahadur Shastri. However, the Food Corporation of India and the vast hierarchy of bureaucracy of the bureaucrats continue to have a vested interest in keeping alive the food scare.

The manner in which the development of Agriculture, Industry as also other sectors of the economy were handled, can be fully understood only on the background of this history of psychosis of scarcity.

Caste Differentiation:
The post-independent India witnessed a clear-cut division of its people. Farmers and artisans on the one hand and those in the modern sector of trade and industry, on the other. This dichotomy sprung fro the age-old system of caste distinction.

Since the time immemorial, the Indian society was bifurcated by the city wall. Those inside the wall pursued respectable trade and crafts fit for the upper caste, while those outside the wall;did menial and unpleasant jobs and generally had no civic rights. 

The coming of the British enlarged this dualism into wider regions but made the division even stronger. Those outside the wall had little say in the freedom movement, which was largely dominated by those inside the wall. After Independence the political power passed into the hands of those inside the wall who stepped into the shoes of departed colonial masters and became "India" while those outside the walls became "Bharat" and continued to toil and be exploited once again with the difference that now they were being tyrannized by no alliance but by the people of their own color, nationality and religion. But now suddenly the air was filled with a new idiom. "Gandhism" was replaced by socialism, Agriculture by Industry. A primitive society suddenly awoke from its slumber of backwardness and fractured existence into a dawn of modern industrialization. 

As mentioned earlier, Industrialization pre-supposes a surplus of production after meeting the needs of current consumption. It is that surplus which goes into developing, instrument outline as also infrastructure, like roads and communication.

Plunder Of Agriculture:
The industrially advanced countries of the west had resolved this problem of capital formation in a crude and uncouth manner. The landlords in the countryside simply drowned a way the tenants working on their land a went over to more sophisticated agriculture, shop keeping and dairy etc. The poor peasants driven out in a wake of this”enclosure movement”reached the cities in a state of penury. They had no shelter and no means of livelihood. They were left with no alternative but to take recourse to crime. Employment was difficult to get. Those lucky ones who got jobs required to work 12 - 14 hours per day with wages that hardly sufficed to keep the body and soul together. Thus did the new emerging industry obtain its raw material labor in the early stages. Later on, when the trade with the neighboring countries grew and the colonial empire offered possibility of plunder like trade. The Industry received the surplus required for the capital formation.

Marx had postulated his entire doctrine on the idea that in an advanced stage of development, the work force deprived of also property will rise in a revolution to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat under the Red Flag. At that stage, the problem of the primitive capital formation would have been resolved and the major source of capital formation would be stark exploitation of the workers. It;is the agony of the toiling masses that would erupt into a socialist revolution. Marx’s economic analysis is very vague on the process of primitive capital formation in a socialist country because a primitive socialist state was considered to be a contraction in terms.;In fact, however, the socialist revolution happened quite contrary to Marx’s prediction, neither in Germany or in England which were two; more advanced capitalist system of the epoch. The revolution came in a under-developed country with a primitive economy, like Russia. The planners of the Bolshevik State soon realised that the surplus required for the building of the socialist industry has to be exhorted from the”kulaks”There was a debate whether this transfer could take place in an environment of enmity or whether use of the armed might was inevitable. The main propense of both the sides of the debate, Praebrozensky and Bukharin were executed. by Stalin who further used armed tanks to impose forced collectivisation of the Russian Agriculture Thus, exactly like in the capitalist countries, the mobilisation of surplus from the agriculture to the industry turned out to be a lobby affair.

The problem posed itself in an entirely different context in countries like India that were imperial colonies before gaining independence. It became clear that the issue is not e economic one but more cosmic or physiocratic in character. The land and the nature are stores of accumulation of energy which are released at the application of labour and produce a multiplication, several-fold of the original seed. For a country like India, land and agriculture are l clearly the only possible sources of surplus. It was inevitable that the conflict”country versus town”or Agriculture versus Industry”should present itself in India in the same way, as it did in the capitalist and the socialist states. Here too industrialisation was intended to benefit a section of the society which made the conflict, particularly fues if the industrialisation was meant to be in the interest of all sections, classes and castes. The conflict could have been greatly attenuated. But in human societies, shift from the agricultural economy to the industrial one does not appear to have come about smoothly without friction. In India, the conflict became particularly serious because, apart from the economic contradiction between the Agriculture and the Industry. The age-old caste contradi tions also came into play. Even though the post-independence rulers flaunted the flat of socialism, it was beyond their capacity to establish a Bolshevik type of dictatorship and Stalin did, thanks suppress the peasant discontent.

Not that such efforts were not made, Stalin opened a campaign in India. The campaign was opened against the landlords and moneylenders. A campaign vilification was mounted which ignored all the benign aspects of those institutions. Nehru made all the preparations for cooperativiasation.of agriculture. But it failed. The industry could get its surplus required for the capital formation only in one way: i.e. to encourage growth of agricultural production and to take away all surplus from the villages into the cities. The industry had to be n provided raw materials, labour and capital, not on the strength of armed might but through subversions and manipulation of market force.. Through all the 50 years since Independence, this was the method adopted and deployed for the exploitation of the farmers and the agriculture. A whole draconian system was built up with Essential Commodities Act as its prime instrument. Restrictions on exports, dumping from abroad, restrictions on transport, storage, processing and compulsory procurement on artificially depressed prices have been the instruments of the anti-farmer armory. Their brutal application was justified as being in the interests of public distribution in a low caste economy. However, efficient the system of plunder was ultimately the quantum of the surplus that could be extracted depended on the level of aggregate production. The government concentered its efforts on campaigns like Grow More Food. The immediate famine conditions were met by ship-loads of food grains arriving from the United States. India paid only for the transport cost and nothing towards the food-grains. The policy of”Ship to mouth”feeding of the nation continued for long many years. Even an eminent socialist economist like Ashok Mehta is on record as having said that,”If the food could be obtained so cheap from abroad, Indian agriculture could stand some benign neglect for years to come.”The ship loads brought from abroad depressed prices in the domestic market. Agriculture became non-remunerative and the farmers lost the hope of recouping any effort and investment in the land. India’s dependence on USA for food grains worsened day by day. The rationing shops had food-grains to give if only the American ships arrived in the Indian ports on schedule.

(... continued in Part 5)

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