Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Agrarian struggles in India

A publisher friend wanted to republish "Telagana Movement 1944-51" (Vikas, New Delhi, 1981) by Barry Pavier and asked me to have a look at it. The book started with Pavier's thesis under Ranjit Guha in the seventies ; he visited India and spoke to several leaders of the movement like Ravi Narayana Raddy. There is a critical review of the book by K. Balagopal Telangana Movement Revisited and Balagopal has written several articles on related topics, many of which are available at See, for example, his article Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh, which describes in passing 'hop, skip and jump Naxalism'. I have come across a 2008 working paper India’s Experiment with Revolution by Ajay K. Mehra. Mehra discusses agrarian revolutions (mainly, the so-called Maoist type) in India starting with Telangana movement and says that they have very little impact in urban areas but more than one third of the land is affected by them. He further says
"The Maoist revolutionary politics sprouted before the post-colonial Indian democratic state came into existence. But survived the democratic upsurge in the Indian society and exploded within two decades, indeed not all over the country, but again in one small pocket of a crucial State, West Bengal. This revival, the state response, the suppression, the re-emergence and resurgence within four decades, are pointer to serious incongruities and paradoxes afflicting India’s democracy project, which continues to be a success story in the developing world, grave limitations notwithstanding.
The most crucial and significant contribution of the Naxalism to Indian politics, however, is that they have kept alive the agrarian demands of the rural poor through persistent but not-always successful struggles at the ground level. ‘Even the occasional official lip-service to land reforms perhaps would not have come but their initiatives in this regard in some of the most backward regions where either adivasis in the forests suffer at the hands of trader-contractormoneylender nexus or the dalit and “other backward class” (OBC) agricultural labourers and very poor peasants are cruelly oppressed and exploited by bigger landowners and rich farmers. And these are the regions where the local powerful cliques, backed by government officials and the police, often respond with naked violence to even most innocuous and lawful demands of the powerless poor.’ "

Coming back to Barry Pavier's book, I understand a new edition may come out next year. His reasons why the struggle resonated for him in the seventies:

p 187
" ...initially the Telangana movement was indeed a multi-class movement against the deshmuks- multi-class in the sense that everyone else was involved. .....It is also true to say that, certainly in the initial stages, most of the leading cadres of the Andhra mahasabha and the CPI came from 'rich' or 'middle' peasant families. It is also clear that the nature of the movement changed. The people who carried the movement from 1948 were agricultural labourers and poor peasants, they were the people who were doing most of the fighting, and they were providing the leadership, along with declassed people from peasant sections who were CPI cadres. The early movement had disregarded the interests of these people, even though they had been
active from the start, but other social groups either defected or became passive after 1948."
p 190
"What is true is that Telangana is an important part of the 'usablepast' of international workers' and socialist movement- because for a period of time the Telangana masses began to change the way in which they lived. Not only did they confront and defeat their state and their ruling class, they took over the organization of production and a range of other administrative functions. the agricultural labourers took the confidence to demand that the revolution was theirs as much as anybody els's. Not only did they make the demand, but towards the end of the movement they also began to achieve it. The totally male image of politics was breached- women organized themselves as workers,took (some) leading roles, not simply as auxilaries for men, and began to gain self-confidence and self-respect, instead of the humiliation, oppression and self-abnegation that the old regime generated and fostered. Now all of these positive developments were aborted by the
liqidation of the movement, but the point is that all these people were not simply showing abstract heroism. In that short period of time, in a variety of incomplete and unsatisfactory ways, they achieved a number of positive things- perhaps for all men, women, peasants, workers, it was in the different ways that they achieved an
independent social identity. They existed as real people and they believed in themselves.
This is something that is not often achieved and the fact that it didhappen in Telangana, no matter how incomplete the matter of its accomplishment, is a matter of hope and enlightenment for workers all over the world"

Elsewhere, he says that "Because it is now clear that the clear question is not why Telangana, but why Nalgonda....... Why Nalgonda communists should be so singular derives from the fact that a lot of the cadre came to politics with the Vandemataram movement, which was run by themselves, so they did not have the background of Gandhianism or CPI bureaucratic manipulation which was the usual experience of CPI
activists. In any event,they seized their golden opportunity in 1944-45."

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