SOCIAL SCIENTIST
V.27: No. 5-6 May-June 1999 #312-313

Editorial Note, p. 1-2.

"The Performance of the Indian Economy in the 1990s," Prabhat Patnaik, p. 3

"Gender Lines: Personal Laws, Uniform Laws, Conversion," Kumkum Sangari, p. 17

"Some Aspects of Growth and Distribution of Rice in India," M Raghavan, p. 62

Book Review,
"Peasant Movement in Bihar," reviewed by R. B. Chaudhary, p. 86

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Editorial Note

One of Michael Kalecki's great insights was to see the distinction between capitalism and socialism as one between a demand-constrained system and a supply-constrained system, an idea that was later used, though in an altogether different way, by the Hungarian economist Janos Kornai. Kalecki's own work, together with Keynes', prepared the intellectual ground for state intervention in demand management in capitalist economies, because of which it did appear for a while in the fifties and the early sixties (when unemployment rates in metropolitan economies were extremely low) as if capitalism too, in its new incarnation, had become metamorphosed into a supply-constrained system. But with the emergence of internationally-mobile finance capital in the form of "hot money" flows, the capacity of "nation-states" even in the metropolitan countries to prop up the level of aggregate demand has dwindled. Capitalism has recaptured its old character of being demand-constrained. And this character is imposed upon the backward economies as well through the policies of "liberalisation-cum-structural adjustment" enforced on them.

This proposition underlies the argument of Prabhat Patnaik in the lead article of the current number of Social Scientist. He cites some evidence to show how the Indian economy in the nineties has got transformed into a demand-constrained system.

M.Raghavan's paper on the rice economy, while discussing the growth and distribution of rice in India, raises certain deep issues of development strategy. Should the production of important commodities be widely located, or should there be regional specialisation? While conventional "efficiency" considerations would favour regional specialisation, a host of other considerations such as the need for local self-sufficiency (which may be necessary for "security" in certain cases) would favour dispersion. But if "efficiency" [++Page 2 Social Scientist] arguments win the day and regional specialisation is favoured, then the whole question of the price which the surplus region extracts from the deficit region acquires paramount importance. Specialisation can easily become a mechanism through which one part of the country extracts a surplus from another, a phenomenon whose possibility as well as undesirability are heightened when the commodity in question is an essential component of mass consumption. Raghavan argues that we have not been sufficiently cognisant of this scenario and the potential conflict inherent in it in the post-Green Revolution period when the production, and above all the marketable surplus, of crucial crops like rice have become geographically more concentrated.

Kumkum Sangari's paper, in providing an analytical critique of the anti-conversion campaign, necessarily addresses itself to a whole range of issues regarding law and society, citizenship, patriarchy and the State. These are issues on which the Left, the secular forces, and the women's movement have been attempting to attain clarity. Sangari's paper is both a reflection of and a major contribution towards that attempt. She draws attention to the pervasiveness of the phenomenon of "partial conversions" which tend to create overlapping religious networks, and alter relationships both between and within belief systems. Differences in other words are not absolutised but produce what she calls "inauthenticity". This inauthenticity is a condition of genuine religious plurality. It must be defended both against the designs of the Hindu Right and against State legislation.

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[Social Scientist, Vol. 27, Nos. 5- 6, May - June 1999. p. 87]
Book Review

Peasant Movement in Bihar

Kaushal Kishore Sharma, Prabhakar Prasad Singh, Ranjan Kumar (eds.), Peasant Struggle in Bihar, 1831-1942: Spontaneity to Organisation, pp. xvii + 251, Patna, 1994, Price Rs 325.

This is an anthology of eighteen essays on socio-political struggles of the Bihar peasantry during the last one and a half century. They are uneven in quality and disparate as well, as such the collection lacks a clearly identifiable central theme or a conceptual framework. The editors have, however, tried to provide a semblance of a central theme - "spontaneity to organisation" - by arranging the essays in such a chronological sequence so as to give a broad idea of the character of successive phases of these struggles. The essays are on historiography, spontaneous and organised phases of peasant struggles during the colonial era, their relationship with Indian nationalism, and finally their characteristic transformations in the post-colonial period.

The collection starts with M.N. Karn's "Peasant Movements in Bihar: A Trend Analysis" wherein the writer, on the basis of some of his earlier studies sets out to analyse the nature and character of the Bihar peasants' struggles in the 19th and the 20th centuries but his approach is very selective. He selects only the 19th century tribal uprisings in the Chotanagpur division and the 20th century agrarian conflicts in central Bihar making his "trend analysis" a lopsided exercise. Prabhakar Prasad Singh's "Peasant Awakening and Historiography in Bihar", though good in itself, is hardly relevant to the theme of the anthology. His occasional references to Bihar have probably been made to validate its inclusion in this collection. J.C. Jha's two articles, one on the historiography of the tribal movements [Social Scientist, p. 87] and the other on the nature of Kol and the Bhumij revolts are well-written, informative and concise; and they can usefully serve as a primer to the readers with anthropological interests. But such readers may very well be surprised at the omission in this collection of any account of the Santhal hool and Munda ulgulan. P.K. Shukla's "Indigo Peasant Protests in North Bihar, 1867-1916", is a highly researched, well documented and analytical essay. On the basis of extensive use of primary sources, which adds credence to his arguments, he underscores the economic basis of the discontent, solidarity and resistance of the peasants of North Bihar against the oppressive and inequitous indigo system enforced by the European planters, and brings to light how the indigo peasants were acquiring consciousness and mobilizing resistance on their own much before urban intelligentsia's intervention in their affairs. He argues that their resistance was communitarian not sectional, class, caste or religion played no divisive role. He also very cogently argues that it was this insurgency potentiality of the peasants that impressed Gandhi and made him quickly realize the essentiality of peasants' presence in the nationalist movement to make it forceful and effective.

With Nirmal Sengupta's article on regional characteristics of peasant movements and Surendra Gopal's spotlighting of their changing social basis the anthology starts probing the nature, character and extent of the organised phase of the peasant struggle in Bihar. Both of them in their rambling accounts, inter alia drop hints of debunking the often romanticized legend of Kisan Sabha's achievements by underscoring their flaws and limits. Sengupta argues that the influence and effectiveness of the Kisan Sabha was limited only to some localized pockets of Bihar because of its inability to broaden enough its ideology and programmes to encompass all the diverse grievances and aspirations of the peasants of different districts. Surendra Gopal adds to this assessment by referring to the circumscribed caste base of the Kisan Sabha movements which led the middle caste peasants to form a separate organization, Triveni Sangh; though this petered out soon, it helped sharpen the caste identities among the peasants with later unfortunate consequences. But both these articles seem to be written in a hurry. Sengupta has not even given references to the sources of his information.

The story of indigo is carried forward by Papiya Ghosh in her 'Peasants, Planters and Gandhi: Champaran in 1917'. In her analysis of Gandhi's role in Champaran indigo agitation she highlights how the peasants often defied Gandhian parameters of resistance even [++Page 88 Social Scientist] though they defied him as "Ishwar Ka Avatar". She thus implies the existence of autonomous domain of peasant consciousness and insurgency, virtually reinforcing Shukla's pointer to these phenomenon. K.K. Sharma, in his article "Nationalist Struggle and Agrarian Movement in Bihar, 1927-1947", without trying to be pedantic, examines the nature of the. linkage and tensions between agrarian struggles and the nationalist movement in Bihar. He marshals the data to show how the nationalist leadership tried to "harness agrarian discontent to the cause of the nationalist movement without taking up the class demands of the peasants", and concludes that their attempt to sweep the agrarian class contradictions under the carpet often resulted in disharmony between the two movements. Sharma's arguments are concise and coherent but his focus is mainly on the organizational level - Kisan Sabha and the Congress interrelations. Had he descended down to the ground level his investigations could have been more revealing, but probably he is handicapped by the nature of information available in official and private archives.

Bhojnandan Prasad Singh and Manoj Kumar Roy in their scholarly article "Peasant Protest and Congress Leadership in Bihar, 1930-1934" join the historiographical debate over the pattern of imbrication of peasant insurgency with the Congress led nationalist movements, and unknowingly contest the analysis and conclusions of K.K. Sharma. Depending heavily on Bipan Chandra's thesis (Presidential Address to Indian History Congress, Amritsar Session 1985, later published in a book form) the writer-duo assert that the role of Congress leadership and the peasantry in the nationalist politics and movements were complementary, not antagonistic to each other. They also deprecate Subalternist exaggeration of the existence of dichotomy between the mainstream nationalism and the peasant insurgency. They argue forcefully, but the coherence of arguments and fluency of factual narration are often hamstrung by the excessive zeal for theoretical underpinnings.

Ranjan Kumar in his essay, "Kisan Sabha and the Congress Socialist Party in Bihar: Cooperation and Confrontation, 1939-1955", systematically narrates the early cooperation and later rift between the two organizations during their efforts to champion peasants' cause in Bihar. He describes how the socialists by constantly goading Sahajanand from reformism to radicalism revolutionized the ideology and programmes of the Kisan Sabha, and how with the help of the rural activists provided by the Kisan Sabha, they started politicizing [++Page 89 Social Scientist] the peasant masses. After the rift, Sahajanand going the CPI way and the socialists choosing to stay with mainstream nationalism, the politicized Bihar peasantry chose to follow the CSP line and burst forth in a "massive rebellion" during the Quit India movement. The writer, however, accuses the socialists of completely ignoring the interests of poor and landless peasants, and is provoked to remark that the socialists were not the stuff to lead a real revolution for a radical structural change in the agrarian society. The criticism is acerbic but plausible.

All the essays, four in number, dealing with the contemporaneous agrarian crisis in central Bihar seek to explore its socio-economic roots, ideological orientations and the government response to the prevailing violent conflicts. In analysis and findings they all are repetitive; nonetheless, Saibal Gupta draws attention by his scholarly insight into the historicity and complexities of the crisis. P.H. Prasad's analysis of poor peasant movements is in such a diffused context that it makes his article somewhat ill-fitted in this collection, while Seema Singh's article is simply redundant. A.K. Biswas' article should however, be read to understand the perception of a sensitive government official. He dismisses the commonly held official notion that the agrarian violence in central Bihar is a law and order problem, traces the historical continuity of the oppressive system of bonded-labour and the eventual eruptions of violence in this area, thereby supporting the views of the academics expressed in preceding essays.

Alak N. Sharma's perceptive essay on Bihar's agrarian sickness and economic paralysis can be read with profit. One may easily agree with his analysis that the continuing existence of semi-feudal elements in the agrarian structure and the rising expectations of awakened rural poor have given birth to clashes of interests and the consequent violence. It is to be regretted that in this collection of essays there is no specific article on the recurring waves of agrarian violence in North Bihar where Naxalite turbulence and terrorism convulsed the rural society for a considerable period. Girish Misra's detailing of Champaran Sathi land episode is more an exposure of political and administrative corruption than a story of peasant resistance, and P.P Ghosh's brief reference to a small and feeble peasant agitation for fair wages in an obscure village of North Bihar cannot fill this vacuum.

In spite of some lacunae the book is a useful contribution to the ongoing regional studies of the peasant society and movements. It is to be expected that the book will prove useful to young researchers and the lay readers interested in understanding the agrarian [++Page 90 Social Scientist] background of present day economic stagnation of Bihar. One of the editors K.K. Sharma's detailed "Introduction" will help them grasp the contents of the book and the nuances of the issues raised therein. A selected bibliography and index would have increased the usefulness of the book.

R. B. Chaudhary
Memphis, USA

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