ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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CPI(M) and the Agrarian Underclass

We would like to follow up on Sumanta Banerjee’s commentary ‘Peasant Hares and Capitalist Hounds of Singur’ (December 30, 2006) and further the argument that the Left Front government in West Bengal is indulging in a massive betrayal of the agrarian underclass in Singur. By agrarian underclass we mean the categories at the bottom of the spectrum of land control, who physically labour on the land for their livelihood, comprising landless agricultural labourers and ‘bargadars’ (sharecropping tenants who perform the various tasks of cultivation themselves). Our argument is based on three premises:(i) the Left Front government is reversing the spirit and substance of operation barga by acquiring land in Singur for the Tata Motors small car project; (ii) there is no valid reason why the class interests of the agrarian underclass should be sacrificed for the benefit of industrial capital in a professedly left-oriented state; and (iii) the conduct of the state in West Bengal reflects its alienation from the agrarian underclass – the very class that is supposed to be its ideological foundation.

Operation barga (launched in 1978), the main plank of the land reform programme of the Left Front government in West Bengal, aimed at putting into practice the fundamental socialist premise that the tiller of the land should be given control over the means of production. The relevant legislation protected the bargadar, as the de facto cultivator, from arbitrary eviction, and thus assured “him” a secure livelihood from the soil on which he and his family laboured. Short of abolishing proprietary rights, or ownership of the means of production, the programme radically scaled down the power of capital over the actual producer. In a predominantly agrarian economy, this was undoubtedly a progressive step that favoured the labouring cultivators.

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