Democracy, Development, Rural Transformation : Peasant Anxieities and Mobilisations since 1990s
Historically Indian peasantry was seen as a successful group that could influence economic policy in getting the state’s resources transferred to its favour. By the logic of structural transformation, it is assumed that industrialization weakens the farm sector in its early phase and the sector receives its power back when industrialization matures. Indian experience presents itself as a contrasting case – the rural sector relatively gained power in its early phase and weakened in the later phase. The paper documents how and why such power enjoyed by the peasantry in the 1970s and 1980s was lost in the post-1990s. Why did they turn to the politics of reservation, something they resisted in the 1990s? Drawing on sociology of caste and political economy of liberalization, the paper argues that the current impoverishment of peasantry is an outcome of rural transformation that India witnessed since the 1990s. If the 1991 liberalization reforms transformed the political economy of India at the expense of agriculture, the rise of lower castes since the 1990s has transformed the sphere of politics. While studies that foreground the role of caste in Indian politics don’t take into account the underlying political economy, those that take up the latter don’t give adequate importance to caste as a significant variable in explaining the changing realities of political economy in contemporary India. By tracking the trajectory of intermediary peasant castes – the Marathas of Maharashtra, the Patels of Gujarat, the Jats of Haryana and the Kapus of Andhra and Telangana, the paper fills that gap.
(jointly with Christophe Jaffrelot)