The following article, written by “Democrat”, first appeared in February 1960 issue of the Indian Libertarian, an independent journal of economic and public affairs. The article highlights the position of the Swatantra Party on the so-called ‘reforms’ in the agriculture sector. The author forewarns us about the dangers of state intervention led by the Congress party after the Nagpur session, which has deprived farmers of their dignity and has made them dependent on the state for their livelihood.
The declared agricultural policy of the Congress and Government after the Nagpur session last year has been the major and decisive provocation for the formation of the Swatantra Party under the aegis of Sri C. Rajagopalachari and the initiative of the All India Agriculturists’ Federation.
The case against official policy in its twin strands of ceilings on land holdings at low levels and of cooperative farming (with pooled joint holdings) has been presented by the leaders of the Federation and others like Mr MR Masani and Congress Ministers like Sri Charan Singh of the U.P. (who has had to resign office on account of his bold opposition in Nagpur). Leading newspapers like The Hindu and The Times of India arid journals of opinion like Swarajya, Mysindia and Indian Libertarian have published the results of expert studies on the subject tending to show the dismal failure of “hasty land reforms” with ceilings and cooperative farming both in the free world and in communist countries.
The President of the All India Agriculturalists’ Federation has been demanding but a free, unprejudiced examination of the whole subject by experts like experienced Directors of Agriculture and others with special qualifications on farming. He has been demanding a committee of experts to go into the subject de novo and assuring the Government that his federation would abide by the verdict of experts arrived at free from mental reservations and surrender to dogmatic isms like socialism and communism.
But the Government have systematically evaded this fair demand. The Congress under the lead of Mr Nehru has contented itself with the statement that the subject was decided long ago by Congress resolutions from the days of the Karachi session. At Nagpur, a report of the Committee of Ministers and other high-tips appointed at Hyderabad AICC meeting was accepted, which only endorsed the decision already arrived at without any re-study of the facts de novo. Moreover, it was a committee of Congress politicians and far removed from the kind of expert body demanded by the Federation. To use the popular phrase, its work was but an eye-wash to put up a facade of re-study without doing so in any acceptable sense.
The Swatantra Party has expressed its resolute up position to the twin aspects of farming policy now being pushed into effect by Congress and Government obstinately despite the warnings of men of experience and special knowledge. It has expressed its stand in its manifesto of principles as passed in August 1959 in its Bombay convention.
The present Bangalore session of the Congress is expected to reiterate the Nagpur stand despite doubts and anxieties expressed on all sides.
First of all, it is made clear beyond doubt and prevarication that in agriculture the paramount need is for increasing production. But the Party believes that it is best attained through the continuance of the self-employed peasant-proprietor who stands for initiative and freedom and is interested in obtaining the highest yields from the land.
This is a divergence in principle. The Government policy contemplates the eventual disappearance of the independent individual farmer working on his own and helped by the members of his family. Rajaji has given the slogan therefore-for Farm and Family. President Eisenhower too in his talk at the Agricultural Fair in Delhi spoke of food, freedom, family and friendship. This stand has more than economic significance. It has an overtone of democracy and human value setting the individual in his natural context of family and neighbourhood working on tasks within his reach and deriving the value of his own work directly without dependence on others in any demeaning way, as would be the case under dictatorship.
Increasing production only necessitates a more efficient supply of aid by way of credit, marketing facilities, implements and technical advice to the farmer. The programme of the Swatantra Party insists on more intensive attention by Governmental agencies and cooperative institutions to the provision of these aids to the farmer.
It holds that joint cooperative farms need not be insisted upon as the rule in agriculture. Individual holdings may continue-and ought to continue. The remedy is not abolition but assistance for progress.
Service cooperatives are different since they do not imply the disappearance of individual holdings and their pooling into joint farms operated by managers reducing farmers to the condition of wage labourers. This connotes a diminution of personal status to the farmer, which he will never accept. Nowhere in the world has he voluntarily accepted it.
The Swatantra Party goes further and expresses disapproval of the idea of abolition of the landowner class that gets its hard work on the land done through tenants. By accepting the slogan of “land to the tiller,” Congress accepts without adequate examination the policy of abolishing the class of owners who let out land and supervise its cultivation by tenant farmers. This is supposed to be exploitation and not partnership.
The first step in realising this goal of cultivation only by small owners and the abolition of mediators between them and the Government or public is taken in the Government proposals by the imposition of low ceilings and the transfer of surplus lands to tillers and tenants with insufficient holdings, i.e. below basic or family holdings.
This provision is a dear adoption of communist doctrine, for it involves liquidation of property rights, the robbery of Peter to pay Paul. Farcical compensation may be paid but that does not deprive the transaction of its expropriatory character. Such expropriation will inevitably raise the demand for similar robbery to benefit other classes in other kinds of property-houses, industrial units, transport units etc. Such execution of the practice cannot be resisted for long. So this will function as the thin end of the wedge for the rapid transformation of free society into a communist society and state.
The Swatantra Party, therefore, asks that the programmes for improvement of agriculture and enhancement of production standards should not disturb the harmony of rural life among the elements that compose it.
This phrase is purposely vague but the time has come when it should be clarified. The elements that compose rural life are landowners, tenants, labourers and cultivators’ families. The attempt to impose ceilings hits the landlord and creates a clash of interest between him and the tenant and the landless labourer and cultivator.
The Swatantra Party should now expand its policy statement into a dear and comprehensive picture of the agricultural system that it favours in the countryside.
It should take a definite stand against ceilings on principle. The Federation has brought to light a good deal of essential data for judgment. It has shown that ceilings on holdings are entirely uncalled for since adequate areas of uncultivated fallow land are available in different parts of the country. The Swatantra Party should restate this fact supported by reliable statistics covering every State in the country. The Revenue Minister in Mysore State Mr Kadidal Manjappa recently said that Government were prepared to offer 15 lakhs of acres of Government land to Harijans and others willing to cultivate them! One thousand acres had been offered to Harijans a few years ago but they had not been taken up at all! Moreover, the extent of land expected to be released by the imposition of ceilings at 30 standard acres is only 2 lakhs of acres. Why, if only two lakhs are to be got by liquidation of surplus land held by landowners when 15 lakhs are available with Government, the expropriatory policy should be insisted on is beyond comprehension.
The Swatantra Party stands for individual freedom and accepts limitations to it only in cases of proved anti-social behaviour. It has to review the case for and against landowners having their lands cultivated through tenants. In what way is it antisocial to supervise landed property and obtain a legitimate harvest through investment? It provides work for the landless tenants who are free to save money and purchase lands for themselves. The Government, land mortgage banks and cooperative credit societies may also help the tenant to purchase lands by giving him long term loans. The State may assist the credit institutions by means of low-interest loans as was done in West European countries like Denmark, Holland and Germany.
The intermediary landowner might not have taken interest in former times but today under the inspiration of national independence and progressive agricultural departments, he will certainly respond to the duties and possibilities of his vocation. He should be given a chance before adopting policies aiming at his removal from the social system of agriculture. To give help to agriculture, it is not necessary to remove the landowner! The State can deal with the tenant, leaving tenant and owner to settle relations between them themselves on a voluntary basis.
Intermediaries come into existence in response to human needs and circumstances. Owners may have to travel to cities and accept jobs far from their lands owing to insufficiency of income. But they could make arrangements for supervision and efficient cultivation. In England, owners are penalised only if they leave their lands uncultivated or inefficiently cultivated. They are not liquidated. Nor are ceilings imposed.
The Swatantra Party refers to joint cooperative farming by the term multiple ownership and points out that it is certain to sap the incentive of the farmer, to reduce farm output and end in a collective economy and bureaucratic management.
The leaders of the Swatantra Party had thought of confining their published manifesto only to general principles leaving details of policy to be forged after attaining power. But the general public does demand that they should offer an alternative policy in sufficient detail if they are to support it intelligently with their eyes open. It is necessary therefore for the Party to offer a constructive alternative to ceilings and joint farming, assuring greater production and freedom for the farmer and his family as citizens of a democratic society. The direction announced by the party is sound but the overall picture should be developed in sufficient detail as a part of free economy and free society. With regard to agriculture as with regard to industrial and other aspects of the economy, libertarian literature has a great contribution to make to the clarification of issues and the defence of liberty.
Even in America, there is a movement to resist the encroachments of State intervention in economic affairs, of which The Foundation for Economic Education is perhaps the leading example. In the journal that it publishes named The Freeman can be found plenty of material gathered by its numerous staff as well as summaries of positions taken by freedom-loving economists and statesmen, showing conclusively the evils of State intervention and the curtailment of free economy. America has now a special problem as to how to withdraw from the policy of State assistance to agriculture particularly in the production of Food Grains. During the war, the State gave special subsidies for the production of food grains. But the result was such an abundance that the State had to step in to protect the price level and to buy up the whole production at upset prices! The policy of State support to food grains has now become a huge white elephant and American farmers are paid fantastic sums to refrain from producing above a limit. American economy in agriculture can produce enough to supply the whole world with food! So we hear of wheat being fed to pigs in America.
Political pressure and fear of loss of votes prevents politicians of both parties, Republican and Democratic, from removing the price support laws, showing how difficult it is for the State to withdraw its intervention once it gets entrenched in any sphere of the economy!
This libertarian literature has its counter-part in India as well. This journal publishes an economic supplement from time to time as well as articles specially devoted to the value of free economy and the dangers of State intervention to the country, dangers both economic by way of inflation and the wage-price spiral and political by way of damaging the independence and self-reliance of the citizens so essential for democracy. If the citizen becomes helplessly dependent on the State for livelihood and conditions of economic well-being, his capacity to think and vole straight fearlessly will suffer.
The original document can be accessed here.
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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.