Speaker: Dr. Anirban Dasgupta, Associate Professor, South Asian University
The paper will present an analysis of Indian agriculture from a political economy perspective specifically interrogating the role of the sector in the overall accumulation dynamic of the economy. Recent characterizations of India as an economic powerhouse with impressive growth figures over the last two decades is in stark contrast to the long-standing crisis in Indian agriculture illustrated by more than 3,00,000 farmer suicides between 1995 and 2014 (Basu, Das and Misra, 2016). The point of departure for the paper will be this apparent disjuncture that exists between the robust performance of the Indian economy and the predicaments facing the agrarian landscape including the majority of the labour force engaged in agriculture.
Some prominent commentators including Lerche (2013) has drawn on formulations by Henry Bernstein to conclude that for India the agrarian question of capital has been largely bypassed. One major reason behind this claim is the weakening of inter-sectoral linkages and the resulting irrelevance of agriculture in providing surplus for industrial accumulation or markets for industrial commodities. While acknowledging these conclusions, this paper will argue that the real importance of agriculture for the accumulation process in the Indian economy continues to be in the realm of relaxing the food constraint on the one hand and providing a livelihood space for the large mass of surplus labour on the other. Understood in this sense, the agrarian question still remains valid for capitalist accumulation in critical ways.
The paper will start by reviewing the older debates on the role of agriculture for the Indian economy, which had prominent contributions from mainstream and radical economists alike. It will then analyse the contemporary reality in light of the accumulation problematique of the agrarian question framework (Akram Lodhi and Kay 2010) using secondary data on different aspects of the macro economy. Lastly it will highlight the importance of small-farmer based agrarian structure in India and the recent trend of massive investment of Indian capital in African agriculture in light of this aspect of Indian agriculture.