Crowdfunding Countercurrents

CC Archive

Submission Policy

Popularise CC

Join News Letter

Defend Indian Constitution




CC Youtube Channel

Editor's Picks

Feed Burner

Read CC In Your
Own Language

Bradley Manning

India Burning

Mumbai Terror

Financial Crisis


AfPak War

Peak Oil



Alternative Energy

Climate Change

US Imperialism

US Elections


Latin America









Book Review

Gujarat Pogrom

Kandhamal Violence


India Elections



About Us


Fair Use Notice

Contact Us

Subscribe To Our
News Letter



Search Our Archive

Our Site







Bihar Election - A Conspicuous Silence On Land Reform

By Rakesh Choudhary

17 November, 2015

Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz had defined ‘nondecision-making’ as manifestation of power in
decision-making. Contrary to Robert Dahl’s conception of power which stresses on how decisions are
made to identify underlying power, Bachrach and Baratz argue that to identify power one needs to
analyze decisions that were not made i.e issues that never even came up for discussion.

This could be no more true for Land reform as an issue in context of just concluded Bihar election. We
have seen all major topics covered in election campaign by both alliances, though with varying degree
of emphasis - religion,caste, development,corruption,nepotism, law and order et al. However, land
reform has not come up in popular discourse in such a vigorously fought election campaign. This
reflects power of land owing communities in Bihar’s society and polity. This despite the fact that any
ambition of growth with justice as claimed by Nitish Kumar or development model as propagated by
Narendra Modi will remain mere wishful thinking in absence of land reform.

Land reform has been failure in most states of India except in WB, Kerala and J&K but in Bihar this
has almost being a non-starter. In 1950-60s ,land reform was brought in by Congress Party which was
dominated by upper caste. This was severely resisted by upper caste landlords dominating Congress
party and Bihar legislature. Lalu Yadav made land reform a poll issue in 1990s but even he didn't bring
land reform despite claiming to be a leader of downtrodden. In 2006, Nitish Kumar constituted ˆBihar
Land Reforms Commission under D Bandhopadhya, who played major role in ‘Operation Barga’ a
successful land reform operation in West Bengal. In 2008, commission submitted its report, however it
has been put on back burner since then.

Given this history, it is not surprising that land reform has not featured in popular discourse in recently
concluded election campaign. This also goes on to show that caste-wise there may have been change
in power structure in Bihar but it still is tightly linked to ownership of land. No need to say
then ,whichever alliance would have come to power it is highly unlikely that land reform will be
implemented in the state. NDA would have never thought of upsetting its core constituency of upper
castes, which are traditional land-owning castes. Now that Mahagathbandan has come to power, it is
not necessary that road to land reform has become any smoother. Core caste constituency of present
alliance i.e Yadav,Koeris and Kurmis have become land owing caste post land reform of 1950-60s and
Mandal revolution. It is highly unlikely that ruling alliance will upset their core constituency.
Why Land reform ?

Land Reform in essential to remove state backwardness. Any inclusive
development cannot be envisioned without proper land reform. Wide distribution of cultivable land to
landless poor leads to more equitable rural prosperity which acts as an engine of growth backed by
rural consumption and savings.
Approx 87% of state’s population live in rural areas, 74% of workforce is employed in agriculture but
agriculture’s contribution to state’s domestic product is only 33%. Land holding pattern is also highly
concentrated.According to NSSO survey, marginal and small farmers which constitute approx 97% of
land owing community own 67% of total land. On the other hand,medium and large farmers which
constitutes only 3.5% of total land owing community owns 33% of total land. These skewed land
ownership has led to tenancy and absentee landlordism.

With increased tenancy, return on rent has become more lucrative than return on capital invested for
landlords ,consequently they prefer not to invest in agriculture. On the other hand, tenants don’t feel
motivated enough to invest since they know most of the output will be appropriated as rent to
landlords. This leads to lower output, poverty and keeps large rural population out of market

Indian Experience and Lessons from North-East Asian economies

Everybody loves East Asia economies for the miracle they have achieved in so little time. Manmohan
Singh was always fascinated by these economies, Narendra Modi wishes to create manufacturing
growth stories similar to East Asian manufacturing industry through Make in India. However, we have
completely ignored that the stepping stone to industrialization of these economies was set in land
reform. As aptly put by Michael Lipton in one of his work ‘If you wish for industrialization, prepare to
develop agriculture’.

Post-Independence India show vigorous debate on land reforms.‘Institutionalists’ favored land to the
tiller and small-scale farming to improve productivity similar on lines with household farming. On the
other hand, there has been arguments in support of consolidation of cultivable land and mechanized
farming to increase efficiency. This concept of efficiency is imposed from developed country and need
not be idle for developing countries. Instead, given surplus labor focus of developing economies
should be to increase agricultural output till marginal return on labor become zero.

Land reform in India, in general, involved land ceiling, abolition of intermediaries and recognition of
tenancy rights. In practice, politics dominated economics of land reforms in India.Consequently, there
was what P C Joshi termed as ‘sectorial or sectional reforms’ instead of comprehensive land reform.
Enough loopholes were left in various states legislation to allow landowners to transfer land to their
relatives and benami holders and evict tenants. Only success that can be attributed to land reform in
India was weakening of traditional landlords which gave rise to new land-owing castes in India. In
case of Bihar, land reform led to emergence of Yadavs, Koeris and Kurmis as land-owing dominant
castes.Further, various government initiatives in terms of institutional credit and agriculture inputs
were cornered by ruling elite.

Indian states, and in particular Bihar, will do well to learn from successful land reform model
implemented in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In his book, How Asia Works, Joe Studwell has
brilliantly explained how land reform was key to rapid industrialization of North East Asian
economies. Rural prosperity which emanated due to land reform ultimately became platform for next
stage revolution i.e manufacturing boom in these economies.All three economies implemented Wolf
Ladejinsky’s prescription on land reform in varying degree and with varying success.

Maximum allowed retention was approximately 3-5 hectares, restrictions to ensure that tenancy do not
re-emerge, making any reversal of land transfer difficult, below market price compensation to
landlords , allowing purchase of land in installments by tenants were some of the broader steps taken
within this model.

However, one of the most remarkable feature which defined success and failure was formation of land
committees which oversaw land reform. In successful model of Japan,Taiwan and Korea, tenants and
owner-farmers outnumbered landlords in land committees which ensured just appropriation of land.
Contrast this with failed example of Philippines where land reform was overseen by bureaucrats and
Indonesia where land committees were headed by landlords.

If we compare land reforms in our county, we will find more resonance not with the successful model
of North east Asian economies but more similarity with failed models of south-east Asian economies
like Philippine, Indonesia and Thailand. Similar to India, loopholes in land reform policies, allowing
time to landlords to transfer land to benami holders to prevent seizure,poor implementation of even
flawed policies etc were common features of land reform policies in these economies.

Household farming when properly supported by government aided agricultural inputs, extension
services and marketing support, lead to rise in agricultural productivity. This gives rise to rural
prosperity which provides market for consumption of low cost domestically manufactured goods. And
this is the stepping stone for industrialization which is manifested in recent economic miracle of
Japan, Korea, Taiwan and lately China.

It will require courage, statesmanship and political manoeuvring on part of Nitish Kumar if he decides
to bring in land reform. If achieved, this will be biggest feather in his cap and its political and
economic benefits will be much more than his flagship achievements in last two tenure. However, we
are yet to hear anything concrete on land reform from him .

To conclude with a phrase from Joe Studwell’s book ‘..Land policy is the acid test of the government
of a poor country. It measures the extent to which leaders are in touch with the bulk of their
population- farmers- and the extent to which they are willing to shake up society...’ Evaluating various
Indian national and state govts in general and Bihar to be specific, it would be apt to say that most of
them not only don’t care for farmers of India but are very much hand in gloves with land owing elite
of Indian society to maintain status-quo.

Writer is MDI-Gurgaon alumnus and a reader in Political and Economic History


Share on Tumblr



Comments are moderated