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Political Economy and Political Sociology of Farm Protests


On the 19th of November Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the cancellation of the three farm laws following more than a year-long protest by the farmers against the three laws passed by the Houses of Parliament and a series of discussions between the central government and farmers ending in stalemate. To understand this astounding development where Farm laws have become central to the emerging political contestations, I will make use of the capital accumulation thesis, Passive revolution & the integral State, and the contested relationship between Hindutva and Neoliberal capitalism.

Image Credits: Business Insider India

The introduction of three Farm laws touched upon several fault lines in the complex mode of production prevalent in postcolonial India. It is critical to locate Farm Laws within larger sociological-theoretical-chronological contexts to understand the dynamics and anxieties expressed by farmers throughout the protests against the laws. The state becomes a critical unit of reliance for the actualization of interests, in this context, the farmers. The movement developed and sustained a mass social base transcending narrow ethnic interests to resignify the State as an arbiter of prices. In a comparative view, the “New Farmers Movement” which mobilized in the 90s expressed a moderate and a relational view towards the Market economy - which was growing precarious and unsustainable.

How did the Farmers movement forge a mass social base despite the State apparatus being employed to disrupt the movement? It has to do with the contradictory ‘spatial’ development of global finance capitalism with underlying structural inhibitions inherent to it. In a postcolonial Democracy like India, an Integral State as Gramsci conceptualized came to accommodate competing interests across ‘differential’ disparate groups. The emergence of an Integral State under the aegis of the Congress Party carried with it exigency of legitimacy born out of ‘biological necessity’ - accumulated grievances out of colonial rule manifested in a unique process of ‘adjustment without displacement’. The emergence of an Integral State reflects a unified conceptualization of social formation illustrated by elusive land reforms within a regime of Mixed economy which catered to the cultural intricacies of the industrial capitalist class.

Green Revolution and land reforms produced a tiny layer of ‘rich’ farmers who came to dominate the socio-political landscape of the superceding era in Indian politics. Daniel Thorner’s characterization of the bourgeoisie farming class as the “built-in depressor” who relied upon rent extraction from the impoverished peasantry who were the former “untouchables” and the present-day Dalits. The elusiveness of land reforms reified existing socio-structural deficiencies by interlocking land, labor and credit markets. Green revolution exacerbated already intensifying social inequalities in agrarian relations. It is to be noted that 9% of Dalits (18.5% of rural population) are landowners as compared to 11% of Tribals (~11% rural population) and 80% of the land is shared across dominant castes plus the OBCs.

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The Integral State balanced between the adjusted communal agrarian relations, emerging economic differences with the operations of ‘political society’ until the introduction of accumulation economy with liberalization. The inherent logic of accumulation is what Prabhat Patnaik characterizes as “spontaneous tendency of capital”, which, in contrary to Kantian formulation with ‘freedom’ reproduces relations of ‘power’ internal to the process of production itself. A positivist which Marx was, he asserted that the “theory of value” formed the only rational basis of political economy. Capital accumulation forms the basis in understanding social relations of production upon which ultimately the “equilibrium mechanism” of market forces relied.

There is a considerable disagreement regarding the supposed universality of the “Asiatic Mode of Production” which attempts to understand the communal agrarian relations which characterize Indian social stratification. To theoretically posit, primitive accumulation is the estrangement of self-producing classes from the means of production. The semi-capitalist and semi-feudal nature of Indian agrarian relations have resulted in heightened precarity and insecurities in the form of petty production. On the contrary to the claim made by Partha Chatterjee, petty production, and waged labor were not the products of a greater sense of opportunities with the rise of urban capital but out of marginal expectation of subsistence against perpetual inequality in the farming. It was a pauperization and ‘forced’ separation from the means of production in the service of capital.

D. D. Kosambi articulated thus, “the country had an immense feudal and pre-feudal accumulation of wealth which did not turn directly into a modern capital. The old cults and forms were not demolished by force but assimilated.” Farm laws in their sociological character implicitly sought to displace precapitalist social relations through the intervention of global finance-corporate capital. There are dual contradictions internal to the process of primitive accumulation in India between petty production, waged labor, and the farmers. Amidst this continued contradiction, anti-farm laws protest signifies the spatial contradiction of global capitalism between the ‘core’ countries of the industrialized world and the ‘periphery’ - the usurpation of surplus product and value by the West through subsidized export-based agriculture.


The social character of farmer protests is critical to the understanding of the course of political action. Farm protests took shape exactly a year following the most riveting public-political demonstrations held against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Both protests had essential social characteristics specific to them. At the heart of any movement is an essential prerequisite of social solidarity as an informal culture of opposition where shared demands and backed by an understanding of interests that go beyond immediate ethnic differences. Farmer Protests had a strong element of redistributive demand from the State. To borrow from the Melter-Richard Model of social solidarity, as material distribution in society becomes unequal, there will emerge social-structural pressures toward more equitable distribution of resources as the median being places claims for inclusion in the ‘system’.

Cancellation of Farm Laws is significant for it reflects ruptures in the BJP Dominant System - indiscernible matrices of interests which has dual signification, complementarity, and supplementarity. Initially, the land acquisition Act and now Farm Laws face significant Farm backlash against the potential intervention of global capital. What could have been the harmonious interaction between the bourgeois civil society and the political society - between the capital and agrarian relations - transpired in a conflict which could drastically reduce the hegemony of the BJP in the electoral sphere and ruptures the social coalition.

While farm protests in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh could undermine the political viability for the BJP, emerging social solidarity among Jats-Muslims in the region could threaten the delicate balance between Hindutva and Neoliberalism. While the cancellation of Farm Laws has been described as the preservation of national sovereignty against “vested interests”, the ultimate social reality is to alternate between Hindutva and capital. Here is where the interests of capital contradict the interests of Hindutva. The BJP government at the Centre had a choice either to sustain the fragile Hindu-Sikh social unity integral to the social imagination of Hindutva or to defend the ‘commonsense’ of capitalist hegemony.

Image Credits: The Quint Hindi

Cancellation of the laws attempts to arrest any social solidarity beyond the cultural nationalist formulations of Hindutva which is based on mutual economic interests among the farmers. In spite of aggressive campaigns to delegitimize Farmer protests by establishing binaries of social and economic divides, transcending economic interests interiorized social identities against both Global capital and Hindutva.

With the cancellation of the laws, material demands must be made with sustained mass solidarity and political action away from neoliberal consensus. Nihang caste violence against Dalit Sikh, impoverished peasantry, waged labor, and precarity of petty production must all form the basis of material demands. Concrete material demands must occupy the discourse of development with a strong underlying welfare philosophy - to borrow from T. H. Marshall, “progressive expansion of citizenship” against tactical contraction of the State - when there is a material basis to the existence, there is a moral underpinning to materiality itself. This is what he refers to as “a kind of basic human equality”. The new discourse of radical social welfare must begin with a minimum right to economic security.


By Nikhil Jois K.S

Nikhil Jois K.S. studied undergraduate degree at Christ University, Bengaluru. Interests in theatre, classical music & anything Jazz including Classical Art. Distinctly passionate about political science.