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Chaudhary Charan Singh

My Economic Philosophy

The India of the dreams of the previous generation of free dom-fighters has not materialized. The hopes that achievement of political independence had generated amongst the people thirty-five years ago, have all dissipated by now. The expectations of some of the foreign thinkers that this long suffering land of ours, "a place of immense cultural treasure and ancient wisdom" which had produced a Gandhi even in its days of slavery: might show a new path to the world which was tormented by communism, capitalism and colonialism, have also not come true.

The downward march of India embraces in its sweep all aspects of the life of a nation as also of an individual. To describe it fully—its causes and cures—will take a volume : here it is proposed to deal succintly with the economic aspect alone of our misfortune.

Today we are almost the poorest country in the world, occupying the 123rd position out of 125, with sixty per cent of our people going to bed half-hungry every night. There are tens of millions of people who are going half-naked and lakhs upon lakhs who die for want of sufficient clothing, particularly, in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in every winter. And there are more than fifty million families in the country which are living in one room or hutment. According to statistics collected about ten years ago 33% of the people in Bombay and Calcutta lived in slums or on pavements: the figure for the city of Delhi, with the highest per capita income of all the cities in the country, stood at 26 and that for Kanpur at the highest level.

According to the latest estimates the figure of slum and pavement dwellers in the metropolitan cities has gone up by more than 50 per cent since 1971.

The number of the unemployed and underemployed young-men, both in the towns and the villages and whether educated or uneducated, is increasing at a very fast rate. At the end of March, 1977 those who got themselves registered in the employ ment exchanges at the dist r ict headquarters, stood at 10.2 million. This figure rose to 19.7 million within six years. There are Ph. Ds. who would even grasp at the job of an orderly and M.A.s and M. Scs who are working on daily wages of less than Rs. 10.00. There are cases where youngmen have committed suicide or other crime and pleaded guiliy so that they might cease to. be a burden on their parents at least for a while or have taken to crime permanently as the only alternative to unemployment for ever.

As regards unemployment in the villages : whereas, on one hand, the Congress leadership began to talk about abolition of landlordism immediately after the foreigner had left our shores in 1947, on the other, it did not take any measures to ensure security of tenure to the tenant—the actual farmer or tiller of the soil. Not only that : the Congress Government at the Centre laid down that landlords were free to resume lands from their L tenants (irrespective of the nature of the latter's tenure) upto a limit of three times a family holding. According to a foreign scholar who made a study of land reforms in India, this policy of the Congress or inefficiency of its government in this regard resulted in ''an expropriation unheard of in the previous history of India".

In many areas landlords openly campaigned to evict tenants, many of very long standing, actually by foice or fraud but under the plea of voluntary surrenders, in order to add Jo the area of their home or self-cultivated farms. In many a State, even the Minister who did not belong to old landlord or large landholding families, as many of them did, had become members of the landed gently after grabbing huge estates through dubious means.

As a result the ratio of agricultural labourers to cultivators which was roughly as low as 13 : 57 in 1951 despite the ejects ment3 that had taken place during the preceding three years, increased to 16.90 : 51.10 in 1961 and to 26.5 : 43.5 in 1971. So that during the short period of a decade, 1961-71 the number of cultivators came down by 15% and that of landless labourers went up by 56% which means that millions upon millions of small farmers, particularly marginal and sub-marginal farmers who held less than 2.5 and 1.25 acres or 4 bighas and 2 bighas each, respectively, were ejected from their lands summarily. These farmers had no alternative but to join the ranks of landless labourers. One is sorry to note that ejectment of marginal and sub-marginal farmers, continued in the seventies also, though at a slower pace. The following despatch of the correspondent of the 'Hindustan Times', New Delhi, published in its issue of March 29, 1976 would show that the progress of the rake continued unabated, that is, more and more tenants were thrown out of their holdings :

"a progressive increase in the number of agricultural workers, and a corresponding decrease in that of cultivators in West Bengal during the 1961-71 period has caused concern to the planners and the Governments. This trend instead of abating has further accentuated during the last four years, so much so that today agricultural workers comprise over 30% of the rural population".

As the reports of the two Rural Labour Enquiries would show, the number of agricultural labourers which stood at 310 lakhs in 1964-65 went up by 50 p.c. viz, to 460 lakhs in 1974^75. One should not be surprised, therefore, if the report of the. census for the year 1981 reveals that the ratio of agricultural labourers to cultivators rose to 30 : 40 (in place of 13:57 in 1951).

There is yet another pertinent point which deserves notice in this connection. Although the sub-marginal holders of land were treated as 'farmers' in the census reports, they were 'farmers' only by courtesy. In actual fact, they were as good as agricultural labourers and should be treated as such.

Therefore, inasmuch as they constituted nearly one-third of the entire peasantry of 43.5% viz., 14.0 or so, the ratio of agricultural labourers to farmers in 1971, would, in reality, stand roughly as 40.0 : 30.0 instead of 26.5 : 43.5 And in 1981, higher still !!

It seems that the Congress leadership was not satisfied with this 'radical' change in the rural scene. So, it began to encourage large-scale farming by advancing loans on easy terms to large farmers—perhaps, in the hope of socializing agriculture also later on, as industry had already been done—purchasing tractors and other large agricultural machinery to operate the lands thus seized or resumed. Thus, it was owing to the state policies that mechanised, capitalist farming got a tremendous impetus as time passed. This will be clear from the fact that the number of tractor in the country which stood at 1383 in 1945 (of which Maharashtra alone claimed 761) went up to 8635 in 1951, 31016 in 1961, I%8,300 in 1971 and 244,598 in 1977.

For evaluating the change brought about by land reform measures in the agrarian situation of the country the reader need only cast a glance at the statistics thrown up by the National Sample Survey (1951-82) and the All-India Agricultural Census (1970-71). He will nnd that whereas 39% of the holdings were less than one hectare each in 1961- 62, this figure rose to 51% in 1970-71 and the number of farms of more than 10 hectares each increased from 23 lakhs (with an average area of 17 hectares) in 1961-62 to 28 lakhs (with an average area of 18 hectarei) in 1970-71. So that while the large farms accounted for an area of 386 lakhs of hectares or 28.9% of the total area in 1961-62 they covered 500 lakhs of hectares, that is, 30.8% of the area in 1970-71 which means that the under-dog was deprived of 114 lakh hectares or 280 lakhs acres of land which constituted his only source of income in the interest of the to-dog who enjoyed the patronage of the political leadership of the country. The figures of large farms in 1981 are not available. These farms were established orTthe backs of millions of poor farmers and their continued existence keeps millions of agricultural workers unemployed. It is these farmers—the forme, toilers on land—who form the core and the recruiting ground of Naxalism in the country—the eprived, the disinherited, the under-privileged, for whom no dogs ever barked in the camps of the ruling Congress Party.

So that if communism, whether of the moderate or extreme variety, has raised its head in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal or Bihar, and discontent or even violence stalks some parts of the counry, it is largely due to breach between the profession and the practice of Congress leadership in regard to abolition of landlordism. Perhaps, there is no sphere where the gulf between official policy and performance has been as wide as in the case of land reforms.

Abolition of the landlord-tenant system and other land reforms carried out in the country since the dawn of political independence have, therefore, proved a curse rather than a blessing for our rural society and, consequently, for India as a whole.

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The problem of unemployment in the countryside has been compounded by the destruction of our rural arts and handicrafts, first by our foreign masters and, later on, by our own political leaders. The Census Report, 1931, would show that, forced by the policies of the East India Company and the British Government, nearly threefourths of our artisans and handicraftmen had, by 1930, taken to agriculture (50%) and other pursuits (24%), and only one-fourth (26%) had stuck to their traditional occupations. On attainment of political independence Congress leaders headed by Nehru, adopted—much against the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi—an economic policy with an emphasis on heavy industry that led to the decimation of whatever arts & handicrafts had survived the onslaught of the foreigner till 1947. This will be clear from the fact that while, according to the National Sample Survey (Ninth Round) held during May- November, 1955, the number of workers engaged in household industries in the country stood at 10.2 millon, fifteen years later, instead of going up, by 38% or 14.0 million, as a result of our population growth rate in general, the figure ironically enough came down by 38%, viz, to 6.35 million (vide the Census Report, 1971). Can any advocate of the policies of the Congress Party ruling the country since 1947, explain the reason why ?

Besides ideology the main reason for the phenomenon lies in the fact that almost all political leaders of the country are dependent on the monopolists or big business for the financing of their elections and, consequently, for their political survival.

It is these unemployed and under-employed millions upon millions in the villages that have flocked, and continue to flock to the slums of the metropolitan cities in the hope of finding jobs which, not unoften, proves a vain hope.

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As regards economic disparities: according to a report of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) the total assets of 15.5 million households constituting bottom 20% of our rural population in 1976 were worth Rs. 1074 crores, that is, roughly Rs-700 per family. Whereas, in 1977, the value of the assets of both the House of Tatas and House of Birlas came to Rs^j 1070 crores each ! ! Granting that the share of the Birla and Tata families each, in the assets of the industrial houses known by their names, amounts only to 4 per cent of the total investment and no more, the disparity ratio between the assets of two families, on one hand, and the assets of 15.5 per cent of our country's entire population, on the other, will come to 6.40 lakhs: 1.00. Can history of the world of present times afford another example of the kind ?

To give yet another example: three years ago the per capita income of our countrymen came to Rs.1250 per annum whereas there were lakhs of persons in our country who did not know what to do with their wealth, mostly ill-gotten as it was, and, therefore, paid—and are paying today —a tariff of Rs.2500 to Rs 3000 for a day's hire of a room in a five-star hotel !!

It must be rememhered, however, that while the above disparity ratio correctly represents the economic position of the industrial houses of our country, in general, vis-a-vis.'that of the vast mass of our people, the assets of the former in absolute terms, are far less than those of their class in the advanced countries of the world, say,the USA, Japan and West Germany and, further, that the majority of our people are eking out their existence in far more miserable terms that can be imagined as compared with their counter-parts in any other country.

* * *

As the reader has already seen and will further find, the main cause of the dreadful economic situation that faces our country today,- can be traced to faulty or so-called land reforms (coupSed with neglect of agriculture) and undue emphasis on heavy enterprises both in the private and. public sector (with consequent destructions of handicrafts or household industries).

At last, enlighteriment did come to our leaders. But, then, It was too late. Pt. Jawahar Lai Nehru confessed in the Lok Sabha on December 11, 1963 that planning should not lead to heavy accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, but that both the Government and the Planning Commission had failed to take effective measures to prevent accumulation. He promised to do so more effectively in future. His exact words were : "I think it is highly objeciioaable and it ought to be pro vented, namely, economic powsv to be in the hands of small groups of persons, however able rsr good they might be. That is oar broad approach. Sf you, put this approach so the planning Commission, immediately they have to deal with questions of production, both in the private sector and the public sector, question of preventing accumulation, etc. They have not done' that very effectively, 1 will confess. I hope they will do so in future more effectively then hitherto, inspite of difficuties that may arise from Honourable Members opposite".

Since nobody can live without food it is the first aecessijy of man. Beside food, however, he has other wants or sseed to satisfy e.g. shoes and clothing, house or housing mater ials,maintenance of health or medical care, education or means of col ighunment , means of communication and transport, as also other aids or equipments which a civilised life may demand, e.g. a watch.

Now, none or hardly any of these means of satisfaction of human wants are available in Nature in the form in which they can be used or consumed by man. Excepting a few food-items like fruits, milk, water and, in some cases, root vegetables and even foodgrain, these means or necessities have to be processed or manufactured out of material that are obtainable directly from land or agricultural crops, forests or animals and even fiom the womb of Mother Earth, viz., mines. The standard of living of an individual or a people, therefore, will rise only when nonagricultural goods and services for satisfaction of human wants are available to him or to the country in an ample measure. And means and equipment for production of these goods and services will become available or come into existence only when there is a demand from the people for these goods and services. But it is only when there is purchasing power in the pocket of the agricultural workers who couiitute the mass of the people in India (and other less-developed countries) that a demand for industrial or non-agricultural goods and services will arise. This purchasing power will or can, in the main, be derived only from increase in agricultural production which is surplus to the needs of the producers and, therefore, available for sale, the greater will be the purchasing power that will be available to the seller or producer and,consequently, the greater will be the demand for production of non-agricultural goods and services. Further, a developing agriculture—agriculture whose productivity increases faster than demand—will not only furnish puichasing power, to the masses with which to buy manufactured goods and the services, but also simultaneously release agricultural workers for employment in production and supply of these goods and services.

A continuous rise of productivity in agriculture without which surpluses of food and raw materials cannot be available and, therefore labour from.

Lest we forget, however, this is a matter-offact world where it is not possible to persuade owners to give up effective control of idustry merely out of benevolence and a sense of national duty. We will, therefore, have to remain content with a mixed economy of cottage or small as also large capital-intensive industry mostly privately owned for the present, and wait for good sense to prevail amongst the industrialists which dream may or may not materialize an economy where workers who will will combine the role both of the employer and the employee in their own selves, forming, by far, the highest percentage of the country's workig force, followed by those engaged in small enterprises and ending up with a very small sector of workers engaged in heavy industry (whether owned and coducted by private citizens or by the State) as the apex.