The Politics of New Farmers' Movements
Ashutosh Varshney, Democracy, Development and the Countryside: Urban-Rural Struggles in India Cambridge University press, New York, 1995, pp. XI + 214
The emergence of what are called New Farmers' Movements (NFMs) since the early eighties generated heated discussions in this country and abroad. The opinions on these movements and issues generated by them are not only divergent but also polarized. On one side are the supporters of NFMs who see them as setting right the urban bias in the country's development process and even as harbingers of democratization in the country (and countryside). While on the other side are the critics who see the movements as partisan, dominated by rich peasants, strengthening the hold of dominant land-owning elite and even as showing a tendency to collude with communalism (and so are even called.'fascist'!).
These debates characteristically emphasized on the ideology or ideologies of movements, their social bases and their consequences on agrarian structures. But all these discussions omitted one crucial dimension that is the interface between democratic (party and non-party) politics, politics of state institutions and the movements. The book by Ashutosh Varshney succeeds in precisely focussing on the above said interface. The book particularly illuminates the dark area of politics, that is the politics that go on within the state apparatus visa-vis the demands of the movement such as NFM. That is what makes this book worthy of consideration even though in the second half of this decade these movements seem to have subsided giving way to issues and politics based on identity. Precisely this episodic character of NFMs is also a topic discussed in this book, as also why these movements give way over time to other kinds of politics?
Even though the book addresses the above questions in great detail, the book, as the author himself mentions, is about macro-economic policy towards the agrarian sector. The discussion is about how the policies came to be framed, under what internal, external influences and under what limitations. Finally, the consequences of the agricultural policies and how the agrarian sector responded to the policies are discussed. The book discusses economic policy towards agriculture, the politics within the state apparatus, the farmers'
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1997