The Emergency

What is an emergency situation and its historical origins

Before we get into the emergency and it’s causes and the outcomes we need to understand what exactly is the constitutional meaning of emergency and why such a clause was written into our constitution.

According to Article 352(1) of the constitution of India

If the President is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or armed rebellion, he may, by Proclamation, made a declaration to that effect in respect of the whole of India or of such part of the territory thereof as may be specified in the Proclamation Explanation A Proclamation of Emergency declaring that the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened by war or by external aggression or by armed rebellion may be made before the actual occurrence of war or of any such aggression or rebellion, if the President is satisfied that there is imminent danger thereof .

Historical origins of an emergency type clause

This clause is not a new concept nor is it specific to the Indian constitution alone, if you go back to the Roman republic, even they had a similar clause. The overarching logic was that a democracy could be fractious and quarrelsome and while this plurality is good in times of peace, during times of war or extraordinary stress on a nation you needed quite literally a Dictator. One person who would govern the republic on behalf of its assembly but not needing to turn to the assembly to make or pass laws.

Across time this provision has been mostly misused by power hungry politicians to stay on in power. The worst abuser of this power in ancient times was one Gaius Julius Caesar who used a malleable Senate to make himself dictator 5 times in a row and finally to make himself dictator et perpetus (or dictator for all eternity). As with other aspects of our political system including the Westminster style governance model, this “emergency” law is inspired by the UK emergency powers act, only the President is replaced by Her Majesty the Queen.

There is a historical basis and validity for having an emergency provision in the constitution.

Checks and Balances in the System

Now, the founding fathers must have clearly seen the misuse that this act could be put to and hence put in place a lot of checks and balances which can be found under [Part XVIII of Article 352](http://lawmin.nic.in/olwing/coi/coi-english/Const.Pock%202Pg.Rom8Fsss(24).pdf). In a nutshell the checks and balances are as follows.

  • Emergency can only be declared by the President.
  • Only the cabinet can recommend such an invocation of the Emergency act

This is check & balance number 1 – In theory the President is to be the supreme head of the nation and is supposed to be apolitical and above all politics. The PM and his / her cabinet are supposed to be elected representatives acting with the interests of the people in mind. Hence a power hungry President nor a power hungry PM could highhandedly invoke this act.

  • All proclamations issued under the period the nation is under a state of emergency have to be ratified by the Parliament once it is reconvened.

This is an interesting ‘twist’ as historical emergency laws like the Senatus Consultum which usually gave complete immunity to the law maker acting as the supreme authority. In the Indian constitution, you could be a “dictator” in the (traditional) Roman sense, yet you had to get your laws ratified by the parliament or they would lapse within 30 days of said law being passed.

  • Each state of “emergency” was valid only for 6 months and needed to be extended by the President or else the state of emergency would automatically lapse after a year.

Again a wonderful check and balance on paper that failed miserably in the real world. Clearly, you could (or so the founding fathers must have thought) get away by passing an emergency proclamation once, but once it ended 6 months later, you would have to once again push it past the President who has the authority to reject the same.

  • If even 1/10th of the members of the house vote against a proclamation (in writing), the President has to then reconsider the proclamation.

This is the final check on potentially power hungry leaders. Even if the President is tainted, even if the PM is tainted, the Indian parliament should have at least 60 MP’s capable of independent thought is the logic…and yet how it failed in the real world.

India is Indira, Indira is India

Before we get into these macro events that lead to the Emergency being proclaimed in India, we need to understand the psyche of Indira Gandhi and how she first rose from obscurity to becoming the absolute master of her cabinet and the Parliament.

Mrs Indira Feroze Gandhi – Who was she really? How did she get to be the PM of India?

In 1959 she was “elected” to the post of the President of the INC, and even earlier on, she had unofficially wielded a lot of power in her father, Nehru’s cabinet by merely working as his personal assistant. Some biographers suggest that PM Nehru had offered the PM post to his daughter while he was alive, but she declined and after he died, the post went to L.B.Shastri.

Elected into parliament for the first time in 1961 became a cabinet minister for I&B in Shastri’s PM cabinet. During these days, the PM (defacto head of the Congress party) held the reins of power in the governement while the party was controlled by others called “The Syndicate”.

In 1966, Shastri suddenly died (conspiracy theories abound on how Indira could have orchestrated this death) and there was a huge power vacuum in Delhi. While in the case of Nehru, his death was more or less planned for and a succession plan in place, this…sudden death threw up possibilities for many a Congress strongman eager to play the Game of Thrones.

The leading contenders were, Y.B. Chavan (Defence minister), S.K Patil (the precursor to Sharad Pawar as the proverbial Maratha strongman in Delhi), Kamraj (very strong base in TN, but weak outside), and the proverbial 800 pound Gorilla in the room – Moraji Desai fortified by the daily intake of his own urine.

Now, despite his urine drinking habits (and his lackluster tenure) might suggest he was in the 60’s seen as this pro business, centre right politician. However his policies and views clashed with Nehru who had him shunted out of the cabinet and into the political wilderness. Moraji also did not enjoy the support of a lot of other Congressmen because he was seen as a “strongman”. Moraji had made plays at being PM repeatedly in the 60’s, but was originally thwarted by Nehru and after that by what was emerging as “The Syndicate“. A group lead by the Petyr Baelish of the Indian political scenario in the 60’s. Kamaraj! Now he might have not had a mass base, but as the head of the Congress brain trust he called all the shots and pulled all the strings and he formed a group called “The Syndicate” which comprised of himself at the head and had Sanjiva Reddy, SK Patil, Atulya Ghosh and S Nijalingappa.

What is interesting about the Syndicate is that, compared to a Moraji Desai, these men all did not have the mass base that would have gotten them to the PM’s post, BUT they controlled the states of TN, Bengal, Maharashtra & Karnataka and hence had immense political clout when they combined forces.

The Syndicate first thwarted Moraji (how Kamraj did it is a lesson in Chankyan politics which would put a Peyter Baelish to shame, but a separate topic in itself), installed a politically rather weak (but administratively excellent PM) L.B.Shastri. However on his sudden and unexpected death, the power struggle which Kamraj had managed to prevent from erupting…came to the fore.

The Syndicate was in a massive dilemma. Bring in Moraji and he would shut down their power. Bring in a YB Chavan and he might do the same, and so Kamaraj hit upon the biggest #facepalm level idea. Bring in the “Goongi Gudiya” (as Indira was derisively called) as PM, control her from behind the scenes. Thus, Indira Priyadarshini Feroze Gandhi became the PM of India. Here is an interesting plot twist. Before he died, L.B.Shastri was (after political differences) planning on ending her political career by forcing her to resign from the cabinet and then using the Syndicate to get her to resign from the INC itself and then he promptly went and died (which is why the conspiracy theories).

To do a Tl;dr version, Indira morphed into Kali from the Goongi Gudiya (brilliant political machinations again, only this time, Kamraj was completely outplayed by this “naive babe in the woods”) destroyed the Syndicate, split the party into two camps, pushed Moraji into submission, eliminated Kamaraj as a political threat and consolidated her hold over her cabinet AND the party (the first time a single power centre controlled both the government as well as the party) and went into elections with the hope filled slogan of “Garibi Hatao” and won a massive victory.

She then did exactly what Modi is doing now, which was to centralise all power in the PMO. Strengthen the bureaucrats while ensuring that the cabinet remained a side-show and a cabinet in name only. She then nominated political non-entities to cabinet posts and became “Kali

The sociopolitical background to the crisis of 1975

By 1974, Indira had managed to consolidate her hold over the party (by causing a split with a Moraji Desai lead faction) and formed the Congress (I) which is the current Congress party’s name, she had lead India into a successful war in 1972, nationalised banks and had a huge vote bank of the poor ready to back her in the elections.

However, India was also in the grip of constant strife, unrest and violence that largely stemmed from her policies. The OPEC crisis exploded India’s gas bill and Indira had allowed a policy of easy imports into the country to fuel growth (or a sense of growth). These two factors pushed inflation upto 20% for some context, the inflation that partly defeated the UPA II did not cross 9%. Her nationalisation policies almost totally stopped the flow of FDI into the country and her pushing up Income Tax rates to obscene levels chased away money circulation in the system. With industries fleeing, high inflation across the board and massive unemployment came massive unrest.

At this time came to the fore, the great activist J.P Narayan. He organised massive rallies in Bihar (and Gujarat) in which he called for a “Total Revolution”. He was a believer in Ahimsa, yet his processions were lathi charged, and tear gas fired into it. He then lead a strike of the Railway workers Union, and Indira despite being adviced to negotiate with them, saw this as an affront to her personal self and ordered the Police to brutally assault these protesters, throw the main leaders into jail and evict the families of those participating in the strike from their government quarters. All this did not go well with the people of India, and the tide was beginning to turn against Mrs Gandhi.

While all this was going on, parallely she was waging a struggle against the judiciary. She controlled the executive totally, she controlled the party, but she did not control the judiciary which thankfully acted as the one bulwark of resistance against the Gandhi assault and when the Judiciary passed judgments against her, she simply went to the parliament (rubber stamp parliament) and got the constitution amended to suit her own political requirements. A classic test case was the Golaknath case.

I am going to for the sake of brevity, provide a short version of it. The government under it’s socialistic leanings passed a law that said any citizen was entitled to only 30 acres of land, and anything in excess of this would be deemed “surplus”. While this was done by Nehru in 1953, the plaintiffs filed a case that said that this law in itself was illegal.

Given the speed at which our cases travel in our courts, the SC passed judgement in 1967 that said “The Constitution does not allow for any laws to be passed that affect the fundamental rights as described within the constitution and hence the land law was illegal and extra constitutional”.

Indira could have simply taken the verdict and respected it for what it was, but again she decided that the judiciary controlling the executive was not done and started the process of “constitutional amendments”. In essence this (almost childishly) amended the part in the constitution which said that the Parliament cannot touch the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. Once this was done, the SC verdict became null & void. Indira’s (read the Executive) power was supreme!!!

She had in the past already exhibited her tendency to flout constitutional requirements or use them when it suited her needs when she convinced Nehru to dismiss the first democratically elected Communist government in the world under the very same constitutional provision she would use to declare emergency. So you could say that the the evidence was already there and a pattern established.

The Catalyst and the consequence

In 1974 the Nav Nirman movement in Gujarat caused immense civil strife and shut down the state. It demanded the resignation of the CM & the education minister on charges of corruption and inefficiency. The state responded with violence and lathi charges. This caused more people to join the agitation and at a point in time, almost the whole of Gujarat was under curfew and the army called out in Ahmedabad.

Indira asked Chimanbhai Patel to resign, and she got the pliant governor to “suspend” the state assembly and President’s rule (once again) was imposed. The opposition now lead by Moraji Desai was having none of this, and they demanded that the assembly be dissolved and fresh elections held. After a lot of resistance, Indira agreed only to be promptly defeated by a coalition of parties called the “Janata Party”. This was an absolute shock to her as she had expected the Congress (under a new CM) to come back into power. It showed that electorally she was no longer untouchable.

The proverbial straw that broke the camels back was the Case of UP versus Raj Narain. In 1971 she won from Rae Bareli in a massive landslide victory. Her main opponent, Raj Narain filed a case in the UP high court that alleged misuse of government machinery to gain an unfair advantage in the elections. The case finally came up for sentencing in 1975 in which Judge Sinha found her guilty on all charges, declared her victory as basically illegal and barred her from holding any public office for 6 years. She appealed this in the SC, and the SC granted a stay of execution (it agreed with the HC judgement) and asked for all benefits provided to her as an MP to be retroactively rolled back. The judgement came in on the 24th of June 1975.

On the 25th of June, the pliant President proclaimed a state of emergency!

Finis!

Indira Gandhi and the Emergency

What is an emergency situation and its historical origins

Before we get into the emergency and it’s causes and the outcomes we need to understand what exactly is the constitutional meaning of emergency and why such a clause was written into our constitution.

According to Article 352(1) of the constitution of India

If the President is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or armed rebellion, he may, by Proclamation, made a declaration to that effect in respect of the whole of India or of such part of the territory thereof as may be specified in the Proclamation Explanation A Proclamation of Emergency declaring that the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened by war or by external aggression or by armed rebellion may be made before the actual occurrence of war or of any such aggression or rebellion, if the President is satisfied that there is imminent danger thereof .

Historical origins of an emergency type clause

This clause is not a new concept nor is it specific to the Indian constitution alone, if you go back to the Roman republic, even they had a similar clause. The overarching logic was that a democracy could be fractious and quarrelsome and while this plurality is good in times of peace, during times of war or extraordinary stress on a nation you needed quite literally a Dictator. One person who would govern the republic on behalf of its assembly but not needing to turn to the assembly to make or pass laws.

Across time this provision has been mostly misused by power hungry politicians to stay on in power. The worst abuser of this power in ancient times was one Gaius Julius Caesar who used a malleable Senate to make himself dictator 5 times in a row and finally to make himself dictator et perpetus (or dictator for all eternity). As with other aspects of our political system including the Westminster style governance model, this “emergency” law is inspired by the UK emergency powers act, only the President is replaced by Her Majesty the Queen.

There is a historical basis and validity for having an emergency provision in the constitution.

Checks and Balances in the System

Now, the founding fathers must have clearly seen the misuse that this act could be put to and hence put in place a lot of checks and balances which can be found under [Part XVIII of Article 352](http://lawmin.nic.in/olwing/coi/coi-english/Const.Pock%202Pg.Rom8Fsss(24).pdf). In a nutshell the checks and balances are as follows.

  • Emergency can only be declared by the President.
  • Only the cabinet can recommend such an invocation of the Emergency act

This is check & balance number 1 – In theory the President is to be the supreme head of the nation and is supposed to be apolitical and above all politics. The PM and his / her cabinet are supposed to be elected representatives acting with the interests of the people in mind. Hence a power hungry President nor a power hungry PM could highhandedly invoke this act.

  • All proclamations issued under the period the nation is under a state of emergency have to be ratified by the Parliament once it is reconvened.

This is an interesting ‘twist’ as historical emergency laws like the Senatus Consultum which usually gave complete immunity to the law maker acting as the supreme authority. In the Indian constitution, you could be a “dictator” in the (traditional) Roman sense, yet you had to get your laws ratified by the parliament or they would lapse within 30 days of said law being passed.

  • Each state of “emergency” was valid only for 6 months and needed to be extended by the President or else the state of emergency would automatically lapse after a year.

Again a wonderful check and balance on paper that failed miserably in the real world. Clearly, you could (or so the founding fathers must have thought) get away by passing an emergency proclamation once, but once it ended 6 months later, you would have to once again push it past the President who has the authority to reject the same.

  • If even 1/10th of the members of the house vote against a proclamation (in writing), the President has to then reconsider the proclamation.

This is the final check on potentially power hungry leaders. Even if the President is tainted, even if the PM is tainted, the Indian parliament should have at least 60 MP’s capable of independent thought is the logic…and yet how it failed in the real world.

India is Indira, Indira is India

Before we get into these macro events that lead to the Emergency being proclaimed in India, we need to understand the psyche of Indira Gandhi and how she first rose from obscurity to becoming the absolute master of her cabinet and the Parliament.

Mrs Indira Feroze Gandhi – Who was she really? How did she get to be the PM of India?

In 1959 she was “elected” to the post of the President of the INC, and even earlier on, she had unofficially wielded a lot of power in her father, Nehru’s cabinet by merely working as his personal assistant. Some biographers suggest that PM Nehru had offered the PM post to his daughter while he was alive, but she declined and after he died, the post went to L.B.Shastri.

Elected into parliament for the first time in 1961 became a cabinet minister for I&B in Shastri’s PM cabinet. During these days, the PM (defacto head of the Congress party) held the reins of power in the governement while the party was controlled by others called “The Syndicate”.

In 1966, Shastri suddenly died (conspiracy theories abound on how Indira could have orchestrated this death) and there was a huge power vacuum in Delhi. While in the case of Nehru, his death was more or less planned for and a succession plan in place, this…sudden death threw up possibilities for many a Congress strongman eager to play the Game of Thrones.

The leading contenders were, Y.B. Chavan (Defence minister), S.K Patil (the precursor to Sharad Pawar as the proverbial Maratha strongman in Delhi), Kamraj (very strong base in TN, but weak outside), and the proverbial 800 pound Gorilla in the room – Moraji Desai fortified by the daily intake of his own urine.

Now, despite his urine drinking habits (and his lackluster tenure) might suggest he was in the 60’s seen as this pro business, centre right politician. However his policies and views clashed with Nehru who had him shunted out of the cabinet and into the political wilderness. Moraji also did not enjoy the support of a lot of other Congressmen because he was seen as a “strongman”. Moraji had made plays at being PM repeatedly in the 60’s, but was originally thwarted by Nehru and after that by what was emerging as “The Syndicate“. A group lead by the Petyr Baelish of the Indian political scenario in the 60’s. Kamaraj! Now he might have not had a mass base, but as the head of the Congress brain trust he called all the shots and pulled all the strings and he formed a group called “The Syndicate” which comprised of himself at the head and had Sanjiva Reddy, SK Patil, Atulya Ghosh and S Nijalingappa.

What is interesting about the Syndicate is that, compared to a Moraji Desai, these men all did not have the mass base that would have gotten them to the PM’s post, BUT they controlled the states of TN, Bengal, Maharashtra & Karnataka and hence had immense political clout when they combined forces.

The Syndicate first thwarted Moraji (how Kamraj did it is a lesson in Chankyan politics which would put a Peyter Baelish to shame, but a separate topic in itself), installed a politically rather weak (but administratively excellent PM) L.B.Shastri. However on his sudden and unexpected death, the power struggle which Kamraj had managed to prevent from erupting…came to the fore.

The Syndicate was in a massive dilemma. Bring in Moraji and he would shut down their power. Bring in a YB Chavan and he might do the same, and so Kamaraj hit upon the biggest #facepalm level idea. Bring in the “Goongi Gudiya” (as Indira was derisively called) as PM, control her from behind the scenes. Thus, Indira Priyadarshini Feroze Gandhi became the PM of India. Here is an interesting plot twist. Before he died, L.B.Shastri was (after political differences) planning on ending her political career by forcing her to resign from the cabinet and then using the Syndicate to get her to resign from the INC itself and then he promptly went and died (which is why the conspiracy theories).

To do a Tl;dr version, Indira morphed into Kali from the Goongi Gudiya (brilliant political machinations again, only this time, Kamraj was completely outplayed by this “naive babe in the woods”) destroyed the Syndicate, split the party into two camps, pushed Moraji into submission, eliminated Kamaraj as a political threat and consolidated her hold over her cabinet AND the party (the first time a single power centre controlled both the government as well as the party) and went into elections with the hope filled slogan of “Garibi Hatao” and won a massive victory.

She then did exactly what Modi is doing now, which was to centralise all power in the PMO. Strengthen the bureaucrats while ensuring that the cabinet remained a side-show and a cabinet in name only. She then nominated political non-entities to cabinet posts and became “Kali

The sociopolitical background to the crisis of 1975

By 1974, Indira had managed to consolidate her hold over the party (by causing a split with a Moraji Desai lead faction) and formed the Congress (I) which is the current Congress party’s name, she had lead India into a successful war in 1972, nationalised banks and had a huge vote bank of the poor ready to back her in the elections.

However, India was also in the grip of constant strife, unrest and violence that largely stemmed from her policies. The OPEC crisis exploded India’s gas bill and Indira had allowed a policy of easy imports into the country to fuel growth (or a sense of growth). These two factors pushed inflation upto 20% for some context, the inflation that partly defeated the UPA II did not cross 9%. Her nationalisation policies almost totally stopped the flow of FDI into the country and her pushing up Income Tax rates to obscene levels chased away money circulation in the system. With industries fleeing, high inflation across the board and massive unemployment came massive unrest.

At this time came to the fore, the great activist J.P Narayan. He organised massive rallies in Bihar (and Gujarat) in which he called for a “Total Revolution”. He was a believer in Ahimsa, yet his processions were lathi charged, and tear gas fired into it. He then lead a strike of the Railway workers Union, and Indira despite being adviced to negotiate with them, saw this as an affront to her personal self and ordered the Police to brutally assault these protesters, throw the main leaders into jail and evict the families of those participating in the strike from their government quarters. All this did not go well with the people of India, and the tide was beginning to turn against Mrs Gandhi.

While all this was going on, parallely she was waging a struggle against the judiciary. She controlled the executive totally, she controlled the party, but she did not control the judiciary which thankfully acted as the one bulwark of resistance against the Gandhi assault and when the Judiciary passed judgments against her, she simply went to the parliament (rubber stamp parliament) and got the constitution amended to suit her own political requirements. A classic test case was the Golaknath case.

I am going to for the sake of brevity, provide a short version of it. The government under it’s socialistic leanings passed a law that said any citizen was entitled to only 30 acres of land, and anything in excess of this would be deemed “surplus”. While this was done by Nehru in 1953, the plaintiffs filed a case that said that this law in itself was illegal.

Given the speed at which our cases travel in our courts, the SC passed judgement in 1967 that said “The Constitution does not allow for any laws to be passed that affect the fundamental rights as described within the constitution and hence the land law was illegal and extra constitutional”.

Indira could have simply taken the verdict and respected it for what it was, but again she decided that the judiciary controlling the executive was not done and started the process of “constitutional amendments”. In essence this (almost childishly) amended the part in the constitution which said that the Parliament cannot touch the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. Once this was done, the SC verdict became null & void. Indira’s (read the Executive) power was supreme!!!

She had in the past already exhibited her tendency to flout constitutional requirements or use them when it suited her needs when she convinced Nehru to dismiss the first democratically elected Communist government in the world under the very same constitutional provision she would use to declare emergency. So you could say that the the evidence was already there and a pattern established.

The Catalyst and the consequence

In 1974 the Nav Nirman movement in Gujarat caused immense civil strife and shut down the state. It demanded the resignation of the CM & the education minister on charges of corruption and inefficiency. The state responded with violence and lathi charges. This caused more people to join the agitation and at a point in time, almost the whole of Gujarat was under curfew and the army called out in Ahmedabad.

Indira asked Chimanbhai Patel to resign, and she got the pliant governor to “suspend” the state assembly and President’s rule (once again) was imposed. The opposition now lead by Moraji Desai was having none of this, and they demanded that the assembly be dissolved and fresh elections held. After a lot of resistance, Indira agreed only to be promptly defeated by a coalition of parties called the “Janata Party”. This was an absolute shock to her as she had expected the Congress (under a new CM) to come back into power. It showed that electorally she was no longer untouchable.

The proverbial straw that broke the camels back was the Case of UP versus Raj Narain. In 1971 she won from Rae Bareli in a massive landslide victory. Her main opponent, Raj Narain filed a case in the UP high court that alleged misuse of government machinery to gain an unfair advantage in the elections. The case finally came up for sentencing in 1975 in which Judge Sinha found her guilty on all charges, declared her victory as basically illegal and barred her from holding any public office for 6 years. She appealed this in the SC, and the SC granted a stay of execution (it agreed with the HC judgement) and asked for all benefits provided to her as an MP to be retroactively rolled back. The judgement came in on the 24th of June 1975.

On the 25th of June, the pliant President proclaimed a state of emergency!

Finis!

The Elder, his proteges – Fiery Writer and The Star and the Mistress – Tamil Nadu Politics

Our tale begins in the early 1900’s, a young Tamilian Hindu on a pilgrimage in Varanasi spots a charity that provides free food. Hungry and broke, he enters this charity in the hopes of satiating his hunger. To his great shock, he is stopped by a chowkidar who asks him where his sacred thread is? This young fellow, nonplussed asks the chowkidar how a thread is relevant to his being allowed in. To which he is told that the charity is run by Brahmins and for Brahmins only and that he is not welcome here. Ironically the charity was set up by a Nadar (a powerful trading caste), but served only Brahmins.

Old Varanasi

He wandered around, desperate and hungry. He begged in street corners for a few anna’s, he ate from garbage bins. Looking around he saw only misery, povery and despair in this holiest of holy cities. He had come to to Varanasi looking for salavation, he went back to Erode (a city in TN) disgusted with Hinduism, with religion and mostly what he saw as Brahmnical Hinduism.

His name was EVR Periyar.

The year he got back to Erode was the year C N Annadurai, the founder and father of the political Dravidar movement was born.

Around 1900, the British started playing their favorite card of divide and rule. Brahmins, who form only ~2% of the population (I think it is 1% now), control the entire administrative process in the Madras Presidency. Judges, magistrates, collectors, professors, university heads. Their influence became legendary, and one that would come back to haunt them 60 odd years later. Britain, to first create and later exploit latent frictions in society introduced Brahmin / Non Brahmin quotas in all seats. The mercantile class (Mudaliars’s and Nadar’s- think Shiv Nadar of HCL) started chafing under the total administrative control exercised by Brahmins and a couple of them came up with, The Justice Party. The main aim of this party was to lobby the British and ensure non Brahmins got placed in positions of power. From these rather limited orgins. The Justice Party published a manifesto called the “Non-Brahmin manifesto” which asked for an end to Brahmin occupation of chief administrative posts and to open it up to Non Brahmins (Nadars, Mudaliars and Chettiars primarily).

These three disparate elements would coalesce and determine Tamil Nadu politics from 1950 to this date.

The young man, EVR comes back home to his beloved wife. She was 12, he was 19 when they first met through the process of ‘ponnu pakarudhu’ (Bride Seeing). It was a weird arranged marriage. The bride, a fiery young girl by the name Nagammai was in her short life very driven, and took to her husband’s causes and became the fiercer of the two in fighting for his ideals and political beliefs. We don’t know when or where they first met (romantically), but it is certain they knew each other as she was his maternal uncles daughter. She was betrothed to another man, but young Periyar convinced his uncle to break off that engagement and sanction his marriage to her. He takes up his father Venkata Naicaker’s business but his mind is not in it.

Mrs and Mr Periyar

That is when the Gandhi Tsunami sweeps that part of India, and Periyar has suddenly found his calling. He quits his business, takes up to Gandhi and Gandhian philosophy like a duck to water. He felt like he was home at last. Here was a party and leader that not only fought for freedom, but wanted to abolish castes, wanted equality. An apocryphal tale from this period suggests that he used all his considerable persuasive skills in persuading everybody (Friends / Family) in his rich, wealthy circle to burn their Manchester milled clothes and only wear homespun Khadi.

Periyar worked his way up the Congress ladder, a decent orator, he was actively involved in another movement that gave him immense popularity with the womenfolk of TN. He and his wife decided to go after the Toddy (liquor) industry in TN. These gave him both credibility as well as a platform with which to launch his future career.

The biggest single event in his life happened now. The Vaikom Satyagraha. It was a move that married the Gandhian principle of Satyagraha and something dear to Periyar – fighting Casteist oppression. Now, detractors of Periyar will rightly point out that this was hardly a struggle, and certainly not like the struggles that Ambedkar (Periyar’s contemporary) was leading in Maharashtra. This was more of a leisurely protest, that the chief of police himself used to have his meals with Periyar and Nagammai. The truth is being debated even till today, but what is relevant to the story is, he returned home as “Vaikom Veerar” (Hero of Vaikom)

Vaikom Veerar - Hero of Vaikom

Vaikom Veerar – Hero of Vaikom

At this point, I should point out something very interesting and very unique to TN politics. Periyar, was a Kannadiga Baliga by birth. His mother tongue was Kannada and he….hated Tamilians and Tamil culture. Yes, the person who is even today revered and held up as god by quite a few Tamilians actually wasn’t a Tamilian, but one who hated Tamils. I say this is unique to TN politics because, MGR was a Malyalee (Keralite), Jayalalitha is a Tamilian who was born in Karnataka and Karunanidhi while Tamilian, has his roots in Andhra. This somehow has always struck me as fascinating. Name any big icon of TN history, and mostly they are not Tamil in origin. Why, even Rajinikanth’s real name is Shivaji Rao Gaekwad and is a Mahrashtrian. Even other lesser leaders like Vaiko and Vijayakanth have Telugu roots, but I am running far ahead of my story and will take you back to ~1920 now.

By the mid 20’s, Periyar was disillusioned with the Congress. For all his faults, Periyar was never in this for power, and he felt that the leaders of the Congress (mostly Brahmins) were being dominated by other North Indian Brahmins and that he wasn’t going anywhere. The breaking point was when his resolution for communal representation in educational institutions was shot down by upper caste (mostly Brahmin) leaders 3 years in a row. The Salem conference in 1923 when his resolution was shot down for the third time finally broke his resolution to stay with the Congress.

By 1926, he was done completely and resigned from the Congress and started his defining political masterpiece – the Self Respect Movement.

In 1909, was born the leader who would decide the template, and write the playbook that is still being followed in Tamil Nadu. Strong Oratory, leveraging Cinema and using it as a propaganda tool and most importantly, creating that cult of personality (though he himself would be aghast to see what it has become today). He was Arignar Anna a super personality and one who did not have political loyalists, but devotees who worshipped him.

C N Annadurai

C N Annadurai

He was the first modern political leader to use Tamil Nationalism and Tamil Pride as tools of mobilisation. He continued Periyar’s anti Hindi stance (Periyar had an anti North Indian stance, of which anti Hindi was but a subset)  and used it as a rallying cry to gain electoral vote share against the Congress behemoth. However, we are running ahead of our tale. To go back to 1930, we see Anna as this youth leader, dynamic. One who turned oratory into a power of its own. The key to his success was a mix of high falutin Tamil and more common speak to reach the common man. Think of Buddha using Pali to deliver his sermons and that is what Anna was doing to political rhetoric in TN but before he was a politican, he was a prodigious writer, a very popular script writer (of plays).

Anna’s plays and scripts had some common themes, anti-Brahminism being one, an attack on the feudatory caste system another. His plays had very unique protagonists, one of his plays had a Servant Maid as the protagonist, and most of these interwove these two elements with the chief protagonist being a Brahmin (or a rich, upper caste landlord). Another one of his powerful plays was centred around Shivaji (the Maratha emperor) and his problems with a clique of Brahmin priests, the chief who was actually played by Anna himself. His plays also tended to play up on Tamil nationalism and Tamil pride and would deride the North Indian as the evil Aryan other. This “North Indian” other created by Anna and the counter, “Tamil Pride” is now deeply rooted in Tamil Society, and only slowly is TN even climbing out of its anti-Hindi stance.

By the time Anna and Periyar first met in Tirupur, Anna was this young superstar, fast rising. Periyar was this grand old man, with impeccable gravitas, a mass following and one who could if he wished play kingmaker in post independence India and he gained this strength via the Self Respect Movement (SRM).

The SRM was to change the caste architecture of TN along with ending what Periyar felt was Brahmin domination in TN. The core objective of this movement was to end the entire caste system as it was practised. Periyar, a prototype of a feminist, also wanted and got women included in his reform movement.

A key component (and one meriting its one line) and one that has had an impact on TN even today was his reform in the educational system – he said all castes had a right to education, and wanted rich caste leaders (non Brahmins of course) to set up and run cheap schools and colleges and ensure the lowest of the low caste got quality, cheap education.

By 1930, the self respect movement was spreading like wildfire across TN, and this is what attracted political legends like Anna to Periyar. They were drawn to him like moths to fire but the roots of the schism were visible, even in these heydays of the SRM.

The Elder and his protege

The Elder and his protege

Periyar did not believe in political power, he wanted to play the game from outside the system. His acolytes (chiefly Anna) believed that any such social reform movement should aim to capture power from the ‘outsider’ (Brahmin / North Indian) Congress and reform the system from within. To use a modern example, the exact same differences of opinion between Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal inflicted Periyar and Anna.

For the time being though, their interests (anti Brahminism, Dravidian/Tamil pride, social justice and reform) initially aligned spectacularly well. Their forces combined, and just when the SRM was slowing down (by 1936 it had been around for close to a decade) in fervour, C Rajaji THE Congress leader in TN and another stalwart handed Periyar and Anna a second wind.

C Rajagopalachari

C Rajagopalachari

In August 1937, Rajaji made the fatal flaw (and one that would cost him his government) of making Hindi mandatory in schools across TN. This was precisely the platform Periyar, and more importantly, Anna wanted and they had it.

Sources for the Pictures – Where possible, I have written to the content owners seeking their permission. Will gladly take them down if they infringe any copyrights.

  1. Old Varanasi
  2. Mrs & Mr Periyar
  3. Hero of Vaikom
  4. C N Annadurai
  5. Anna and Periyar
  6. Rajaji

The Elder, the Older Brother, the Artist, THE Star and The Mother – A Tale of TN Politics

Our tale begins in the early 1900’s, a young Tamilian Hindu on a pilgrimage in Varanasi spots a charity that provides free food. Hungry and broke, he enters this charity in the hopes of satiating his hunger. To his great shock, he is stopped by a chowkidar who asks him where his sacred thread is? This young fellow, nonplussed asks the chowkidar how a thread is relevant to his being allowed in. To which he is told that the charity is run by Brahmins and for Brahmins only and that he is not welcome here. Ironically the charity was set up by a Nadar (a powerful trading caste), but served only Brahmins.

Old Varanasi

He wandered around, desperate and hungry. He begged in street corners for a few anna’s, he ate from garbage bins. Looking around he saw only misery, povery and despair in this holiest of holy cities. He had come to to Varanasi looking for salavation, he went back to Erode (a city in TN) disgusted with Hinduism, with religion and mostly what he saw as Brahmnical Hinduism.

His name was EVR Periyar.

The year he got back to Erode was the year C N Annadurai, the founder and father of the political Dravidar movement was born.

Around 1900, the British started playing their favorite card of divide and rule. Brahmins, who form only ~2% of the population (I think it is 1% now), control the entire administrative process in the Madras Presidency. Judges, magistrates, collectors, professors, university heads. Their influence became legendary, and one that would come back to haunt them 60 odd years later. Britain, to first create and later exploit latent frictions in society introduced Brahmin / Non Brahmin quotas in all seats. The mercantile class (Mudaliars’s and Nadar’s- think Shiv Nadar of HCL) started chafing under the total administrative control exercised by Brahmins and a couple of them came up with, The Justice Party. The main aim of this party was to lobby the British and ensure non Brahmins got placed in positions of power. From these rather limited orgins. The Justice Party published a manifesto called the “Non-Brahmin manifesto” which asked for an end to Brahmin occupation of chief administrative posts and to open it up to Non Brahmins (Nadars, Mudaliars and Chettiars primarily).

These three disparate elements would coalesce and determine Tamil Nadu politics from 1950 to this date.

The young man, EVR comes back home to his beloved wife. She was 12, he was 19 when they first met through the process of ‘ponnu pakarudhu’ (Bride Seeing). It was a weird arranged marriage. The bride, a fiery young girl by the name Nagammai was in her short life very driven, and took to her husband’s causes and became the fiercer of the two in fighting for his ideals and political beliefs. We don’t know when or where they first met (romantically), but it is certain they knew each other as she was his maternal uncles daughter. She was betrothed to another man, but young Periyar convinced his uncle to break off that engagement and sanction his marriage to her. He takes up his father Venkata Naicaker’s business but his mind is not in it.

Mrs and Mr Periyar

That is when the Gandhi Tsunami sweeps that part of India, and Periyar has suddenly found his calling. He quits his business, takes up to Gandhi and Gandhian philosophy like a duck to water. He felt like he was home at last. Here was a party and leader that not only fought for freedom, but wanted to abolish castes, wanted equality. An apocryphal tale from this period suggests that he used all his considerable persuasive skills in persuading everybody (Friends / Family) in his rich, wealthy circle to burn their Manchester milled clothes and only wear homespun Khadi.

Periyar worked his way up the Congress ladder, a decent orator, he was actively involved in another movement that gave him immense popularity with the womenfolk of TN. He and his wife decided to go after the Toddy (liquor) industry in TN. These gave him both credibility as well as a platform with which to launch his future career.

The biggest single event in his life happened now. The Vaikom Satyagraha. It was a move that married the Gandhian principle of Satyagraha and something dear to Periyar – fighting Casteist oppression. Now, detractors of Periyar will rightly point out that this was hardly a struggle, and certainly not like the struggles that Ambedkar (Periyar’s contemporary) was leading in Maharashtra. This was more of a leisurely protest, that the chief of police himself used to have his meals with Periyar and Nagammai. The truth is being debated even till today, but what is relevant to the story is, he returned home as “Vaikom Veerar” (Hero of Vaikom)

Vaikom Veerar - Hero of Vaikom

Vaikom Veerar – Hero of Vaikom

At this point, I should point out something very interesting and very unique to TN politics. Periyar, was a Kannadiga Baliga by birth. His mother tongue was Kannada and he….hated Tamilians and Tamil culture. Yes, the person who is even today revered and held up as god by quite a few Tamilians actually wasn’t a Tamilian, but one who hated Tamils. I say this is unique to TN politics because, MGR was a Malyalee (Keralite), Jayalalitha is a Tamilian who was born in Karnataka and Karunanidhi while Tamilian, has his roots in Andhra. This somehow has always struck me as fascinating. Name any big icon of TN history, and mostly they are not Tamil in origin. Why, even Rajinikanth’s real name is Shivaji Rao Gaekwad and is a Mahrashtrian. Even other lesser leaders like Vaiko and Vijayakanth have Telugu roots, but I am running far ahead of my story and will take you back to ~1920 now.

By the mid 20’s, Periyar was disillusioned with the Congress. For all his faults, Periyar was never in this for power, and he felt that the leaders of the Congress (mostly Brahmins) were being dominated by other North Indian Brahmins and that he wasn’t going anywhere. The breaking point was when his resolution for communal representation in educational institutions was shot down by upper caste (mostly Brahmin) leaders 3 years in a row. The Salem conference in 1923 when his resolution was shot down for the third time finally broke his resolution to stay with the Congress.

By 1926, he was done completely and resigned from the Congress and started his defining political masterpiece – the Self Respect Movement.

In 1909, was born the leader who would decide the template, and write the playbook that is still being followed in Tamil Nadu. Strong Oratory, leveraging Cinema and using it as a propaganda tool and most importantly, creating that cult of personality (though he himself would be aghast to see what it has become today). He was Arignar Anna a super personality and one who did not have political loyalists, but devotees who worshipped him.

C N Annadurai

C N Annadurai

He was the first modern political leader to use Tamil Nationalism and Tamil Pride as tools of mobilisation. He continued Periyar’s anti Hindi stance (Periyar had an anti North Indian stance, of which anti Hindi was but a subset)  and used it as a rallying cry to gain electoral vote share against the Congress behemoth. However, we are running ahead of our tale. To go back to 1930, we see Anna as this youth leader, dynamic. One who turned oratory into a power of its own. The key to his success was a mix of high falutin Tamil and more common speak to reach the common man. Think of Buddha using Pali to deliver his sermons and that is what Anna was doing to political rhetoric in TN but before he was a politican, he was a prodigious writer, a very popular script writer (of plays).

Anna’s plays and scripts had some common themes, anti-Brahminism being one, an attack on the feudatory caste system another. His plays had very unique protagonists, one of his plays had a Servant Maid as the protagonist, and most of these interwove these two elements with the chief protagonist being a Brahmin (or a rich, upper caste landlord). Another one of his powerful plays was centred around Shivaji (the Maratha emperor) and his problems with a clique of Brahmin priests, the chief who was actually played by Anna himself. His plays also tended to play up on Tamil nationalism and Tamil pride and would deride the North Indian as the evil Aryan other. This “North Indian” other created by Anna and the counter, “Tamil Pride” is now deeply rooted in Tamil Society, and only slowly is TN even climbing out of its anti-Hindi stance.

By the time Anna and Periyar first met in Tirupur, Anna was this young superstar, fast rising. Periyar was this grand old man, with impeccable gravitas, a mass following and one who could if he wished play kingmaker in post independence India and he gained this strength via the Self Respect Movement (SRM).

The SRM was to change the caste architecture of TN along with ending what Periyar felt was Brahmin domination in TN. The core objective of this movement was to end the entire caste system as it was practised. Periyar, a prototype of a feminist, also wanted and got women included in his reform movement.

A key component (and one meriting its one line) and one that has had an impact on TN even today was his reform in the educational system – he said all castes had a right to education, and wanted rich caste leaders (non Brahmins of course) to set up and run cheap schools and colleges and ensure the lowest of the low caste got quality, cheap education.

By 1930, the self respect movement was spreading like wildfire across TN, and this is what attracted political legends like Anna to Periyar. They were drawn to him like moths to fire but the roots of the schism were visible, even in these heydays of the SRM.

The Elder and his protege

The Elder and his protege

Periyar did not believe in political power, he wanted to play the game from outside the system. His acolytes (chiefly Anna) believed that any such social reform movement should aim to capture power from the ‘outsider’ (Brahmin / North Indian) Congress and reform the system from within. To use a modern example, the exact same differences of opinion between Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal inflicted Periyar and Anna.

For the time being though, their interests (anti Brahminism, Dravidian/Tamil pride, social justice and reform) initially aligned spectacularly well. Their forces combined, and just when the SRM was slowing down (by 1936 it had been around for close to a decade) in fervour, C Rajaji THE Congress leader in TN and another stalwart handed Periyar and Anna a second wind.

C Rajagopalachari

C Rajagopalachari

In August 1937, Rajaji made the fatal flaw (and one that would cost him his government) of making Hindi mandatory in schools across TN. This was precisely the platform Periyar, and more importantly, Anna wanted and they had it.

Sources for the Pictures – Where possible, I have written to the content owners seeking their permission. Will gladly take them down if they infringe any copyrights.

  1. Old Varanasi
  2. Mrs & Mr Periyar
  3. Hero of Vaikom
  4. C N Annadurai
  5. Anna and Periyar
  6. Rajaji

The Kisan is dead, long live the Kisan – On Agriculture in India

As always, trying to bring to light some of the more…arcane aspects of the Indian economy. Today I will briefly attempt to make sense (very briefly, the original reports and tables alone run into 100’s of pages) of our Agricultural sector and link it to why the LAB bill is important for us as a nation.

Our landholding size has more or less remained static from 1970 onwards. It is around 140 Million HA. However our population has grown by close to 140% since then. We have gone from 70 lakh farmers to 140 lakh farmers in this same period. https://www.nabard.org/Publication/Rural_Pulse_final142014.pdf has dropped from 2.28 HA in 1970 to 1.16 HA in 2011.

  • 67% of these farmers are marginal farmers with less than 0.40 HA per holding. These farmers usually depend on wages and labour to make their earning.

Basic math – land remains the same, number of farmers has gone up means excessive parceling. This means smaller landholdings which means lesser income and consequently capital to mechanise our farmlands.

  1. India has about 90.2 Mn households (average household size in India is 4.5) or about 405 Mn Indians directly depend on agriculture for a living. You have another 40Mn living in rural areas who don’t depend on agriculture (small scale manufacturing, services etc). In totality you have about 130 Mn households in India directly OR indirectly dependant on agriculture. Or in number terms, 585 Mn people (around 50% of the population)
  2. An agricultural household was defined in the survey as a household receiving value of produce of more than Rs.3,000 from agriculture with at least one member self-employed in farming.
  3. Agriculture contributes only about 15% to the GDP – so you have a scenario where around 50% of the population (31% directly) contributing to about 15% of the GDP.
  4. UP has the highest number of households involved in agriculture (no brainer really, given it is also our most populous state). UP alone has 81 Mn people directly dependent on farming. UP’s average landholding size is an abysmal 0.75 HA on average.
  5. 45% of the farmers are from OBC communities while another 29% are from SC / ST communities. As per the Sachar report, SC / ST are amongst our poorest subsets and a large number of them are in agriculture.
  6. The majority of the farmers had a landholding size of 0.40 HA. Indian average is 1.16 HA.

To put things into perspective, the http://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/industrial-agriculture-and-small-scale-farming.html

  • USA is 174 HA
  • Latin America is 111.7 HA
  • Sub Saharan Africa is 2.4 HA

Our average landholding size is 60% of Sub Saharan Africa’s and this is very important later on in the write up.

  • 52% of all farmer households are indebted
  • Interestingly, states like AP (92%) and TN 82.5%) had the highest levels of debt, but some (like TN) don’t report high levels of suicide
  • Crop insurance was and is almost unheard of.
  1. Average monthly income per agricultural household was Rs.6,426. This translates into an annual income of Rs 77,112 for a family of 4.5. Or in other words, each family member gets Rs 1,428 to account for ALL their needs (food, clothing, medicine, education) Just read this again to truly understand how desperately poor we are as a nation and how worse off our Farmers are.
  2. Farm business accounted for 60% of the average monthly income per agricultural household,Income from wages and salary accounted for nearly 32% of the average monthly income. This is again a scary data point. The average farmer is able to generate only Rs 3,855 a month from farming and need to supplement these wages with daily wages (thank you MNREGA – a good scheme if any, just needs better implementation).
  • This is visible in how the number of cultivators to labourers ratio has changed drastically in India.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/how-many-farmers-does-india-really-have/article1-1250762.aspx

  • In 1961, India had 52.8 of its farmers as cultivators and 16.7% as labourers. Thanks to land fragmentation and falling productivity (see above for numbers), in 2011, cultivators are only 24.6% while labourers are 30%
  • India has in the last decade also seen a historic shift. The number of jobs added in agriculture fell by about 2.5 crore jobs, these jobs saw an increase in the manufacturing (mostly construction) sector. So clearly, migration to cities has begun enmasse and will only pick up pace.
  • All these structural problems are manifest in our per HA productivity – India’s per HA cereal productivity is below the global average at 2,962 in 2013. To put things into perspective, Cambodia is at 3,110. Ivory Coast (ravaged by civil war till a decade ago) is at 3,125. Brazil is at 4,800. China is at near double – 5,800.

Why is farm productivity important? http://www.oxfam.ca/sites/default/files/00944-OXF-WWFE-report-for-web.pdf

  1. A 10 percent increase in crop yields leads to a reduction of between 6 percent and 10 percent of people living on less than US$ 1 a day.
  2. The average real income of small farmers in South India rose by 90 percent, and that of landless labourers by 125 percent, between 1973 and 1994 as a result of the Green Revolution.
  3. A 1 percent increase in agricultural GDP per capita led to a 1.61 per cent gain in the per capita incomes of the lowest fifth of the population in 35 countries.
  4. A 1 percent increase in labour productivity in agriculture reduced the number of people living on less than US$ 1 a day by between 0.6 and 1.2 per cent

How does one increase farm productivity and why is the MSP methodology – of just increasing MSP like the UPA did wrong.

The UPA approach and indeed the Congress approach to rural distress is simple. Subsidies, subsidies and more subsidies.

Some like MNREGA are very good schemes (with horrible execution) while others like the Loan waiver or MSP increase are just terrible.

The UPA way (leaving out the legacy Congress of before) was to simply throw more money at farmers via the MSP. Rahul in his recent ‘Rahul Roar’ speech used this as a boast “UPA increased MSP from 500 to 1,400” as though it is THE only way of helping farmers and farm productivity while in reality it does nothing to help boost farm productivity.

From 2004-2014, the average rate of increase for MSP was 14%. All this did (along with MNREGA and other subsidy programs) was fuel inflation which peaked in 2012-2014 (and wiped out the Congress electorally). The NDA era saw an annual increase of 4%. NDA II seems to be following in NDA’s footsteps.

It is estimated that for every 10% increase in MSP, there is a 3.3% increase in food basket inflation. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/puzzle-of-high-cpi-inflation/1198609/0

Going back to our NSSO survey, the agricultural household spends on average 50% of its income (of Rs 6,400) on food. When food costs increase by 30-40% over 2 years, it puts your household budget completely out of whack.

Link this to landholding sizes now and marginal farmers, their increased income gets near wiped out by the inflation while only those with a sizeable farm size benefit. However considering the MAJORITY are small landholders and 60% of this lot are marginal farmers (with 0.4HA and less) it means the majority of farmers are actually hurt by an MSP increase. It gets really bad for the marginal farmers who (as explained above) depend only on wages and labour to survive. They don’t get a 10% annual increment on wages but their food bills go up by ~ 5% a year.

There is another nasty side effect to the MSP driven approach. It prices out the free market and the govt becomes the largest procurer of food grains. This resulted in lakhs of tons of food grains rotting in FCI godowns necessitating an http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-it-s-an-order-not-a-suggestion-supreme-court-raps-sharad-pawar-on-food-grain-1431813 http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/foodgrains-rot-in-india-godown-no-space-to-store-bumper-crop/1/142399.html to release these food grains.

You have a situation where food prices are going up, supply is drying up leading to a further price rise leading to the MSP going up. This circle is what truly destroyed the UPA electorally as by 2014 and 8 cycles of this meant that our truly poor were being priced out of the food market.

The reason why MSP is not the way should be clear by now. There is another reason and it is basic economics. When your landholdings are static, and your output is more or less static (it can only go down and not up), increasing MSP is only going to increase farmer income marginally. What is truly needed is to increase output per HA. What are some ways of doing this.

  • Collectivisation – This is a touchy subject, and history tells us it fails more often than not. Russia, Vietnam are all examples of how miserably this failed. Yet, China tells us this is very possible and can reap (forgive the pun) an amazing harvest (I am referring to the Post Deng reforms, not the disaster of Mao’s GLP), This should give you some details on how China reformed her http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/09/30/jxb.err248.full. Not going into it as it is out of scope for our discussion.
  • Land consolidation and allowing a free hand to market forces via Land reform (not the current LAB) – Allow farmers to freely lease their land and extract rent from it. Let in private players into this sector, grant free (or lowest interest rate) credit, all actions to be taken to improve average land holding size
  • Improve mechanisation (or collective mechanisation)

This is where the LAB comes into play – it will allow this smaller parcels to be consolidated into larger chunks and manufacturing can absorb the already very poor at decent wages. The need of the hour is to improve our farmer productivity by encouraging the truly marginal (who anyways make no money from farming but form 60% of our total base) farmers to make the jump to planned industrialization.

As always, open to feedback – I have attempted a heavy subject and the pacing / structure might be out of whack, so ideas welcome.

Edit – Sources

  1. (http://mospi.nic.in/mospi_new/upload/KI_70_33_19dec14.pdf?bcsi_scan_70ca681ff4cc8034=0&bcsi_scan_filename=KI_70_33_19dec14.pdf)
  2. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.YLD.CREL.KG?order=wbapi_data_value_2013+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=asc
  3. http://www.oxfam.ca/sites/default/files/00944-OXF-WWFE-report-for-web.pdf
  4. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-06-26/news/50884724_1_msp-paddy-quintal-bonus
  5. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/how-many-farmers-does-india-really-have/article1-1250762.aspx

I have also linked some other sources as and when I needed them in the main body of the post.

Please do provide feedback, I will certainly incorporate it into my next blog

India’s Greatest Moment – The 1971 victory in East Pakistan

The Indian victory against Pakistan in 1971 was one of the greatest examples of operational art and the largest combined arms operation after World War 2. It was a masterpiece of Political objective, Strategic vision, operational planning and tactical execution.
It is important to understand why it was seen as such a great victory.First the basics,

Warfare is usually divided into Positional attrition warfare (think World War 1, Iran-Iraq war or even the India-China war / India-Pakistan war of 1965) or maneuver driven situational warfare. The concept of maneuver warfare was propounded (at around the same time) by various European warfare experts, B.H.Liddel Hart (England) and Mikail Tucahavesky (shot dead by Stalin, and one of THE finest military minds the world has ever seen) was it’s greatest exponent. His theory was, Attack on a broad front > use air superiority and artillery to make holes in the enemy line > Use this penetration to feed in highly mobile troops who would use maneuver to keep the enemy off balance.

Positional warfare suggests that you can win a war only by crushing the enemies main point of defense (mostly frontally – the British were a firm believer in this theory) while indirect / maneuver warfare suggests that you avoid the strong points, and hit the vulnerable rear of the enemy, keep him off balance, deny him his Comand Control Interface structure and win the war by using terrain and encirclement (read up on the battles of Cannae or Kharkov / Smolensk for examples of encirclement warfare) .
India which had favoured positional in all it’s wars till then used the second theory to great effect.
The Planning
In March 1971, Indira Gandhi came back to power with a resounding mandate, and was faced with an immediate crisis! The Bangladeshi refugee problem. A genocide in East Pakistan (estimated deaths vary from 3 million to 4 million) was pushing a massive amount of refugees into India. Her cabinet (especially Defence minister Jagjivan Ram) favoured immediate invasion to settle this crisis and to discuss this, she summoned the CoAS – Sam ‘Bahadur’ Manekshaw.

In a very interesting and stormy meeting, she told him to prepare for an invasion of East Pakistan. Sam Bahadur point blank refused to entertain this and offered to resign straight away. Indira who was used to getting her way, did not like this resistance but asked her advisors to leave the room and had Manekshaw speak his mind freely. He laid down three reasons why he preferred an invasion in the closing months of the year. In this he was going against both Jagjivan Ram and Indira Gandhi and he was aware of this, but he refused to be a party to a botched up invasion.

  • The Passes with China would be closed because of snow, making it difficult for the Chinese to intervene. In June (when Indira was asking him to invade) the passes would be clear and would need a diversion of efforts to defend these.
  • Monsoon (in this he was proven very right) and the resulting quagmire. The Russian word for it was called “Raptistuta” and means a sea of mud! Mud is the worst enemy for movement (even hard snow can be managed) as it stalls movement to a very low speed. Monsoon would also mean rivers would be in spate so bridging & fording them would be eminently more challenging. August that year saw the worst tropical storm on record till date. It inundated whole parts of Bangladesh and killed half a million Bangladeshi’s.
  • The last was building up a strong and valid cassus belli (cause for war). If India was seen as the aggressor, sanctions would cripple an already crippled economy. It needed to make a case for itself. In the mean time it could use the Bangladeshi govt in exile (based in Calcutta) and the newly created Mutki Bahini to drum up support for itself.

Indira Gandhi agreed to his conditions and set about on a whirlwind tour of diplomacy. She went to Moscow, US, UK & France. She told the governments there that the situation was untenable, but Pakistan was a strong member of the SEATO and CENTO so the western democracies (in a blatant case of hypocrisy) stood by idly while a massive genocide was being perpetrated. Only the USSR recognized the problem, and shipped arms & ammunitions to India to build up her stockpile. India also signed a 20 year treaty of friendship and mutual assistance (this was to prevent any actions by the NATO / US / China)
Mankeshaw then went to work. He created a JIC (IB+RAW+Military intelligence) and a Joint Planning Command (India did not and still does not have a Combined Chief of Staffs like other nations do) to bring the civilians, army, navy and airforce together in the planning. Overall command was given to Lt Gen J.S.Arora who was CiC of the Eastern Command.
Order Of Battle
The OOB was as follows, Eastern Command > 3 Army Corps (2nd, 33rd and 4th) > 5 Infantry divisions + 2 Mountain that were on defensive mode. Attached to the infantry divs we had the equivalent of 1 armored division (broken up into regiments).  Pakistan had roughly 3 Infantry divs and 2 divisions worth of paramilitary and a brigade of armour.
The odds were roughly 2:1 favouring India (conventionally 4:1 was recommended, 3:1 was the bare minimum). In the air India had total supremacy in the east(which was vital) and marginal superiority in the west.
The Mukti Bahini had roughly 60,000 numbers of irregulars. They played the exact same role the French partisans played in WW2 after Normandy. During the war, the Mukti Bahini contributed to the speed of advance of the Indians by providing ready labor and intelligence on the deployment of Pakistani forces. The MB sabotaged Pakistani lines of communication, they struck at weak points (in the rear) with brigade sized forces and caused the Pakistani defence to spread itself thin.
The Indian Plan

It was multi layered in it’s approach. Attack in depth to force the Pakistanis to thin themselves out, Cutoff river crossings (to prevent reinforcements and retreat from reaching the Pakistani troops) and finally capture the two key ports in Bangladesh.

There was one major element of genius provided by J.S.Arora. He changed the Schwerpunkt from the logical south to the more difficult east. The South had it’s base in Bengal, had access to major railway lines and depots and Lt Gen Niazi (Pakistani commander) anticipated the main focus (Schwerpunkt) to be in this sector and aligned his defences accordingly. The East had everything going against it. The main base was inn Tripura, supply / logistics chains had immense difficulties but it was also the closest route to Dhaka.

J.S Arora allocated the strongest force to the East and the weakest force to the South (the exact opposite of the Pakistani defensive alignment). This has it’s roots in classical warfare including WW2 and the battle of Cannae (which was positional warfare for it’s time). Operation Barbarossa focused it’s Schwerpunkt in the Centre and North while Stavka (Soviet high command aka Stalin) anticipated the key thrust in the South. The German approach to indirect warfare surprised the Russians and caused them a massive loss in men, space and equipment.
The Pakistani Plan

Counter offensive in the West and a tiered defense in the East using river lines and cities as strong points (very similar in concept to the Russian defense in WW2 – use river lines and force attritional warfare on the invader. Retreat to city holdfasts and engage troops in urban warfare. Hold out and delay the offensive till such time the UN forced a cease fire (like it had done in the Israeli wars).

In Bangladesh, Niazi proposed retreating to just outside Dhaka and holding a region around Dhaka (using river lines and Dhaka as a central pivot). The Pakistani establishment rejected this. Once again we have parallels in World War 2. Poland had the option to withdraw it’s forces to the Vistula line, use Warsaw as a pivot and defend a limited area, both these sound ideas were rejected because…”Nationalism”! Not one inch of land would be surrendered etc etc. Niazi went for (as the Indian side had hoped) the WW2 Russian strategy of defending some fortified towns (or as Hitler called them – Festungs) and river lines (bridges).

The idea was to cut down on the Indian freedom of movement by forcing them to engage in urban warfare. They did make a fatal flaw in their planning. They assumed that India would fight 10 different “Stalingrads”, and never reach Dhaka so they never allocated troops to defend Dhaka (the same mistake Hitler made in WW2 with respect to the defence of Berlin)
The War

  • 3rd December, Operation Chingis goes in. Pakistan launches a preemptive strike on Indian airfields (in the West). The IAF fights a holding campaign before launching a massive bombardment operation the next morning. In the East, elements of 33 Corps go into action, their objective is to take a vital railway junction. Hilli however was one of the first echelons of Pakistan’s defenses and was very well prepared and supplied. The battle quickly became a battle of attritional warfare, however 340 Brigade spotted an opening in the flank and in a very German Blitzkrieg type of operation, formed combat groups (on the spot) of tanks and infantry and exploited the gap, and these combat groups raced to the river lines that Pakistan had intended to use as defensive strongpoints. Faced with Indians in the rear and forward of them, the resistance quickly collapsed.
  • In the South, using maneuver warfare (as against to positional warfare used by 33 Corp) 2 Corps makes rapid progress, 2 Corps launches a pincer attack using two infantry divisions to envelop Pakistani defences. They keep pushing on towards their target without giving the defenders time to rest and redraw their defensive lines. 2 Corps used the classic maneuver tactics used by Germany in WW2, Israel in the Sinai. They ignored strong points while rushing the rear of the enemy lines (the OMG of Russian doctrine came into play). The infantry pushed on into Pakistani frontline positions who attempted to withdraw to prepared lines only to find them occupied by Indian troops. Defense spectacularly collapsed in this sector.
  • In the East, 4 Corps (the largest Indian grouping with 3 divisions) and a bold leader pretty much repeated what 2 Corps did. The CO (Lt Gen Sagat Singh) used the Russian concept of Maskirovka and set up a feint attack towards Chittagong, this drew Pakistani defenders (already facing 3:1 odds) to Chittagong weakening their centre. Here we come across a massive feat of arms – Airlifting of 2 entire combat equipped brigades. Rather than contest the Meghna river bridges, Singh sidestepped the exceedingly strong Pakistani defences by getting 2 brigades airlifted and dropped across the river (right into Pakistani lines). The eastern sector was decided as the Schwerpunkt (the focus point of the offensive) and it showed. The Indian troops rapidly outflanked prepared Pakistani positions, artillery was used to bombard these pockets into submission, the IAF flew CAS (Combat Air Support) / Interdiction missions all of which freed the infantry and armour to keep moving. This was classic Blitzkrieg minus only the Stuka sirens.

The Pakistani forces were in headlong retreat towards Dhaka and this posed a big problem. If they gained the Dhaka region, they could organize a very stubborn defense which would cost 1000’s of Indian lives to capture. To prevent this, 2 Para was dropped BEHIND enemy lines into the region of Tangail. They were very less in number, and if the Pakistanis had grouped up and attempted to fight their way through, 4 Para could have been decimated, but thanks to the Indian Blitzkrieg tactic, the Pakistani C&C set up was decimated and they could not mount a cohesive response. After the drop, the demoralization (and destruction) of organized resistance was complete.
Psychops
The Pakistani resistance still numbered in the 1,00,000 and pockets could take a lot of Indian lives to break, so India went on a pysop campaign. Pakistani wirless networks were spammed with “surrender and live” messages (India had cracked the cipher used in East Pakistan before the war itself), Sam Bahadur himself went on air and told Pakistanis that if they surrendered they would be treated honourably, and this cracked any vestige of resistance. Pakistani soldiers began surrendering to the Indian army in droves. Niazi signed the instrument of surrender (a bitter man) on 16th December and went into captivity, along with him 91,000 Pakistani troops also went into captivity.

Sources

  • Maj Gen D.K Palit’s Lightning Campaign. His, War in the High Himalayas is also a very interesting book
  • The Liberation by Subramaniam
  • Slender was the thread by J.S.Sen
  • Memoirs of J.S Arora

What makes the Superstar, the Superstar

You must remember one (or know) one thing, as far as mega popularity goes, Rajnikanth is not a patch on that legend called MGR. MGR could win nay, sweep elections while lying comatose in a hospital in the US. On his death (or falling ill) dozens of crazy fans immolated themselves, and the state came to a dead halt the day he died – I remember it well, no milk, no essential supplies, nothing.

That prelude was to tell you that Tamil Cinema (and Telugu Cinema – the only guy to match the mass hysteria MGR achieved was NTR). Deification of cine stars is a very Tamil / Telugu trait. Even today stars like Ajith are idolised so much that the whole “Bhai cult” seems like a minor infatuation.

All that said, there have been only 2 stars who have reached the fandom heights Rajini has, and one is him, the other is MGR…so why Rajini?

During the late 70’s, early 80’s Rajini was tinkering with a template. He was (not consciously) trying to take over MGR’s mantle. The mantle of the “every man” rising from humble roots to superstardom in every single movie. MGR played only “humble characters” like a Rickshawallah (he had targeted this segment long before Kejriwal got out of his diapers) who rose to fame and fortune.

To understand this better you need to know a very rough history of Tamil Cinema. Tamil Cinema was dominated by Brahmins – Brahmin director, Brahmin producers, Brahmin actors, Brahmin everybody – from the time Tamil cinema was formed till the 50’s. The industry usually churned out apolitical movies spanning a wide spectrum of interests. Starting the 50’s the Dravidian movement started using this space to churn out political potboilers that spoke about oppression, revolution etc. Karunanidhi (a CM of the state) used to write powerful scripts in which his best buddy MGR used to star in. This partnership worked very well for a long time till they had a fall out (Offtopic here). The political themes however continued well into the late 60’s, early 70’s which is when the Dravidian stranglehold started to loosen up.

In this space, came a wave of avant garde directors & actors who started making some non political but heavy themed (serial killers, polygamy etc) movies. You had directors like Bharatiraja, Balachandar, actors like Kamal leading a wave of “hatke movies”. It was in this time period we see the rise of Rajini. Just to give you an idea of the “hatkeness” of the movies in this period. Rajini’s debut movie – Apoorva Ragangal has Kamal in the lead role, and Kamal’s father falling in love with Kamal’s daugher (Grandfather having a relationship with his own grand child). Such themes you would be hard pressed to find even today.

Till the early 80’s, Rajini played a second hero or villain in his movies, but he slowly started taking over the mantle of MGR in a formula he was perfecting and one he would use for 3 decades.

He became the everyman. His origins were known to all in cine crazy TN, so his acceptability was already high, and he played on this further. His formula was always,

  • Very poor guy, humble origins > Betrayed by rich / powerful people > Using his raw talent, he becomes richer / more powerful than those who insulted / abused him.

In his journey to being rich one (or origins) one would see the OTT shit.

This…resonated with the cine going masses of TN. Here was a poor guy, able to and willing to fight the good fight, one who was able to overturn the system and become a law giver himself. Now there was nothing to set him apart from the others who started copying him, but for his OTT stuff. What had started as a lark in his earlier movies now became his signature.

By the early 90’s he was THE Star in the industry, and started churning out one hit after another – all following the exact same theme.

  • Baasha (his biggest hit), Auto Driver / Mafia Don
  • Annamalai, Milkman / Billionaire
  • Padayappa, Rich feudal landlord, becomes poor thanks to treachery, becomes rich again
  • Arunachalam, poor guy (forget his career in the movie), becomes extraordinarily rich by the end.
  • Muthu – Poor guy, but secret heir to a massive fortune…

As you can see the pattern here, it is always Poor Guy > becomes Rich or Rich Guy > Becomes Poor > Becomes Rich again.

Outside of the movies he began to work on his persona. Early days he was known to have a lot of bad traits but by the mid 80’s, early 90’s he cleaned up his act (at least publicly) and became an every man off-screen also. In a way, I think he is very different, he has never hankered after power for instance. In the 90’s after MGR’s death and with Jaya being weak, he could have easily captured the CM’s post, but he gave it up inexplicably. But stuff like this made him into a legend amongst his fans. His off screen persona is still very powerful – he appears in a disheveled, simple manner, and when asked about it, says “this is the real me, the movie me is fake, fans can accept me as I am or not”, he does not play politics, he has REFUSED to use his power / charisma to help his son in law Dhanush (urban legend says that it was one of the first things he told his prospective sil – that you may not use my name to further your career). All this only adds to his mystique and pull.

It is a sad thing though because Rajini the actor is quite a capable one, but his fans are brutal and unforgiving. Any “hatke” movie he has made like Raghavendra or even that piece of shit movie Baba, his fans have thrashed it. Rajini being Rajini, he would either make good the losses distributors faced or like in the case of Baba, vow to make a commercial movie that would make these people very rich and be true to his word (Chandramukhi followed Baba).

When you go see a Rajini movie in Albert theater, First Day First Show, you will understand the crazy mania he engenders in his fans.

It is important to understand that in Tamil Nadu stars leave behind their original identity and become wholly and fully their present identity as the past always has baggage.

Let me elaborate on this a bit. Take Jayalalitha, a Kannadiga Brahmin from Mangalore – If one looked at her original identity, she will not even win 3 votes in an election. Brahmins & Kannadigas (even a Tamil from Karnataka) are like a double whammy for anybody’s political future in this state. It is like a…Pakistani Muslim trying to be PM of India. What has she done? Become Amma. She is Amma, she is NOT Jayalalitha. She transcends all (her origins I mean) and in a way she is a formless entity as the moment she takes form, her political future will end.

Likewise Rajini. Rajini is Rajini, he is not Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. The only thing from his origin that is left is his roots as a conductor. It is important, indeed very crucial to understand him.

5 Ugly Realities of an Indian in America

# 4 – There are some pretty Bizarre rules

When I first heard that I was visiting America, the land of the free, the land of the brave, I was excited. I was super excited. I was more excited at this thought than I was when I first saw boobs in a shady theatre filming the movie called “Night Club”. I landed in La Guardia and met my host family and straight out came a list of rules. Some were common sense, but others were baffling. I was told that I was not to make eye contact for longer than 5 seconds with a black person (they are apparently called thugs who are apparently into something called thuglyfe), white person (cops), Hispanic (drug dealers from some place called Juarez Cartel) or Asians. This could be seen as an invitation for them to either blow my brains away – America has a higher guns to person ratio than chopsticks to person ratio in China
So I walk around, and am paranoid at not making eye contact for more than 5 seconds, I was half expecting my brains to be brain soup every time I felt I had crossed the magical 5 second mark. I shuffled my eyes so much that I think I was beginning to get cross eyed.
And the rules continue, don’t be a brown person in an airport, don’t walk around the city with money or any sort of wealth on display, don’t ever talk back to a police officer, unless you want to spend your vacation in braces in a hospital that is…so funny right?

# 2 – The Sizes, everything is vast to this tiny brown person

Given that Americans are as obese as Adnan Sami before his surgery and then some, I found this baffling. Coffee cups weren’t cups, but barrels. Their burgers are the size of the average Indian car, and their cars are the size of an average Indian bus. Walking down the aisle in this store called Walmart, I was almost run over by monstrous trucks that were dressed like wheelchairs. Piloting these Jaegers were gigantic beings with little regard for the tiny brown Indian scurrying before their machines. They are also forever eating, one hand is clutching this gigantic sandwich mountain called a burger, the other is slurping on something called cola – about 4 litres of it, while on their ample gut they manage to balance plate of Spaghetti Bolognese. Just one hand could literally feed a poor starving Indian village for a month.

# 3 – You have to have a layer of white skin on you, or else you risk being shot, your spine broken, mugged and everything else in between

So yeah, the American police are not police, but as heavily armed and outfitted as the average trooper from Starship troopers. They have these amazing electricity bursting thingies called Tazers which they use at will, or batons which they will use to, to use an American phrase “bust a cap” (I think) or just outright shoot you. You could just be a poor brown guy walking about in a lily white suburban neighbourhood, weigh in at about 70 lbs and no threat to a scrawny kitten, but no matter, this gigantic 800 lb gorilla will deem you a threat, WWF slam you to the ground and bust your spine. He will also mostly get off with a gentle slap on the wrist. You could be a tiny Asian woman out doing your own [thang]( http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/2-Shot-in-Case-of-Mistaken-ID-in-Ex-Officers-Manhunt-190238221.html) and you could still get shot. Hell, even if you are a 12 year old, doing your thing which is waving around a toy gun, imaginging yourself to be Rambo / Sunny Deol / Jet Li and you will still get shot. The rule to never stare a cop for more than 1 second now makes eminent sense. Heck, if I see a cop, I am going to start running and hope they won’t shoot me.

# 5 – The crazy quest for Oil

As a traditional, chammathu (good boy) Tamil person, I have a daily routine. I wake up, dip my head in 100 litres of parachute oil. Now, I have been doing this for decades, and continued the practice in NY. Big mistake. I walk out of my house, oily head shining in all its glory when all of a sudden 10 vans screeched around me. I was lifed and taken to something called a “black bag house”, my father was disappointed and asked me, “why not brown bag house”? No matter, I was then inspected and a lot of senior officials kept speaking about “liberating me”, “bringing me freedom” all the while eating on something they called Freedom fries. After 48 hours of this inspection, and after all the oil in my head had been wrung out, they let me go, asking me to thank them for bringing me freedom. I thanked them, made no eye contact and got the fuck out. I have this eerie feeling that I am being watched by this plane like thingy in the air which is constantly following me.

# 1 – Americans are dumb and can’t do math.
Now I understand all Americans are not this way…fill in the rest with enough politically correct BS to make up for the shit I wrote above.

The Kisan is dead, long live the Kisan – On the sorry state of Indian Agriculture and the politics around it

As always, trying to bring to light some of the more…arcane aspects of the Indian economy. Today I will briefly attempt to make sense very briefly albeit of our Agricultural sector and link it to why the LAB bill is important for us as a nation.

Our landholding size has more or less remained static from 1970 onwards. It is around 140 Million HA. However our population has grown by close to 140% since then. We have gone from 70 lakh farmers to 140 lakh farmers in this same period. The per HA size has dropped from 2.28 HA in 1970 to 1.16 HA in 2011.

  • 67% of these farmers are marginal farmers with less than 0.40 HA per holding. These farmers usually depend on wages and labour to make their earning.

Basic math – land remains the same, number of farmers has gone up means excessive parceling. This means smaller landholdings which means lesser income and consequently capital to mechanise our farmlands.

  • India has about 90.2 Mn households (average household size in India is 4.5) or about 405 Mn Indians directly depend on agriculture for a living. You have another 40Mn living in rural areas who don’t depend on agriculture (small scale manufacturing, services etc). In totality you have about 130 Mn households in India directly OR indirectly dependant on agriculture. Or in number terms, 585 Mn people (around 50% of the population)
  • *An agricultural household was defined in the survey as a household receiving value of produce of more than Rs.3,000 from agriculture with at least one member self-employed in farming.
  • Agriculture contributes only about 15% to the GDP – so you have a scenario where around 50% of the population (31% directly) contributing to about 15% of the GDP.
  • UP has the highest number of households involved in agriculture (no brainer really, given it is also our most populous state). UP alone has 81 Mn people directly dependent on farming. UP’s average landholding size is an abysmal 0.75 HA on average.
  • 45% of the farmers are from OBC communities while another 29% are from SC / ST communities. As per the Sachar report, SC / ST are amongst our poorest subsets and a large number of them are in agriculture.
  • The majority of the farmers had a landholding size of 0.40 HA.

To put things into perspective, the average farm size in

* USA is 174 HA
* Latin America is 111.7 HA
* Sub Saharan Africa is 2.4 HA

Our average landholding size is 60% of Sub Saharan Africa’s.

Some more numbers

  •  52% of all farmer households are indebted. Interestingly, states like AP (92%) and TN 82.5%) had the highest levels of debt, but some (like TN) don’t report high levels of suicide
  •  Crop insurance was and is almost unheard of.
  • Average monthly income per agricultural household was Rs.6,426. This translates into an annual income of Rs 77,112 for a family of 4.5. Or in other words, each family member gets Rs 1,428 per month to account for ALL their needs (food, clothing, medicine, education) Just read this again to truly understand how desperately poor we are as a nation and how worse off our Farmers are.
  • Farm business accounted for 60% of the average monthly income per agricultural household,Income from wages and salary accounted for nearly 32% of the average monthly income. This is again a scary data point. The average farmer is able to generate only Rs 3,855 a month from farming and need to supplement these wages with daily wages (thank you MNREGA – a good scheme if any, just needs better implementation).

The effect of all this is in how the number of cultivators to labourers ratio has changed drastically in India.

In 1961, India had 52.8 of its farmers as cultivators and 16.7% as labourers. Thanks to land fragmentation and falling productivity (see above for numbers), in 2011, cultivators are only 24.6% while labourers are 30%

India has in the last decade also seen a historic shift. The number of jobs added in agriculture fell by about 2.5 crore jobs, these jobs saw an increase in the manufacturing (mostly construction) sector. So clearly, migration to cities has begun enmasse and will only pick up pace.

All these structural problems are manifest in our per HA productivity – India’s per HA cereal productivity is below the global average at 2,962 in 2013. To put things into perspective, Cambodia is at 3,110. Ivory Coast (ravaged by civil war till a decade ago) is at 3,125. Brazil is at 4,800. China is at near double – 5,800.

Why is farm productivity important?

  1.  A 10 percent increase in crop yields leads to a reduction of between 6 percent and 10 percent of people living on less than US$ 1 a day.
  2. The average real income of small farmers in South India rose by 90 percent, and that of landless labourers by 125 percent, between 1973 and 1994 as a result of the Green Revolution.
  3. A 1 percent increase in agricultural GDP per capita led to a 1.61 per cent gain in the per capita incomes of the lowest fifth of the population in 35 countries.
  4. A 1 percent increase in labour productivity in agriculture reduced the number of people living on less than US$ 1 a day by between 0.6 and 1.2 per cent

How does one increase farm productivity and why is the MSP methodology – of just increasing MSP like the UPA did wrong.

The UPA approach and indeed the Congress approach to rural distress is simple. Subsidies, subsidies and more subsidies.

Some like MNREGA are very good schemes (with horrible execution) while others like the Loan waiver or MSP increase are just terrible.

The UPA way and the Congress legacy from before was to simply throw more money at farmers via the MSP. Rahul in his recent ‘Rahul roar’ speech used this as a boast “UPA increased MSP from 500 to 1,400 as though it is THE only way of helping farmers and farm productivity while in reality it does nothing to help boost farm productivity.

Why is the MSP way disastrous to the farmer?

From 2004-2014, the average rate of increase for MSP was 14%. All this did (along with MNREGA and other subsidy programs) was fuel inflation which peaked in 2012-2014 (and wiped out the Congress electorally). The NDA era saw an annual increase of 4%. NDA II seems to be following in NDA’s footsteps.

It is estimated that for every 10% increase in MSP, there is a 3.3% increase in food basket inflation.

Going back to the NSSO survey, the agricultural household spends on average 50% of its income (of Rs 6,400) on food. When food costs increase by 30-40% over 2 years, it puts your household budget completely out of whack.

Link this to landholding sizes now and marginal farmers, their increased income gets near wiped out by the inflation while only those with a sizeable farm size benefit. However considering the MAJORITY are small landholders and 60% of this lot are marginal farmers (with 0.4HA and less) it means the majority of farmers are actually hurt by an MSP increase. It gets really bad for the marginal farmers who (as explained above) depend only on wages and labour to survive. They don’t get a 10% annual increment on wages but their food bills go up by ~ 5% a year.

There is another nasty side effect to the MSP driven approach. It prices out the free market and the govt becomes the largest procurer of food grains. This resulted in lakhs of tons of food grains rotting in FCI godowns necessitating an SC Order to release these food grains.

You have a situation where food prices are going up, supply is drying up leading to a further price rise leading to the MSP going up. This circle is what truly destroyed the UPA electorally as by 2014 and 8 cycles of this meant that our truly poor were being priced out of the food market.

The reason why MSP is not the way should be clear by now. There is another reason and it is basic economics. When your landholdings are static, and your output is more or less static (it can only go down and not up), increasing MSP is only going to increase farmer income marginally. What is truly needed is to increase output per HA. What are some ways of doing this.

Collectivisation – This is a touchy subject, and history tells us it fails more often than not. Russia, Vietnam are all examples of how miserably this failed. Yet, China tells us this is very possible and can reap (forgive the pun) an amazing harvest (I am referring to the Post Deng reforms, not the disaster of Mao’s GLP),

Land consolidation and allowing a free hand to market forces via Land reform (not the current LAB) – Allow farmers to freely lease their land and extract rent from it. Let in private players into this sector, grant free (or lowest interest rate) credit, all actions to be taken to improve average land holding size

Improve mechanisation (or collective mechanisation)

This is where the LAB comes into play – it will allow this smaller parcels to be consolidated into larger chunks and manufacturing can absorb the already very poor at decent wages. The need of the hour is to improve our farmer productivity by encouraging the truly marginal (who anyways make no money from farming but form 60% of our total base) farmers to make the jump to planned industrialization.

As always, open to feedback – I have attempted a heavy subject and the pacing / structure might be out of whack, so ideas welcome.