People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 14

April 12, 2009


Congress Stops Paying Even Lip Service To Land Reforms

By Political Commentator

IT was never a secret that the Congress has all along paid only lip service to the question of land reforms. This time however, even mere mention of land reforms has failed to make it to its 2009 election manifesto.

The freedom movement saw the Congress utilising the slogan of land reforms to rally the rural poor. However, its compromise with landlordism scuttled any attempt to initiate any semblance of land reforms. Successive governments headed by it ignored Plan documents and even recommendations by commissions like the Mandal Commission for carrying out land reforms. Even the recommendations made by its own Agrarian Reforms Committee headed by J C Kumarappa, were cast aside. The latest is the Swaminathan Commission recommendations. The hiatus between declarations and implementation is nowhere more glaring than on the question of land reforms.

The disappearance of land reforms from the Congress manifesto therefore is, however, not surprising. Given its obsession with the imperialist-driven neo-liberal economic agenda, such a thing was but natural.

Now let us look at the successive manifestos of the Congress party. In its 1998 election manifesto, it had stated:

"The Congress will continue to lay stress on land reforms to promote security of tenure to the tiller, land consolidation, distribution of surplus land and upgradation and maintenance of accurate land records. The Congress Party will take up the cause of land reforms once again, as it did before 1947 and in the early years following Independence."

In the elections held a year later, the Congress stated:

"The Congress will continue to lay great stress on land reforms, particularly in those states where it has been lagging, to promote security of tenure to the tiller, land consolidation, distribution of excess vacant land over and above prescribed ceilings, registration of all tenancies through Operation Barga-type campaigns and maintenance of up-to-date land records. The Congress will make land reforms an issue for mobilisation and campaign."

However, in the 2004 manifesto it claimed:

"The 1950s needed land reforms ....

"It is the Congress that abolished zamindari and ushered in land reforms. ...

"It will redouble its efforts to distribute surplus productive land to the landless....."

Making the dubious claim of abolishing zamindari system and implementing land reforms it was now left only with the task of distributing surplus land.

Now even that task seems to have been completed, or so it seems as far as the Congress is concerned. Even "distributing surplus land" has disappeared from the 2009 election manifesto.

Thus the ugly gap between rhetoric and practice has finally been discontinued.

Over the years there has been a distinct trend to reverse land reforms and undermine land ceiling laws. In fact landlessness has increased. As against the estimated 22 per cent of landless households in the NSS 40th round in 1992, the figure in 2002-03 in the NSS 59th round, had gone up to 32 per cent.

Land reforms or land for the tiller don't even impinge on the election rhetoric of the Congress party of today.

Contrast this to the record of the Left-led governments. Land reforms in Kerala broke the back of landlordism and abolished the janmi system. By 1993 it had conferred ownership rights/protection on 28 lakh tenants, and 6 lakh acres (2,42,812 ha) had accrued to tenants. The incumbent LDF government in Kerala has distributed 60,000 pattas to landless poor. About 12,000 acres of encroached land was taken over. Though West Bengal accounts for only 3.8 per cent of total agricultural land in India, more than half (54 per cent) of the total number of gainers from land distribution programmes in the entire country are in West Bengal. In Tripura, land rights of the tribals have been protected. The Left Front government has ensured that no evictions of tribals take place in the name of clearing "encroachment".