People's Democracy

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


No. 42

October 20, 2013




Mumbai University Hosts International Seminar on Agrarian Crisis


P R Krishnan


THE Kalina campus of the University of Mumbai was the venue for a three day international seminar on the theme of “Agrarian Relations, Peasant Movement and Rural Distress in Contemporary India”. The seminar, that took place on September 11, 12 and 13, 2013, was organised by the Civics and Politics Department of this premier university. The speakers included experts from different subjects, and they dealt with various aspects of the agrarian crisis and rural distress.




At the seminar, the resource persons were leading professors from different parts of India and abroad, belonging to various disciplines like sociology, political science, philosophy, psychology, economics, medicine, education etc. Apart from them, several research scholars, students, teachers, social and political activists, journalists and writers presented papers and participated in the seminar. Quite a few participants were political functionaries, peasant leaders and activists from the working class movement. The total number of participants was more than 250, including four foreign delegates. Of the latter, two were from Turkey and two from Ethiopia. In addition, the organising committee received abstracts of papers from scholars belonging to countries like UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Tanzania, China, Denmark etc. In all, the department had received 85 papers.


It is important to note that the subject selected for the seminar was not only so relevant to the present day Indian situation but also to the international scenario. It is particularly so in the context of the deepening crises on the economic, industrial and agricultural fronts due to the neo-liberal policies pursued by the Congress led UPA government. This is not to say that the policies adopted by the BJP led NDA government at the centre and in some states were anyway different from the one followed by the Congress.


The event became commendable, firstly, because it was organised by the university in the commercial capital of India which has become the most attractive centre for foreign and Indian investors and business tycoons following the commencement of the globalisation policies by the government of India in the early 1990s.




The first part of the three day seminar was inaugural session. The session started with a welcome address by Dr Jose George, professor and head of the Department of Civics and Politics. In his speech Dr Jose gave a brief outline of the theme of the seminar and welcomed the participants who came from all part of India and abroad.


The inaugural session was chaired by noted economist Dr Amiya Kumar Bagchi, emeritus professor in the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata. In his presidential address, Bagchi appreciated the initiative taken by the Department of Civics and Politics and the University of Mumbai in organising the international seminar on agrarian crisis which is a burning issue in the contemporary India.


Though Prakash Karat, the general secretary of the CPI(M), was scheduled agreed to inaugurate the international seminar, he could not reach Mumbai since he was indisposed. However, the organising committee took care to print Karat’s full paper in the abstracts volume and circulate the same among the participants. In addition, Karat’s paper was read out by Ravi Shukla, a research scholar with the Department of Civics and Politics.


In his paper, Karat pointed out that the neo-liberal policies adopted by the Congress lead UPA government have unpardonably neglected the agricultural front. Both the UPA governments as well as the BJP led government and the non-left state governments in the country have failed to implement the Swaminathan committee report on agrarian questions. This has resulted in more than 55 percent of the agricultural land and assets being grabbed by ten percent of the population.


The key note address in the seminar was by S Ramachandra Pillai, former president of the All India Kisan Sabha and Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M). In his paper, Ramachandran Pillai narrated how the peasantry is struggling for its survival. He pointed out that the policies dictated by the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO), and implemented by the union government and the non-Left governments in the states have wrought disastrous consequences on the agricultural front. Pillai put forward a nineteen point programme for united action to combat the crisis. 




Apart from the inaugural and valedictory, the international seminar covered the following academic sessions:


1) Agrarian situation, Crises and Movements: Historical Overview (chaired by Suneet Chopra)


2) Green Revolution: An Evaluation (chaired by Professor  Surendra Jondhale).


3) Climate Change, the Environmental Question and Modernisation of Agriculture (chaired by Professor T Jayaraman).


4) Penetration of Capitalism in Agriculture, Neo-liberalism and Changes in Agrarian structure and Polity (chaired by Professor Gautam Gawali).


5) Nature and Scope of Agrarian Crisis and Its Dimensions: Causes and Consequences (chaired by Professor Aruna Pendse).


6) A Critique of State Response to the Agrarian Crisis (chaired by Proessor Prabhat Datta).


7) Agrarian Movements: Challenges and Prospects: A Need for United Resistance (chaired by Professor Venkatesh Athreya).


The valedictory address was given by eminent economist Dr Prabhat Patnaik, emeritus professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University and former vice chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board. Touching upon and referring to the post-independence period of agrarian relations, Professor Prabhat Patnaik in his paper pointed out that “Agrarian question is part of a larger social matrix.” Patnaik emphasised the need of a united front of agricultural labour, peasants and the urban consumer to fight against the adverse effects of globalisation. Patnaik also responded to several questions raised by the participants. This session was chaired by Dr Naresh Chandra, pro-vice chancellor of the University of Mumbai. 


Apart from eminent professors like Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Gail Omvedt, Venkatesh Athreya, Prabhat Datta, T Jayaraman, R Ramakumar, C P Barthwal, Pramod Mishra, Sucharita Sen, Mohanan Pillai, Volkan Seysane, K Srinivasulu, P K Pokker, B S Waghmare, Jose George, R K Barik, E K Govinda Varma Raja,  R Vijay, peasants’ and agricultural workers’ leaders like Suneet Chopra, Ashok Dhawale, Bharat Patankar, P Krishna Prasad and Vijoo Krishnan etc also presented excellent papers and made meaningful interventions in this three day  international seminar. Dr Jose George, director of the seminar, thanked all the paper presenters, participants, funding agencies like the ICSSR and the University of Mumbai and all persons and students who put in all their efforts to make the international seminar a grand success.




While the recent international seminar dealt with such life and death issues as listed above, earlier too the Civics and Politics Department of the University of Mumbai had organised programmes on issues of deep social and political concern to the masses. So far the department have organised  (i) a lecture on “Parliamentary System in India” by Somanath Chatterjee, the then leader of CPI(M) group in Lok Sabha on September 26, 2002; (ii) an endowment lecture on the theme “Decentralized Planning: Experience and Lessons with Reference to Kerala” by Dr T M Thomas Isaac, former finance minister of Kerala, on  January 24, 2006; (iii) a series of lectures on “Developments in Latin America” delivered by eminent scholar, Professor Aijaz Ahmad, in January 2007; (iv) a national seminar on the theme  “Bhagat Singh and Beyond: Rethinking Radicalism in Indian Politics, Culture and Politics” on  March 28 and 29 2007; (v) a presentation  on “Inclusive Nationalism: An Enquiry into Indian Historical Experience” by eminent historian, Professor K N Panikkar; (vi) a national seminar on  the theme of “Working Class Movement in India: Past, Present and Future” on  September 24 and 25, 2009; (vii) a seminar on “Emerging Trends in Indian Politics and the Role of Dalits” addressed by Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Ambedkar on October 27, 2009; (viii) a lecture by Sitarm Yechury on July 5, 2012 on “Working Class Movement in  India,” etc. The papers presented in two of these seminars were later published with the title “Rethinking Radicalism in Indian Society: Bhagat Singh and Beyond” (2009) and “Working Class Movement in India in the Wake of Globalisation” (2012). As mentioned earlier, the initiatives taken by the department under the headship of Jose George is noteworthy in this context.