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Mainstream, VOL XLVIII, No 50, December 4, 2010

Karat’s ‘Poverty of Philosophy’ and Indian Left on the Kerala Scene

Sunday 12 December 2010, by K G Somasekharan Nair


While delivering the Victor Kiernan Memorial Lecture in Cambridge University on October 23, Mr Prakash Karat, General Secretary of the CPI-M, said: “Kiernan who lived in British India between 1938 and 1946 often criticised Communists for their lack of interest in theory.” Karat admitted this deficiency and quipped that the Left in India was still banking on the concepts and theories of the 1940s.

(New Indian Express, Thiruvananthapuram, October 24, 2010)

This author had ratiocinated that part of Karat’s speech about the observation of Kiernan in “Indian Communists versus Marxism-Leninism” published by Mainstream weekly, August 7-13, 2009. In his corrective statement on the speech at New Delhi after three days, Karat admitted his observation in innuendo and said that the CPI-M was updating the agenda of struggles organised by the CPI for land and land reforms in the 1940s. Those struggles had made martyrs in Telangana, Punnapra-Vayalar and North Malabar and these were then interpreted as struggles for a socialist revolution in India to establish socialism similar to that in the Soviet Union. After the irrational split of the CPI in 1964, Naxalites followed sanguinary struggles and now Maoists are executing the communist agenda of the 1940s in association with the Dalit fanatics and proselytisation mafia.

After the unification of the Kerala State in 1956, the political energy consolidated by the struggles of the CPI in the 1940s elevated the Communist Party to power in the general election of 1957. Being the first Communist State Government in India, it was bound to go ahead with the agenda of struggles of the 1940s for land reforms legally and democratically. In this context Karat and his party as well as progressive thinkers may kindly look into the after-effects of the Kerala Land Reforms Act which has legalised the totality of their class struggles. The Communist Parties, Left, Right and minor chips, are claiming that the Kerala Land Reforms Act is the mother of all land reforms in India, the results of Kerala’s land reforms constitute the path for the India of tomorrow. They also claim that the Act swept away feudalism from Kerala. However, they seem to be oblivious of a historical truth: in any territory of India since the unknown past to modern times, there was no feudalism except some attempts made by Governor General Cornwallis starting with the Zamindary system in Bengal.

Kerala is small State having only 1.8 per cent of the total area of India. It is 38,863 square kilometres with about 600 kilometres length, north-south. The maximum breadth comes about 70 kilometres and the population is 3.2 crores out of which about 50 lakhs are non-resident Keralites. About 30 per cent of the total land comprises reserved forests in the Western Ghats. The State has 42 rivers originating therefrom and flowing into the Arabian Sea. All those rivers have innumerable tributaries and branches. All tributaries are enriching rivers with six months of heavy monsoon and three months of intermittent but strong summer rain. The middle lands have plenteous distribution of hills which are a good storage of rainwater. Thousands of brooklets and streams emerging from those hills are also strengthening the rivers. Thus every corner and hilltop of Kerala gets rich and pure water irrespective of season, unlike the other States in India. This boon of nature was utilised by the Keralites traditionally for double-crop paddy cultivation in marshes between the middle-land hills. Similarly countless flood plains, linked to all river basins by means of natural canals, have stagnant water throughout the six months of monsoon. In summer, the water drains out to rivers leaving thick layers of sedimentary silt that make the soil highly fertile for single-crop paddy cultivation. The yield in single crop is almost equivalent to that in double crop with lesser investment. Keralites are using rice having brown bran as food thrice a day in various delicious forms as well as for grand feasts traditionally, due to the easy cultivation of paddy.

All single-and double-crop paddy fields are naturally wetlands and rarely need manual irrigation using traditional wooden wheels. Before independence itself artificial irrigation projects had been started at the government level on realisation that Keralites cannot live without rice. After independence also that process continued and now this small State has 14 major irrigation projects with strong dams, vast reservoirs and long multibranched canals, having invested thousands of crores. For managing scientific distribution of irrigated water, the State has a Command Area Development Authority. Besides, more than two thousand minor irrigation schemes are also functioning. The influx of brine into paddy fields in the coastal areas is prevented by high-cost arrangements like bunds, floodgates and spillways. Fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides, manufactured by big public sector undertakings, are distributed to farmers at the lowest possible rate.

In order to conduct research for developing new breeds of high-yielding paddy seeds, the State has a vast agricultural university, agri-cultural colleges and so many paddy research centres. The Agriculture Department of the State extends its services to all remote villages through agricultural graduates and assistants to provide scientific instruction and training to agricultur-ists in the modern system of farming as well as monetary relief during floods or drought. They supply new seeds and fertilisers at subsidised rates together with assistance for soil convervation. Almost all banks in public and private sectors, branched throughout the State, give loans for the needy farmers on amicable conditions. In addition, co-operative societies and banks, organised and governed by the agriculturists themselves, are functioning even in remote villages under the control of the Co-operative Department.

Political parties in power, irrespective of their flags, are always vigilant to write-off agricultural debts then and there. In order to oversee and supervise the works of these scientists, technocrats, co-operationists and bureaucrats, all departments have three senior government Secretaries and they are co-ordinated by an Agricultural Production Commissioner of the rank of Chief Secretary. Three Ministers are working for Agriculture, Irrigation and Co-operation Departments untiringly for political control over the bureaucrats. Leaving behind Tanjore, the rice bowl of India, Kerala is equipped with agricultural preparedness to feed ten per cent of Indians at least.

Despite all the grand agricultural readiness, paddy field owners, both large-scale and small-scale, started to abandon high-yielding paddy fields which lie uncultivated since the 1980s. That process continues to this day. Before that, Kerala had paddy cultivation in 12.5 lakh hectares. But now it has been reduced to less than two lakh hectares. Landowners, vexed with spending money for payment of land revenue to the government for non-cultivating paddy fields, began to fill these using the soil by razing the middle-land hills, the rich storage of rain water. They converted wetland to dryland and are using for it for the cultivation of rubber, coconut trees, plantain, pineapple and such other profitable items disregarding the government’s prohibition. Almost all the new bus-stands, markets, playgrounds, shopping complexes and residential buildings are built over the soiled rice bowl. Paddy fields, specially single crop, which cannot be filled profitably became unauthorised dumping yards for waste thrown out of hotels, markets and butcheries. Degene-rating wastes became incubators of all irreme-diable and deadly Euro-American flus.

The BJP Government at the Centre, headed by Vajpayee, banned the killing of aggressive stray dogs, and the waste in the deserted rice bowl became the breeding centres of a large number of rabietic dogs, a real threat to Keralites. The BJP’s explanation for it was that they were fulfilling the main agenda in their Election Manifesto, that is, prohibition of cow-slaughter. Cow has four legs, milk and tail, dog has four legs, milk and tail; so prohibition of tike-killing is equivalent to prohibition of cow-slaughter.

Full-fledged sand dacoity in all 42 rivers and the razing of middle-land hills led to the drying up of springs of well-water. In winter degenerating wastes in the soiled rice bowl contaminated the well-water. Even villagers are forced to wait for water-tank carriers, in addition to our waiting for rice, vegetables and industrial products coming from other States.

In this context, the Left parties may think that the miseries of Keralites would have been mitigated if India was fully federal, something they are still demanding. Since 1980, that is to say after the enforcement of the Land Reforms Act in 1973, Kerala became a full-fledged parasitic land of other States. But we are so reluctant to share some quantity of dangerous flood water wasted by all the 42 rivers on any condition with other productive States, due to linguistic bigotry created by the linguistic States after independence!

Role of Land Reforms Act for Destroying the Rice Bowl

THE State of Kerala, once the smallest in India, had been recognised in 1956. In the first general election for the State Legislature held in 1957, the CPI Government, headed by E.M.S Namboo-diripad, came to power. It was the first democratic communist government in world history. It was an ideological totality of all the struggles conducted by the CPI since the 1940s for land reforms and equitable distribution of land among peasants as clarified by Prakash Karat in his Cambridge speech. As the government was a creation of those struggles, it passed an Agrarian Relations Bill drafted by a genius lawyer (now a retired Supreme Court judge) and that was piloted in the Assembly by the most intelligent lady in Kerala (she has since been ousted from the CPI-M, is now in her eighties and leading her own party) and got passed after much discussion. That Bill, following some minor amendments, became the Kerala Land Reforms Act 1963 with sufficient constitutional protection granted by the Central Government as it was violative of almost all existing laws and the Constitution itself. In 1967-69, the very same Chief Minister and same lady Revenue Minister came to power and they made some major amendments to renew and revolutionise the Act in consonance with the latest communist concepts. The Act the began to be enforced in 1973 by the devoted Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon and his Revenue Minister who were also prominent CPI leaders.

The Land Reforms Act 1963 classified agrarian relations into three segments, namely, landlord, tenant and residing tenant (kudikidappukaran). In order to get the laureate of landlord under section 2 (29) of the Act, the extent or value of land owned by him was not a criterion, but there was only one condition—that the land owned and titled legally by him should be possessed by others irrespective of their financial capability. Section 2 (57) defines a tenant as anyone who had paid or has agreed to pay rent or other consideration for his being allowed to possess and enjoy any land leased. The captious interpretation of this definition was to protect a cheating tenant who agreed but did not pay any consideration that he had promised to pay. It would be better to read this section together with section 7 B saying, notwithstanding the fact that if the lease was granted by a person who had no right over the land or who was not competent to lease the land, it shall not affect the right of the tenant. This is nothing but legalised anarchy. Regarding the tenant’s right for fixity of tenure, notwithstanding anything contrary in any law, custom, usage or contract, or in any decree or order of court, every tenant shall have fixity of tenure in respect of his holdings. (Section 13) A tenant, paying rent or cheating or anarchic, has every right to snatch away ownership and title of land under his tenancy subject to the ceiling limit of 20 acres which is also the ceiling limit of the landlord allowed by the Act. For the sake of truth, the tenant has to pay compensation to the landlord fixed by the Land Tribunal; in fact it would be less than one per cent of the market value. But at the same time the law does not bother about the future life of the landlord deprived of everything, without considering humanely whether she/he is a widow, a handicapped or a mentally retarded person. Communist polemicists had already theorised, humanitarianism is not a question for revolutionists while the socialist revolution is going on. But it was a principle of the French revolution which was a bourgeois revolution as far as Marx and Engels were concerned.

Tenants, blessed by the Act, were not farmers because a farmer is one who works on the soil for cultivation. Tenants or cultivating tenants belonged to the petty-bourgeois class with sound financial background to invest enough capital at various stages of cultivation in five or ten or more acres. They never turned to plough, sow, reap or thresh. Instead, they sat on the ridges under the umbrella to command or rebuke agricultural labourers who were only farmers working under the burning sun or suffering heavy rains. In order to give legal protection to the tenants on the pretext of being farmers, the Act did not define “farmer” or its synonyms, although the Act has sixty definitions and each definition has a number of explanations. So far as tenants were concerned, they were the mighty middlemen, giving minimum possible wages to labourers, the most depressed class, and exploiting their good looking women. At the same time, they snivelled in front of landlords to avoid paying the agreed rent on the alibi of corn gnats, bandicoots, drought or flood suitable to the occasion. They were rich merchants, speculators, arrack shop owners or illicit alcohol stillers. Landlords, like agricultural workers, feared them and were compelled to satisfy them with a bunch of plantain, two cucumbers and some flattened rice made from boiled and fried paddy, presented most respectfully before Onam festivals. When the law crowned landlordship on tenants with all lands under their possession, they sold these in pieces to others and invested money in other more profitable businesses. Thus one large land area under a landlord and cultivating tenant was divided into innumerable small holdings. Cultivation in small bits of paddy field became a wasteful endeavour and new piece holders gradually abandoned paddy cultivation. While transferring the private property of a landlord to that of tenants, elephantiasis at the left leg was being trans-planted at the right one using the lancet of law. It was a bourgeois revolution because communist ideology stands for eradi-cation of private ownership and socialisation of private property. So the Land Reforms Act in Kerala did not usher in a proletarian revolution but was a counter-revolution to safeguard the vested interest of the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois class.

Being a bourgeois revolution, the Act tactfully cheated the proletariat class in the agriculture sector—the real farmers, who donated their blood and devoted their whole life to strengthen the communist movement. When the Act elevated tenants to landlords by assigning all lands held by them subjected to a ceiling limit of 20 acres, the landless proletariat living on other’s land or a residing tenant was granted only 10 cents in the panchayat as per section 80 A(3) even if he (the landless) had possessed and cultivated one acre of land around his hut. Considering the land value, it was reduced to five cents in municipal area and three cents in city corporations. But land possessed by cultivating tenants had been allotted fully to them irrespective of its situation in the city or panchayat. As a result land in the Ernakulam city where the market value comes to Rs 300-400 crores per acre was equated with the same size of land (one acre) in the mountainous area where the market value is about to Rs 50,000 per acre, using the BJP’s logic: cow is equal to dog. Another illogical and barbarous provision in the Act (section 51) says, if a tenant is willing to return a piece of land under his tenancy to the pauperised and starving landlord due to sympathy or humanitarianism, such an action will be declared illegal. Moreover section 51 B insists, if a landlord has entered into such land donated by a tenant, the landlord will be punished assuming that he has violated section 6 of the Kerala Prevention of Eviction Act, that is to say, title deed and tax receipt issued by the government and consent of the tenant will not save such landlords from becoming a jail fodder and suffering torture for imaginary offence.

Kuttanadan Tragedy

THE Kuttanad taluk in Alleppey district was once called the granary of Kerala. In the 1920s, shallow portions of Vembanad backwaters in Kuttanad, covering about 50,000 acres, were reclaimed and used for paddy cultivation helped by the Travancore Prince. For that purpose, thick bunds were constructed by private parties in three-to-four metres depth of water using clods of heavy clay. Water was pumped out every December using heavy petrol/diesel pump sets to sow the germinating paddy and harvesting was conducted by March-April. It was a festival for agricultural labourers in middle Kerala, as they could earn their paddy share in lieu of wages, which was sufficient for six months’ food. Construction of clay-bunds, purchase of high-power pump-sets, annual maintenance of everything, payment of wages to a multitude of labourers at various stages needed large scale investment. So, five or six rich persons in that area undertook the Herculean task. Cultivation of paddy in virgin soil was highly profitable that made them increasingly rich. Coconut trees planted over bunds to strengthen those were high yielding and they got monthly profit out of these without investment. But lazy men called those assiduous and rich farmers ‘Lagoon Kings’ or ‘Bhooswamis’ ridiculously suited to their religion and satisfied themselves.

While implementing the Land Reforms Act in 1973, the government seized thousands of acres of backwater paddy fields above the ceiling limit celebratedly using powers under section 82 of the Act. The government started paddy cultivation directly using the bureaucracy controlled by a stalwart IAS officer, to avoid corruption. But it resulted in heavy losses to the State exchequer and these were increasing year after year. Accepting failure, the government abandoned that programme and assigned one acre each to thousands of landless peasants. Those small-scale owners in the backwaters spread beyond the eye-view were bereft of any help for cultivation. The government, not ready to surrender before adverse realities, set up the Co-operative Societies of farmers, inspired by the Agricultural Communes in the Soviet Union, and provided them enough finance on soft conditions. But the Societies collapsed due to the corruption and partisanship of the Directors. For the last three decades backwater paddy fields in 50,000 acres have been left uncultivated thus severely affecting the State’s food production. Hence after enforcement of the Land Reforms Act, paddy fields of more than one million hectares have been left uncultivated due to fragmentation and decentralisation of ownership. Such a situation has stalled the mechanisation and industrialisation of agriculture.

Similarly dryland above the ceiling limit was also seized by the government from the owners by giving them just a pittance. It was assigned to the landless families, so-called, in fragments. They sold it within a few years, squandered the money and became landless once more. Now they have formed suicide squads and encroached on government land influenced by the old Naxalites, new Maoists, other terrorist groups and anarchic writers. Their aim is to get the government land once again, sell it once more and prepare for the next encroachment.

Section 81 (2) of the Act alone proves it was a magical totality of the bourgeois revolution because it gives protection from ceiling limit for huge plantations of rubber, tea and coffee owned by monopoliotic capitalists. Now the Tata company, the prime enemy of the Communists’ shouting brigades, is holding 1,16,892.6 acres of plantation including the hill-top tourist centre in the Munnar town. Another company, Harrison, has 79,659.2 acres of plantations. Both companies have encroached on 50,000 acres of government owned land, as alleged by the media and Leftists. In addition to the Tatas and Harrison, other minor companies, firms, black money operators and millionaires are possessing thousands of acres as plantations on encroached forest land, blessed by section 81 E.

In this context, Prakash Karat and his party, suffering from “the poverty of philosophy”, may look into the matter of how the Kerala Land Reforms Act destroyed food production and promoted the capitalists. They may kindly study the difference between destruction and revolution. As taunted by Kiernan, the Indian Communists still believe that Marxism is only a monotonous economic idealism due to ideological ignorance. But Marx and Engels were interpreting the universe as well as human transaction including economics using the logic of material science and mathematics developed up to their period to revolutionise history in favour of the proletariat class. After those savants, the growth of Marxism was stunted by the professional Communist leaders’ ignorance in science and mathematics developed rapidly in the 20th century. In accordance with the advancement of science, especially that of new born physics of the micro world, they could not build up Marxism.

Instead of applying theory into practice the Communist charlatans cooked up theories from practice and resorted to different brands of economic terrorism, anti-democratic stubbornism, engaged in individual vendetta and idol-worship in the name of communism. Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Calcutta thesis, Naxalism et al. Indian Communists served all such known ‘isms’ in salad form at their power nodules with blood- sheds in the 1940s and then quarrelled among themselves and exploded into innumerable pieces. This alone proves that the Indian communist movement is not a proletarian one, because a proletarian party built upon Marxism cannot split under any pretext. But the capitalist world, where freedom of ideas and expressions are allowed, timely renewed its ideology and tactics collectively and ultimately destroyed the great walls and steel fortifications of communism.

Under these circumstances, if the logic of simple arithmetic is applied to the Indian communist movement,

Struggles of the CPI for land and land reforms in 1940s + Violence = Formation of ideology.

Applied ideology of the CPI + Democratic Legislation = Kerala Land Reforms Act.
Kerala Land Reforms Act + Protection of middlemen and monopolistic capitalists = Petty bourgeois-cum-bourgeois revolution.

Therefore, the struggles of the CPI in the 1940s + Violence=Petty-bourgeois-cum-bourgeois revolution.

It is pathetic to see that the bourgeois ideology is the lighthouse of the Communists in India, in the opinion of Prakash Karat.

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