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Peasant Movements Revisited

Purendra Prasad

By Mridula Mukherjee
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2004, pp. 577, Rs. 980.00

By Debal K. Singha Roy
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 275, Rs. 295.00


At a time when agrarian distress is brewing across the country and serious debates are taking place on agrarian crisis, these two books on peasant movements in pre- and post-colonial India are a welcome addition to the social science literature. There has been a long tradition of research on peasant movements within the disciplines of sociology and history by noted scholars such as Dhanagare (1983); A.R Desai (1979); Kathleen Gough (1974); K.C Alexander (1981); Ranajit Guha (1983); however in the later part of the 1980s and 1990s, studies not only on movements but also on agrarian issues have taken a back seat.   Within the nationalist imagination, issues of peasantry figured prominently, primarily because of sustained peasant mobilization from the grassroots although this mobilization was not only aimed at distribution of land resources but against the well-entrenched class of zamindars, intermediaries and money-lenders. In a way, middle peasants were part of the peasantry in waging struggle in gaining access to land. With the advent of the Green Revolution, newly emerged landowning class in post-Independent India saw a new direction and aspired to achieve a different social position on par with the entrepreneurial class. In a short span of time, this landowning class was exposed to the crude realities of market dynamics that resulted in new farmers movements, which grew stronger by the 1980s. These movements were exclusive to a particular class of farmers who tried to negotiate with the ‘State’. Tom Brass and others termed these movements as populist or neo-populist while Gail Omvedt and others claimed that these are inclusive peasant movements that can be characterized as anti-urban, anti-state/anti-capitalist in its ideological content. From the 1990s onwards, the peasant mobilization of all kinds have weakened while the discontent among the peasantry has tremendously increased in rural India. There seems to be a vaccum in the domains of mobilizing ideology and strategies of the peasant organizations on the one hand while there is dearth of adequate analysis within academia about the relevance of existing theoretical and methodological tools in explaining the condition of peasantry. It is in this context that these two books assume importance, and their approach in revisiting peasant movements and trying to link with the current agrarian situations.   Mridula Mukherjee’s book contains two parts (‘books’ as she calls it)—the first deals with the political practice in rural Punjab: the “Heroic” and the “Everyday”. This part of the book ...

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