Of communists and farmlandsIt is not the exodus of the youth to foreign jobs, but the communist government’s neglect of land reforms that has undermined agriculture.
Hari Roka, a Marxist close to the erstwhile Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and a scholar, was speaking directly on the subject of Nepali farmers and land reform in Nepal. Roka was the principal speaker at a colloquium organised by Nepal Alternative Research Society (NARS) in Kathmandu on May 19, 2019.
I was eager to hear Roka’s views about land reform in Nepal because for the Marxist government of Nepal and its party, ironically, agriculture no longer appears to be a subject of priority. As a result of that, the very fabric of the Nepali economy and the very ethos of society shaped by agriculture is eroding in an alarming manner. I am saying this from both aesthetic and pragmatic sense because I grew in a farmer’s family whose power always encircles me like a halo. Though it is not an emotional subject, it has given me very strong reasons to believe that the neglect of agriculture in Nepal is the root cause of the dismal economic and political shape of the country architected by political parties, planners and dreamers.
I have always read the views of Hari Roka as well as those economist Achyut Wagle through their occasional brilliant analyses of the economy in newspaper columns I am not an economist, nor a party follower; I am a flaneur. But my faith in humanity, my epistemological system, and my vision of change in this land are deeply shaped by agriculture. As an agricultural observer, therefore, I am deeply aggrieved to see that the very foundation of agriculture is shaken today, which is the reason why Nepal’s development is derailed, why the spectres of the feudal lords still haunt the countryside, and why the base of the economy falters. Hari Roka introduced very important arguments under the rubric ‘Land reform in Nepal: Context and importance’.
Though I have no space to present the details, I want to put my assessment.
History of land reform in this land is directly linked to the political changes that have happened over the last seven decades or so. After the political change of 1950, political parties and governments chose ‘land reform’ as the principal focus of their policies. The communist parties of Nepal and BP Koirala, leader of the Nepali Congress, appear to pronounce land reform as the principal mantra of their vision of economic amelioration in this land. The Nepal Communist Party at its first congress held from 30 January-3 February 1954 passed the fundamental policy principles about the agricultural system of the land introduced by its General Secretary Manmohan Adhikari at the full session. I want to quote relevant lines, with translation:
‘Our economic problem can be understood only by keeping agriculture as its principal foundation. Agricultural problem is not solely related to the farmers. In fact, it affects the entire national economic management system. About 90 percent of the population depends on agriculture. As long as this big section remains hungry and half-naked, no form of economic and cultural progress is possible here. … Therefore agriculture is our principal problem that should be solved.’ The resolution suggests measures for that which include principally the distribution of the rich landlords’ land among the poor farmers, abolition of the birta land system excluding those used by the religious guilds and some others that should be allowed, appoint commissions to examine and cancel fraudulent deals made by the rich with the poor farmers, and making loans at cheap rates available to the poor farmers.
The above spirit that was cumulative in nature continued to dominate the minds of the politicians in the following years. Though the communists and the Nepali Congress projected different views regarding their theoretical premises on the questions of economic management, forms of government and a few other issues, they unmistakably used land or bhumi and its management or sudhar as the principal concern. Views of BP Koirala—the first elected prime minister in 1958—land reform was guided by a poetics of politics. He is known to have said that our goal should be to provide each farmer with a tract of land to till, and a milch-breed cow. Hari Roka also mentioned BP Koirala’s land reform measure known famously as birta unmulan, or the abolition of the holding of gifted land.
Out-migration not the issue
The land related problems became trivialised even though it remained and still remains the greatest single economic factor that governs the life of the majority in this land. A few arguments deviate from the real issue, which as Hari Roka correctly said, the class system, which has not changed even in the least today. The famous, almost hackneyed argument today is that tracts of farmland or kheti and bari or land for the cultivation of maize, millet and vegetables have gone barren or baanjho because of a single factor—the exodus of youths as migrant labours. Roka said, ‘that is bunkum’. To understand the core of the problem we should see who possesses the land, how you have managed the land, and who holds the ownership of the land. In all these, the age-old question of class relationship appears to be the dominant factor; it has not changed. The poor farmers’ exodus has not left the land fallow. In all these Roka sees that land reform, or addressing the possession and management of land properly alone can put the chaotic system on the right track.
Can we see that the global decline of the ‘peasant’ and the ‘peasant revolution’, the rise of globalisation and the domination of the non-peasant or the capitalist entrepreneur in the economy affected Nepali or land reform management? This requires a long essay to answer. The reason why I barged into the lecture of this communist intellectual, this freedom fighter and a farmer who returns to Bhojpur to cultivate his khet, was that I am deeply disappointed by the general neglect of the farmers by the communist government of Nepal. My hopes are dashed. But after hearing Hari Roka’s discourse I emerged replenished with the belief that the right thinkers and activists will bear the torch.