ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Political Economy of Agrarian Distress

The reasons for agrarian distress in India lie in the conjunction of the changing nature of agriculture and democratic politics. With cultivation becoming an unrewarding occupation, the growing disparities of wealth between the rural and urban areas, the inability of farmers to unite and bring pressure on the governments and a disjuncture between the interests of the farmers and those of the political representatives, have all led to the neglect of agriculture and deterioration in the condition of farmers.

T he papers in this special issue of EPW deal with the various aspects of agrarian distress in different states of India affected by the tragedy of farmers suicides in recent years. They seek to relate this distress to the changing nature of agriculture, economics of production, policies of the government, and the ongoing reforms in the country. Since each paper highlights the agrarian distress in a specific state, all of them together enable us to understand the phenomenon in a comparative perspective. It is hoped that the papers would contribute to the ongoing discussion on the agrarian condition and ways to address the emergent challenges.

That agriculture in India is passing through a difficult time is now widely acknowledged by major political parties, statutory bodies and research studies. The spate of suicides since 1997-98 is considered a tragic manifestation of the deteriorating condition of the farmers. For instance, talking about the serial suicides, the 1998 election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party said: In the last five decades, a majority of kisans have become poor and harried outcasts in their own country, with no respectful place in the government scheme of things. Today they are on the margins of Indias economic, social, cultural and political life.1 The National Agricultural Policy of the ministry of agriculture, government of India (2000), said: Agriculture has become a relatively unrewarding profession due to a generally unfavourable price regime and low value addition, causing abandoning of farming and increasing migration from rural areas. The situation is likely to be exacerbated further in the wake of integration of agricultural trade in the global system, unless immediate corrective measures are taken. The Commission on Farmers Welfare set up by the government of Andhra Pradesh (2005) came to the conclusion that agriculture in the state was in an advanced stage of crisisThe most extreme manifestation of the crisis is in the suicides by farmers. The chairman of the National Commission of Farmers, M S Swaminathan, says that something is terribly wrong in the countryside.

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