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ASSOCIATES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > VINOBA BHAVE > ANASAKTI DARSHAN - BHOODAN SPECIAL ISSUE > Agricultural System, Agricultural Land and Cottage Industry

 

Agricultural System, Agricultural Land and Cottage Industry
(In the context of Gram Swaraj)

Dr. Krishnaswarup Anandi

Earth, water, sky, air and fire; these are the five elements (panch mahabhut) which are considered to be very important in the Indian philosophy regarding a way to lead life. It is said that these five elements are essential for the entire creation, environment, consciousness and development of the universe. Of these, the earth can be considered as being the main basis of the other four elements.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi believed that land, air, water, sunlight and sky are God’s gifts and under no circumstances should these come under the control of any person, business group, industrial group or any centralised form of power. These belong to the masses and are public resources. In reality the State is only their trustee and not their owner as they belong to the people at large. Therefore, in reality, these elements should be made community based, localised and decentralised and not be brought under government control, centralised or brought under any corporate.


Ownership of Land

Any conversation or discussion about land does not refer to land on the surface, rather it refers to what lies above and also below it. We have to take land in its totality. Gandhi believed that the land should not belong to an individual or to the State. Rather it should belong to the primary face-to-face local people’s communities Although in the concept of trusteeship there is no space for monopoly, privilege or individual ownership, Mahatma Gandhi used to believe that a farmer should have that much land which he and his family members could cultivate. He should have an amount of land which was manageable for him to grow crops, support cattle from its products as well as enough to retain bio-diversity and capacity to rejuvenate itself. In other words, he wanted the farmer to consider the earth as his mother. He believed that a farmer should have an amount of land with which he could subsist his daily earnings honestly and live a life of dignity. The agriculture being practised should be organic. Effort should be made to return at least as much as being taken from the soil. The things being used in agriculture should be labour intensive, appropriate and environment friendly. The tools and implements being used should be made locally. The source of energy should be decentralised and local. The farmer should have that much of cultivable land which gives him a complete and reliable means of livelihood. Those who are real farmers, if they want, can join hands and form a cooperative or community to cultivate their lands. However, there should be no use of force in these areas, all efforts should be spontaneous, arising from within the community and completely voluntary in nature. Mahatma Gandhi had a similar dream when it came to the field of animal husbandry.

At the time the entire country was fighting against the British Empire, Mahatma Gandhi was also concerned with ways to combat against the aftermath of a long period of subjugation. He used to openly express his vision of new India post-political independence. He used to speak about his thoughts in various programmes and campaigns that he used to attend. His main focus was on how to end the colonial state system, because it proved to be a substantial hurdle in building up a new society in independent India. He wanted to bridge the gulf between various communities and castes that was prevalent in the country and therefore he often used to launch satyagraha against the British Government. His intentions were to unite the people and demonstrate their power. He believed that for satyagraha, a constructive programme was necessary, and that during the long period of satyagraha there should not be any diversion from the main task at hand. It is for this reason that during the fight for independence he did not launch any movement for land reforms in favour of the farmers and landless and against the landlords. However, post-independence, he wanted to launch a new revolution in the field of agriculture. Under this revolution, he wanted to organise, enlighten and energize the landless farmers. Even small farmers who tilled their own little plots were to be included in this movement. He targeted big zamindars, rajas, maharajas, nawabs and other rich land owners. He wanted that a satyagraha be started under the leadership of the landless. If due to satyagraha there was a change of heart among the landowners then it was good, otherwise the landless would continue to challenge the zamindari system through nonviolent means. Mahatma Gandhi was of the view that such a satyagraha would be pure in its intension and it would not end till zamindari system itself ended. He believed that this land satyagraha would pave way for the government to legislate the banning of zamindari system and redistribution of land among the landless. At the same time he was equally prepared to launch a satyagraha against the government if it did not work in favour of the rich landowners in any way.

Mahatma Gandhi used to believe that the zamindari system would not work and the real owners of the land were those who tilled the lands. Also along with the other natural resources, land should never be under individual ownership. The concept of trusteeship would be implemented in all these spheres. He believed that people had the right to own things that were the minimum necessity for leading a respectable life, and anything in excess of that belonged to the entire society. You are the trustee of the wealth or things, not its owner. What a person needs to consume and own for his daily needs would be decided on the level of consumption of the general people at that point. This concept was also applicable in case of land. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to root out the zamindari system and for this, he thought that satyagraha was the best means. Even if there was no change of hearts among the zamindars due to satyagraha, Gandhiji believed that the satyagraha would change the human values, socio-economic paradigm in the country, build up the moral character of the people and ultimately change the character of the state’s power and its attitude towards the people. This will result in the formation of new laws.


Agriculture Versus Industrialization

Even when Mahatma Gandhi’s influence was at its peak there were people who advocated industrialization and urbanization and modernization very strongly. However, in Gandhi’s conception of Swaraj (complete independence) agriculture was the cornerstone of all development. He wanted policies that would help build up agriculture and production of goods essential for the people through a network of cottage industries that would generate employment for the people. Mahatma Gandhi’s model was not centralised mass production, but production by the masses. Surely, there would be no difficulty in finding land and other resources for these small cottage industries. The local bodies and community at large would provide the land. There would be no need for large scale land acquisition for various schemes and the problems of displacement, deprivation of means of livelihood, environmental degradation that are inherent with large projects. At present, the model of development is industry focussed, which calls for big machines, plants, townships, business complex, high tech parks etc – all things that need large amounts of land. And in many of the cases, the land that is taken over is fertile land and large communities of farmers, tribals, fishermen and other marginalized sections of society are displaced. In many cases those displaced were the original inhabitants of the area. This development which is being built on the grave of agriculture and community is anti-thesis of Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Swaraj. Now the question arises: ‘how can projects be implemented as the land and other resources belong to the community at large?’ For any plants or industry to be built the people of the area have to come together and decide on whether they want that plant or unit to come up and if they agree then they will donate land voluntarily for the industry. Thus, it would be their own industry and they will run it themselves and it would again be ‘production by the masses’.

The projects will belong to the people and it would be run for the greater benefit of the society and nation at large. The role of the state would be to help in the setting up of the industry by giving finance, technical expertise and other needed support. However, the project would belong to the people. There will be no multinationals or local industrial houses and this concept is also much ahead of the ‘public sector’ ‘private sector’ debate. They would be owned by the Peoples’ sector or the Communitarian sector. This can be the next step in Mahatma Gandhi’s vision. The question of land is fundamental to everything and vested interests are understanding their importance. It is for this reason that investors, corporate groups and other rich people are trying to corner as much of land as possible and their land hunger has increased by leaps and bounds. As a
result, farmers are being evicted from their land and non-farmer units are being set up there. Instead of farmer tilling the land, it is now corporate farming or contract farming. Mahatma Gandhi used to say, ‘The land belongs to the tiller’, but now in this age of globalisation the mantra has changed to become, ‘Hand over lands to corporates’.

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