Structural Conflicts between Bharat and India

The Indian Republic has a problem. It is deep and structural and vexing. The wheels of industrialization have brought half the country in conflict with the other.

The country is seemingly convulsed with agrarian distress and farmer unrest. Some have located these issues in climate change, others in the prominence of neo-liberal reform. But the issue is far more structural. Half of India knows only to make a living from farming, and they are seemingly getting better at it every year.

India’s farmers have been outperforming the world in terms of growth quite comfortably.

So if we are having year after year of record agrarian yields and remain a next agro-exporter, whats the problem ? The problem is that the other half wants food at the cheapest prices possible. This other half lacks the decisive political numbers that the rural group does, but lives in the more vocal and wealthier urban areas. Farmers obviously  want better prices for their work, but urbanites are understandably wary of overpaying for food when they know they can spend their hard earned monies on modern goods and services.

But the conflicts dont end there. They extend into the realm of international trade relationships. India’s urbanites want to interact with the industrial world for personal growth and opportunity. India’s IT, pharmaceutical exports and remittances provide valuable foreign exchange for its fuel imports, and investment needed for modernizing its economy. But the industrial world is also super efficient at growing food and sees food as an important export. One American farmer can still produce what 50 Indian farmers can.

The Indian farmer thus requires protection from foreign competition, which is far more advanced technologically and is not constrained to small land holdings like he is. But such protection is not in congruence with the freer trade that its urbanites want and need for industrial growth.

Food inflation and international trade are thus two critical parameters on which rural and urban India face a structural conundrum. It is not that other cultures have not faced this crossroads before. Every country that has industrialized (Germany, Russia and China) has dealt with the question of its unproductive agrarian class. Authoritarian political structures meant that the ‘solution’ pursued by these countries brutalized the rural populace.

India’s democracy is deep and will prevent the urban elites from executing such brutality, despite their cultural and historical obsessions. Gaon tatva might seriously blunt Hindutva.


46 thoughts on “Structural Conflicts between Bharat and India”

  1. Not sure what you mean by “brutality”. Are you referring simply to the fact that people will be left to face market competition by themselves, or something more coercive (like the enclosure policies practiced in England a few centuries ago at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution there)?

    Going a level deeper, we need to ask ourselves why in this modern era do so many people still persist in following a hereditary uneconomic profession. Perhaps because of the extremely poor job our state has done of educating its citizenry, especially in the rural areas? If people aren’t made aware of possibilities and options (only possible through a liberal education), it’s natural they they will fall back on their ancestral ways of doing things, even if they keep them penurious.

    BTW….I’m referring to our peasants and very small-scale farmers here. Most of our “farmers” are as pampered by undeserved freebies and subsidies just as, say, Midwestern farmers in the US are. All that needs to go; I don’t care how brutal it is.

    1. Take China’s Great Leap Forward or Stalin’s forced urbanization. Both were instances of urbanites dealing brutal hands to the rural folks to force the country to take an industrial trajectory.

      Regarding why people still farm. Fundamentally, economic growth is about connections and networks. Those who are linked to the already industrialized regions via proximity, language or family links translate these connections into an exit from the subsistence milieu. So in India, it is the regions where the British presence was most extensive (coastal areas), the people who speak English or the communities which have international diasporas, are the ones who have been able to exit farming.

      The government did play a negative role in that it restricted foreign investment and curbed private enterprise after independence. Industrial growth was to be driven by state initiative. Therefore, the route out of farming became a government job.

      Dont disagree that more people in India are farming than we need. But the skill of farming and a plot of land are pretty much all the productive assets a large chunk of Indians have. Some kind of co-operative structure might be a way forward.

  2. I love it when bored inconsequential NRI grad students and IT coolies discuss the structural problems of India with the seriousness befitting the chairman of planning commission of India.

    1. What’s even more lovable is when other IT coolies leave bitter messages on such blogs. Lulz

      Jagger, hammer of the nut bagger


      1. hammer of the nut bagger indeed Sri Bodhi Satwa Maharishi Rajarishi Brahmarishi Paramahamsa Avadoota Atma avataar Maha Purusha Saguna Brahman Brahma Jnaani Auliya Pir Faqir Shaik Imam Sayyid Jagguji . . . “God of hammers”.

        Breaker of Ego (Ahamkara) with hammers. Hammers of wisdom.

        # Stan in the Hood

    2. No (and I understand this is Jagguesque attempt at comedy, but only Jaggu can pull this off), these are real serious issues faced by people who are working in India. Many of the IT coolies will be building flats and offices in India in the future, and someone has to address the issue that 70% of the population have nowhere to go.

      When I tried to buy about 18 grounds of continuous property (about 1 acre) and build a compound for a factory and office about 15 km from the boundary of chennai, the villagers went haywire, even if had not planted a crop in 20 years and the whole land was overgrown with weed. The first permit was supposed to be from the village Panchayat, but the Panchayat office had ceased to exist as most of the farmers have become labor in Chennai. The entire village had one plastic water tank and no irrigation meaning not one farmer was working on land, but the farmers were under protest mode since they felt some day they will have irrigation and start working on land. The farmers whose family were selling the contiguous parcel had passed away, and their children were in Chennai and Dubai, but still the inhabitants of the village were protesting the conversion of (someone else’s)weeded properties into industrial land. When I got a water tanker to supply water for construction and cooling, the villagers wanted some of the water.

      I do not blame the villagers, but the state is creating an illusion that farming is coming back in TN; it is going to be realized that the land dedicated to farming is going to be a few districts where groundwater and rivers exist. This issue is critical in districts close to Bangalore and Chennai, e.g., Kolar and Thiruvellore where land is in demand, and people have become urban workers, but a variety of structural issues has made people not realize that farming is dead in vast swathes of the two southern states. The idea that land is scarce in India is a joke, there are large properties available in dryland South India for commerce, real estate and industry; but there is an illusion that farming is coming back and people are “waiting for rain” for some 25 years now.

        1. Only 35% of indian agricultural land is irrigated, and even then, predominantly by groundwater. Well. most of the groundwater is gone in the south (and I hear increasingly in Punjab/Haryana). The rainfall is not sufficient to charge the groundwater, and dryland agriculture is not (reliably) profitable.

          Also see,

          And To Snakecharmer, most of the Indian IT Coolies and NRI grad students are one or two generation removed from Farmers, at least from AP and TN. From Mumbai and Delhi, I realize the situation is not the same.

          1. Hi Vijay, what I meant to ask is whether there is a story behind why the lands in that particular village are not irrigated. Even in rainfed India, the reasons for a lack of irrigation are usually political, not climatic.

            See here:
            And conclusion from here:

            “At the biophysical level, the Gadiwat watershed is fairly successful and has achieved a lot in terms of water and soil conservation benefits. The programme has significantly increased water availability for irrigation and livestock, soil quality,
            land productivity, and rehabilitation of degraded and extension of arable land. The project has also succeeded in increasing labour availability and reduction in migration at least during the project implementation phase. At the same time, resource- poor members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, par ticularly landless households, are by and
            large excluded from these benefits. The programme certainly had a positive impact on income and poverty reduction. However, equity issues have not been addressed effectively in the watershed program. The better-off farmers owning land and irrigation sources have benefited immensely while a much lower proportion of benefits accrued to those starting with little assets in the beginning (landless and marginal rain-fed farmers).”

    1. PBM has laid it out comprehensively. In particular,

      “no political party will make serious investments in strengthening sovereign functions of the state, including police and judicial reform. Indian society will hope that informal modes of social regulation continue to provide a substitute for state institutions. Again, there is no political economy pressure for this reform. So on sovereign functions of law and justice, the Indian state will continue at its low level equilibrium.”

      This is a terrible and unfortunately true indictment of Indian society. All sorts of hectic politicking over movies, stopping women from entering temples etc. but little concern for the fact that 1 Indian judge does the work of 10 American ones.

    2. Well I feel India needs to cohere its economic and civic energies in a unified direction (a bit like Israel and even Pakistan).

      I do think if India overcame the ideological questions it would be able to leap in the right direction.

      Modi is a pretty good PM, not very corrupt (demonetisation was a misfire) but the fact that he may not win the next elections shows just how powerful Congress actually is.

      Also the Indian economic model is disproportionate wealth accruing to the very top of society; Mukesh Ambani shows no contrition or inclination to “tone it down.”

      1. Modi is a pretty good PM, not very corrupt (demonetisation was a misfire) but the fact that he may not win the next elections shows just how powerful Congress actually is.

        No, I think it’s just a consequence of the fact that no serious change can be effected in India within a 5-year parliamentary term. So no one is ever grateful enough to turn out and vote for the incumbent, whereas there are plenty of people mad enough that they personally have seen no progress to vote for the opposition. I’m afraid we’ll have to expect frequent (probably every term) turnovers for the foreseeable future, regardless of what happens policy-wise.

        Well I feel India needs to cohere its economic and civic energies in a unified direction

        There’s something to that. Our “civic energies” seem to most cancel out each other at this point because people don’t seem to realize the value of society-wide cooperation and personal discipline that is necessary to achieve that. It’s easier to blame corrupt politicians and bureaucrats for everything that goes wrong (and they are plenty corrupt, mind you) but the most incorruptible bureaucracy can’t manage a society where people are perpetually looking to bend the rules to their personal advantage.

  3. “I feel India needs to cohere its economic and civic energies in a unified direction”

    Zach, this really is not the problem. And India is a lot more unified than a perusal of its media from abroad indicates. There is a huge amount of survey data to indicate that identification with being Indian is very strong in every Indian state barring the Kashmir valley and Nagaland. See:

    Our problem really boils down to an incomplete economic transition. Politics in a rural dominated electorate, living in an industrial economy will necessarily be handout based. In the regions where India has made a fuller transition to an urbanized economy (Delhi, Goa and to a lesser extent Maharashtra), we dont see the kind of social schism based politics we see in the North,

    1. Dude, national feeling is one thing, civic sense/cohesion is another (though I grant they are related.) Being a nationalist/patriotic Indian is just another thing to brag about; it’s not presumed to create responsibilities towards fellow citizens.

      We fight/skirmish with each other on a daily basis, on the roads, in trains, government offices, etc. on a daily basis. Any space outside the home or a social setting involving trusted friends and family is treated as a jungle or a free-for-all; no rules or etiquette apply.

      Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but this is how things look to me, at least in the more urbanized areas.

      (FYI, I live in India, not abroad.)

      1. The CSDS survey I quoted was more about identification with India/Indian state than nationalism/patriotism.

        “We fight/skirmish with each other on a daily basis, on the roads, in trains, government offices, etc. on a daily basis.”

        Is this a widespread perception ? I ask this because a lot of Indians in America complain about how ‘cold’ this society is in comparison to India.

        1. The CSDS survey I quoted was more about identification with India/Indian state than nationalism/patriotism.

          Sorry, I misinterpreted you then. I completely agree, identification with India rather than with one’s native region or caste has observably increased over my lifetime (~ 40 years.) Civic sense hasn’t significantly increased though.

          Is this a widespread perception ? I ask this because a lot of Indians in America complain about how ‘cold’ this society is in comparison to India.

          Not sure how widespread this is. These are my observations, but (for various reasons) I don’t have very tight extended family relationships, and social gatherings are quite rare. So I’m mostly in the position of an individual dealing with Indian society. Most Indians tend to hang around family a lot, limiting their exposure to strangers, so observations may be skewed.

          Also, let me say that I didn’t mean people resort to fisticuffs all the time. If you’ve dealt with Indian traffic, you know that drivers hardly yield to one another, are perennially trying to overtake each other, keep honking and tailgating each other. In train stations and in offices, if people bother to get in line, cutting is inevitable and people don’t feel a slight bit of shame even when called out on it. Heck, people even try to cut in line when boarding a plane, which is insane! Then there’s a fair amount of dishonesty in commercial transactions (though I think there’s been an improvement since my childhood); people are generally trying to outwit each other.

          There’s a distinct lack of a social contract when it comes to interactions with strangers. (Again, I think this is changing because of large-scale internal migration in the past couple of decades, but there’s lots of scope for improvement.)

          About Americans’ coldness, I’m sure scholarly essays have been written on the topic which you can dig up, but my impression is that the observation is accurate based on typical Indian expectations.
          Indians tend to have very close relations with family and friends, and help and advice (wanted or not) is freely offered within a community; the flipside is there’s little privacy. People in these cliques are part of a web of obligations, and one tends to express feelings openly. Few obligations are felt towards strangers though.
          Americans on the other hand value their privacy more and have looser relationships with family members, but then they feel more of an obligation (or social contract) towards the wider society. Americans are also used to relying on institutions and systems (like signage, which isn’t worth a dime in many parts of India), and may be slower to offer help (or feel the need to show strangers that they care) because help isn’t hard to get in a developed country. So Indians in America may not get the inquisitiveness and the open expressions of caring they are used to back home; hence they feel Americans are “cold”. (I used to live in Seattle, and even Americans have a term for the locals’ coldness there, called “Seattle Freeze”.)

          Anyway, these are random observations on my part, and like I said, you can probably find good sociological studies on this topic.

          1. You are most likely correct about the reasons for why Indians in the US feel things were ‘warmer’ in India. Trust within a social circle among Indians tends to be absolute, and there is an almost complete mistrust in strangers.

            The problems of civic consciousness and sense that you describe appear to be common across the Third World. I have encountered Egyptians, Iranians and Chinese mentioning similar issues. India’s problems are probably compounded by our more agrarian economy, and the reality that the political elite does not need to respond to urban concerns.

            There is the notion of honor culture vs dignity culture. Remember that the absolute dominance of rule of law, democracy in Anglo countries took hundreds of years and dignity culture is deeply embedded in their very folklore.

            In contrast, Indian folklore continues to emphasize an honor culture. I would contend that most of the stories we grow up hearing emphasize honor, virtue and authority. In contrast to the rhyme above, notice how obsessed India’s media, run by complete grown ups, is with statements of politicians. The whole “aila, terko yeh bola, woh bola” circus.

            There are communities like the Jains and Parsis who have a dignity culture. Gandhi’s independence movement itself was a very dignity based movement. But their influence is quite minimal today.

          2. It’s interesting – I haven’t been to India for a year and a half (the longest interlude since I first started travelling to India) and I feel I’ve had to “melt” my frozen Anglicised/British core.

            I guess that’s why BP has been therapeutic this trip since it allows me to process thoughts and emotions..

      2. Yes that’s why I feel “Israelisation” is so important in an Indian context. Israelis have this chutzpah and zeal one usually sees in Muslim countries.

        1. Personally, I’m partial to the American model of a “creedal” nation. The state neither endorses nor suppresses any religion, but then religion is relegated to the private sphere and has no standing in political affairs.

          India can’t be Israel, as our religious majorities as well as minorities are indigenous, and barring some religion-specific practices (food, marriage, etc.) are broadly part of a common culture. Israel’s majority came from abroad within living memory, had a very strong sense of its own distinctive culture and of superiority towards the native religious minority. In India, the quest for a Hindu Rashtra may or may not fix civic society (I’m dubious) but is very likely to lead to a lot of strife.

          1. Even if India could be Israel, the question is would it be moral to do so? Why would you choose as your model a country built on Occupation and violations of international law?

            At the time Israel was founded, it had an Arab Palestinian majority. 750,000 Palestinians were displaced during the Nakba. Even today, 20% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish. Defining the country as a “Jewish” state makes these people into second-class citizens.

            Whatever India’s problems with its minorities, it is much better to be a secular state belonging to all citizens than to be an ethnonational state belonging only to the majority.

          2. Pakistan isn’t Occupying anyone else’s land. Kashmir is a Disputed Territory while the West Bank and Gaza are considered Occupied by the entire international community.

            I have always been consistent in my preference for states which are secular and belong to all their citizens.

          3. Consistent but not vehement. With respect The vehemence you show towards certain causes (respect for Mohammed, Palestine) is completely at odds with humanitarian liberal values.

            every Pakistani liberals needs to be screaming and shouting about Hazrat Asia; the fact that they are so quiet and complicity shows they are full of it..

          4. The liberal progressive position is to be against the Occupation of Palestine and against religiously based states. It is only the right wing that supports Israel.

          5. Pakistani liberals are extremely proud of Pakistan and the Muslim state. Hell I was too and I’m not even Muslim.

            That’s absolutely fine we can’t help what we love but let’s not abuse the term liberal.

          6. I’ve always been clear that I prefer the secular state to any religiously based one– including Pakistan. I love Pakistan because it is where my family is from. It doesn’t mean I support the TNT.
            If anyone is abusing the term liberal , it’s the person who supports apartheid Israel and hindutva.

          7. I’m not a liberal; I’m an Arch-Tory 🙂

            What I dislike is inconsistency. If people want a Jewish state in Israel, or a Muslim state in Pakistan then they should advocated secularism in Britain or the US.

            Either we all express our identities to the max or we all collectively curtail them.

            Asking Hindus to be secular and tolerant but then accepting that “Muslims will be Muslims” smacks of bias.

            Hazrat Asia is the most important existential issue for Pakistani liberals; she is the soul of our nation. Not only must she set free, she must be provide Z-Cat security in Pakistan itself, given 10 million USD, a national apology from the President and our nation’s highest honour. Anything less than that is insufficient and stains the soul of Pakistan.

          8. I hold secular states to a higher standard than religiously defined ones. But you seem to want to drag India down to Pakistan’s level. I’m honestly bored of this tit for tat now.
            Supporting zionism and hindutva because of your antipathy to Islam is beyond bizarre.

  4. Both challenges

    A) a search for a ethno national identity ie Israelization of India
    B) mostly what PBM talks about ( middle class rant about supposedly empathy for poor)

    can co exist and India would not tackle either of them. That’s India

  5. The comment by Numinous on Indian social contract or lack thereof, and its comparison to American (or Anglophone) society got me thinking. Here are my thoughts, whatever their worth.
    [Apologize for the long comment]

    Western countries (especially Anglosphere) have successfully abstracted away the familial contract and embedded it into their institutions and systems of governance. This is what “dignity” is, an institutionalized familial relationship.

    The institutionalization makes individuals freer to express themselves without censure because their dignity is now a function of an inanimate system, and a rulebook, as opposed to the whims and fancies of those around them.

    Of course, like all abstractions, this one is not perfect. So there is a constant tension between the people and the state (those with the job of maintaining the system) to ensure the dignity institutions remain prioritized. And a counter-culture, mainly the Church, which posits the superiority of its own abstraction – a contract collateralized by divine pledge as it were. In fact, some would argue that the counter culture is really the authentic culture and the state is merely a recent interloper that took over what was really Church’s function few centuries ago. And they wouldn’t be very wrong.

    Islam has a version of this dignity abstraction too. But the trouble there is a (literally) fixed rulebook and its guardians which find virtue in *lack* of innovation. Also, there is no central authority and a lot of mutual suspicion of each others’ imperfect/satanic interpretations of what-must-be-perfect rulebook.

    Hinduism is fundamentally both anti-Christian and anti-Islam in spirit. Hindus prefer no centralized abstraction of their social contract, nor a perfect version of the rulebook. Instead dignity is dependent on belonging to a family and larger genetic-cum-occupational, i.e. Caste kinship. Just like the Anglosphere (where India got much of its manufactured Constitution from), the Indian institutions have been trying to abstract/institutionalize Caste-based dignity. Obviously it is a much harder problem in that unlike Chruches, Castes traditionally have a rigid hierarchy and a strong occupational correlation. So unlike the Anglophone West, India cannot be “secular” about Caste. Instead it is meant to simultaneously abstract the features of Caste that lend people dignity and occupational protection while trying to “correct” other aspects. The caste-corrected national social contract is still work in progress.

    India had to deal with a lesser, but nearly as violent, schism between Churches (religions) too. It could afford to be nominally “secular”. Though, thankfully, the Partition outsourced a bulk of that social arbitration problem.

    To Numinous’ point, Indians lack a social consciousness because it essentially never really existed in a way it does in Anglosphere today. Indians have made do with Caste and (rigid) rules of interaction between Castes to keep order. Until the arrival of the British, Indian efforts had always been to preserve and re-analyse new influences (mainly Islamic) into Castes. After our interaction with Brits (and the Enlightenment), our efforts are focussed on re-analysing Caste into a social governance institution and tinker with it for the first time in history. The national social consciousness can only emerge as the dignity in Caste withers away.

    1. Indians have made do with Caste and (rigid) rules of interaction between Castes to keep order.

      Right, this is key. I think all societies crave order, but that order manifests itself in different ways and locations. Aside from caste, family relationships in India can also be quite hierarchical and rigid; we are similar to East Asians in this respect (an American friend eons ago made the observation that family dynamics in his Asian girlfriend’s family felt similar to the military.) It’s possible that public disorder in India is a compensation for rigid domestic order; what do you think?

      At the same time, I’ve often thought that since the old caste-based order was so patently unjust to the lower castes (majority of our population), people today are suspicious of the very idea of rules and laws (presumed to advantage only an elite.) Perhaps we will not see a healthy respect for rule of law develop until there is significantly more social and economic equality. (Again, this is an opinion; I could be wrong in my diagnosis.)

  6. Tangential question inspired by Numinous’s comment.

    Have ‘lower castes’ always been the majority or a significant plurality in India?

    I always thought that the huge demographic gap was a recent phenomenon. Maybe even just over the last 100 years.

    1. I suspect that it’s been roughly similar to today.

      The high level of ANI ancestry shows that more often than not that the caste system is like the aristocracy in the UK (low performing members of the elite descend into the general population).

      The caste system reflects economic prerogatives as well; pre-industrial society could only do with a certain % of priests, scribes, warriors and merchants.

      1. I think zack might need to ramp up on reading more modern genetics. The old ANI has been further deconvoluted into Iranian ancestry and steep ancestry components. The fraction of steppe ancestry is small (but not negligible), and the Iranian farmer ancestry is much larger, and found in almost every population. Both, ANI and ASI are composed of Iranian farmer admixture, with Steppe, and Ancient south Indian, and found in every population, but still, the Dravidian farmer and the Original south Asian percentage dominate.

        Extrapolating this to the four caste system is not straightforward because the fourth caste, the scheduled castes, and Muslims (more resembling the BC) easily approach 70+%. This, by itself, says that the Iranina farmer and the ancient south Indian dominate the Indian populations. Extrapolations from the Pakistani Punjab and Pathans to India are not straightforward. There, it is possible that the Steppe ancestry is a significant presence.

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