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Peek into History: Class Dynamics and Agrarian Struggles in Telangana Politics - Part 1

 (This article is 7th in the series on the evolution and development of Telugu States)
 
The region of Telangana has seen class-based mobilisation of the landless and poor peasantry since the early 1970s. This section analyses the dynamics of the agrarian movement in Telangana region. We first discuss the split in the communist movement and the formation of the CPI (ML), whose understanding of Indian society as semi-feudal gave rise to the militant peasant struggles in the post-Independence period. 
 
Secondly, we look at the agrarian scenario in the Telangana countryside and, thirdly, we examine the development and the different phases of the peasant movement. The class specificity of agrarian mobilisation in Telangana has to be seen in the historical context of anti-feudal struggle in this region. 
 
As discussed earlier, the region of Telangana was characterised by the presence of a class of large landlords, comprising the jagirdars and deshmukh doras, who constituted the support structure of the Nizam’s State. 
 
Peasant Revolt: Beginning of Political Articulation
 
Under the leadership of the communists operating through the Andhra Maha Sabha (AMS), the Telangana struggle of the 1940s rallied the entire rural population, cutting across caste and class distinctions in the fight against the oppression of these landlords and their practices of vetti (forced extraction of labour services and products), for example. The locus of the struggle was Nalgonda, parts of Warangal and Karimnagar, and Khammam districts.
 
It is important to note that the peasant revolt put an end to the feudal practices and the domination of this class of landlords. As a result of the injury to their pride caused by the peasant revolt, the landlords who fled away from their villages were generally disinclined to return to their native places, seeking instead to dispose of their lands to their erstwhile tenants and other farmers. 
 
Although this peasant struggle ended with the violent intervention of the post-Independence Indian State, and so could not bring about a radical transformation of the agrarian social structure, it succeeded however in paving the way for a certain degree of homogeneity in the upper crust of the landowners.
 
The areas of Telangana unaffected by the struggle of the 1940s continued to experience that period’s feudal oppression until the 1970s. It is curious to note that even the new class of landlords that emerged in the post-Independence period resorted to old feudal modes of exploitation and oppression, as was evident in certain areas of Karimnagar and Warangal districts.
 
It is this scenario that forms the backdrop of the peasant struggles waged by the CPI (ML) groups during the 1970s and 1980s in the Telangana region. It is no exaggeration to say that the CPI (ML)-led peasant mobilisation was basically a response to the State’s ineffective intervention in transforming agrarian social relations, despite its progressive agrarian legislations, and its failure to democratise rural social life. 
 
It may also be noted that the CPI (ML) groups established their support bases in the areas which were on the periphery of the earlier peasant struggle. In fact, in some of these areas, extreme forms of feudal exploitation and practices continued to exist until the Naxalite movement addressed them. In a substantial sense, the CPI (ML) agrarian movement completed the process that had remained unfinished since the 1940s.
 
Split in the Communist Movement
 
Critical to an understanding of the rise of the Naxalite movement in the country is the split in the communist movement. The communists make sense of their politics in an overtly theoretical fashion and, unlike other political parties, the Communist Parties tend to explain their political moves in terms of fairly long-term historical processes. 
 
Thus, any explanation of the split in the movement must take into consideration a complex set of factors, even when a particular split could be the result of serious inter-personal differences or a growing incompatibility in the style of functioning of individual leaders – as it convincingly seems to have been the case with the CPI (ML), which has split into innumerable groups and factions since its inception less than 40 years ago.
 
Despite the multiple splits that the CPI (ML) has seen, there is broad agreement among these different parties/groups on the characterisation of Indian society and State (see Suri, 1993). The CPI (ML) groups understand agrarian society as predominantly semi-feudal and characterise the Indian State as semi-feudal and semi-colonial. 
 
Based on this understanding, the Indian capitalist class becomes a comprador entity in active collaboration with the landlord class, dependent upon the metropolitan bourgeoisie. In the understanding of the CPI (ML) groups, the historical specificity and trajectory of development in India preempts the possibility of the development of capitalism in the countryside. 
 
Further, the peculiar intertwining of interests or alliance of the class forces of pre- capitalist agrarian society and the colonial structure that characterise societies that have been subjected to colonial rule, is supposed to be an objective historical fetter on the development of capitalism in these societies. Thus, the development of the Indian agrarian economy post-1947 has been characterised as the reinforcement of semi-feudal social relations.
 
This understanding of Indian society and State leads these groups to characterise the present phase of Indian revolution as a ‘New Democratic’ stage and to underline the continual need of anti-feudal struggles. 
 
According to the CPI (ML) parties, the principal contradiction in Indian society is between feudalism and the mass of poor peasantry and landless agricultural labour. The principal task of the agrarian revolution is to fight against and abolish the feudal class in the countryside and democratise the social relations therein.
 
The strategy, thus, formulated by the CPI (ML) emphasised the unity of the poor peasantry and landless poor, constituting a majority of the agrarian population, with the broad masses of working people against the feudal class. 
 
Nevertheless, the emphasis is on the landless and small peasantry playing a pivotal role in the agrarian revolution. In this view, the struggles against forcible labour extraction, the eviction of peasants from their land, and the demand for waiving of rural debts, higher wages, restoration of common property resources (controlled by the landlords), and distribution of surplus land, assume significance as a means to politicise the rural poor and pave the way for the democratisation of social relations through the abolition of the landlord class and its privileges.
 
Agrarian Unrest
 
Despite serious differences on the nature and strength of the landlord class, its interconnections with other classes in the ruling coalition, the place and tactical significance of parliamentary participation and its relation to armed struggle and the linkages and modes of transformation of land and wage struggles into political struggles, all of the CPI (ML) agreed on the following: that the ‘agrarian revolution is central to the new democratic revolution’ in India; that ‘land to the tiller’ was the central slogan of agrarian mobilisation; and that the organisation of the poor peasantry and agrarian labour, who constituted the backbone, was crucial to the agrarian revolution.
 
This understanding formed the basis of the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal and the Srikakulam movement in northern coastal Andhra in the late 1960s. 
 
In continuation of these revolts, which were put down violently, the CPI (ML) organised similar struggles in other parts of the country. The peasant struggles in Karimnagar and the tribal areas of Adilabad, Warangal and the Khammam districts of Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh have to be understood against this background of the split in the communist movement and the spread and expansion of CPI (ML) activity.
 
 

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