had left subtenants and other categories of the
were done away with and they joined the ranks of their former tenants, who
now emerged as a kind of peasant landlord with perfect freedom to exploit
the rural poor. There were, of course ceilings on landholdings imposed by
legislation and a prohibition on the subletting of land. But in the absence of a
proper record of rights, breaches of the law were hard to prove and this type
of legislation remained a mere eyewash.
    Moreover, the substantial peasantry which had been the beneficiary of
earlier British legislation and then also of Congress-sponsored zamindari
abolition, was politically powerful and constituted the social base not only of
the Congress but also of all other parties which tried to get a foothold in the
countryside. The political mobilisation of poor peasants holding tiny plots of
land or of landless labourers has so far hardly been attempted and in the stray
cases never succeeded. The web of rural dependence and servitude is so
complex and tightly knit that it is difficult to unravel, especially since poor
people are usually much too weak in every respect to put up much resistance.
Well-meaning reformers like Vinobha Bhave and his Bhoodan (land gift)
movement had not made much of an impact on the rural scene. Although
inaugurated with high hopes, Community Development has become just
another government department and its officers usually turn into petty
    The essence of the agrarian transition in post-Independence India has
been the development of a socially narrow-based agrarian capitalism. While
there has been some change in the composition of the top land-owning
stratum (with the decline of the erstwhile zamindars and the moving up of a
section of the rich peasantry), land concentration, as measured for instance by
the proportion of land owned by the top 15 percent of the landowners, has
shown no decline. This relatively more homogeneous class of top landowners
has been provided with a plethora of incentives to convert itself into a class
of capitalist farmers. We thus have a combination of capitalist and pre-
capitalist forms of exploitation in the countryside which is particularly
oppressive for the rural poor and which also restricts the sweep of capitalist
development. Nonetheless, as will be seen below, it has brought about a
certain measure of output expansion in agriculture in contrast to the absolute
stagnation in output that prevailed over the last half-century of colonial rule.
    To see matters in a proper perspective,      a very brief historical discussion is