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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 12, March 23, 2024

Reinforcing the Campaign for Inclusive Development | Suranjita Ray

Saturday 23 March 2024, by Suranjita Ray


India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth surged to 8.4 per cent for third quarter pushing the growth rate to 7.6 per cent for 2023-24. In the context of the forthcoming elections, the robust GDP growth rate and data of Household Consumption Expenditure Survey (HCES) for 2022-23 have become important declarations for the government to assure a ‘Viksit Bharat’ (developed nation) by 2047. It is important to reiterate that though economic growth is a necessary and powerful instrument of development, it does not necessarily lead to the development of all. While a capitalist/market-oriented economy privileged by the neoliberal state by nature is inimical to equality as it results in accumulation of wealth in fewer hands, political parties across the ideological spectrum reinforce the campaign for ‘inclusive development’ in a capitalist economy.

Ahead of 2024 elections, political parties appease the voters through claims and counter-claims on the fulfilment of the electoral promises. The slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ (together with all, development for all, trust of all) by the ruling party guarantees development for all through a series of flagship programmes and schemes. The success stories of poverty alleviation and welfare schemes have also been highlighted by B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, CEO of NITI Aayog. He argues that the higher expenditure on conveyance, consumer durables and consumer services and relatively lower expenditure on food, alongside spending more on diverse and balanced food such as beverages, processed food, milk, fruits and vegetables not only indicate that there is a change in incomes for better but also a change in the lifestyles. The consumption in rural and urban areas has shot up about 2.5 times and the rural-urban consumption divide has narrowed to 71 per cent in 2022-23 from 84 per cent in 2011-12 and 91 per cent in 2004-05. While the poverty estimates based on consumption expenditure are contested by many economists as they are unable to estimate the actual cost of accessing the nutrition norm, findings of the HCES reaffirm that the consumption expenditure patterns indicate decline in poverty and inequality. It finds that poverty has declined to the low single digits and is below 5 per cent. Subrahmanyam states that ‘in a way, destitution and deprivation have almost gone’. Though the option to change the Consumer Price Index base will depend on the findings of the ongoing HCES which will be completed in July 2024, it is expected that inflation will trend down. However, it is important to understand that despite the convincing attempts of the reconfiguration of state-market negotiation which argue that higher economic growth in the market economy leads to a decline in inter-class, inter-group and inter-regional inequality, increasing protests against deprivation of basic rights have brought many contentious issues to the fore.

Cumulative Distress Conditions

The recent protests by various sections of society, in particular, the farmers, Dalits and tribals across the country need to be seen in juxtaposition with the success stories of the market economy. Though the government at the Centre had repealed the three contentious farm laws in 2021 after a year-long protest by the farmers during 2020-21 as an attempt to appease the farmers ahead of crucial state polls, the ongoing farmer’s protests for a long pending demand for the legal guarantee for purchasing crops at Minimum Support Price and farm loan waiver remains unresolved. The promise to double the farmers income by 2022-23 has raised serious qualms not only because the real income of farmers has remained stagnant during the last few years but also due to increasing farmers distress across the country (see also Ray, 2019a, 2019b). Unfortunately despite an agrarian economy, agrarian distress and its coping strategies are not a one-time phenomenon but are systematic experiences of the farmers across the country. Farmers are a distressed lot, and their distress is not an aberration but a constant in terms of deprivations and denial of the right to basic resources of livelihood. The narratives of the farmers about their everyday experience of agony and struggle to survive unfold issues that are central to their distress which are sites of continuous oppression, conflict, and paradox.

What is equally worrying is that thousands of people from different states marched to the Capital recently to gather at the Jantar Mantar to demand social justice for the Dalits. The most important demands included the right to land, access to pattas of the land that were distributed earlier, stringent punishment for assaulting Dalit women and girls and implementation of the Act that prohibited manual scavenging. Similarly the tribals amongst others have been protesting against land acquisition for mining projects that have dismantled their traditional resources of livelihood. The Forest Conservation Amendment Act 2023 empowers the government to divert any forest land for non-forestry purposes without a forest clearance. Removing central protection from vast tracts of so-called ‘deemed forests’ (forested areas not officially recorded as ‘forests’) will result in several activities that will dismantle the resources to livelihood in these areas (Ray, 2023).

These protests spell out eloquently and concisely the construction of structures of dominance and processes of control which have strengthened and gained legitimacy over the years resulting in increasing vulnerabilities to processes of alienation of land rights, displacement, indebtedness, migration, poverty and hunger.

An explanation of the historical processes of impoverishment, disentitlement, exploitation and deprivation reveals the formal and informal arrangements and relationships between different categories of landholders and between landless and landholders, creditors and debtors, contractors and labourers through which many transactions involving land, cultivation, credit and labour is carried out. The overall position in the existing hierarchical social class-caste structure and agrarian relations contribute to strategies to appropriate land, other productive and non-productive assets, extraction of labour, exchange relations, practice of mortgaging, and experiences of hunger and poverty which are inextricably and necessarily linked. They are mutually reinforcing and contribute to the increasing vulnerability as results of cumulative distress experienced by particular sections of society. Denial and deprivation of control over productive/livelihood resources need to be explained in terms of their continuity which have led to alienation of land, labour and production of one’s labour.
The narratives explicate the multiplicities and complexities of the power relations rooted in class, caste, gender, ethnicity and their intersections. An intersectional analysis therefore becomes important as they draw on each other to develop strategies of dominance and control. Vulnerability is a therefore a construct and not a given condition. While the state delineates a common epistemological space which understands increasing vulnerabilities as the cause, the protests explain in lucid and clear terms the everyday experiences of vulnerability as a process and a consequential effect of the structures of power relations. A plethora of development programmes and schemes are short-term relief measures that ignore addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability of sections of society to various manifestations of persisting deprivation and distress.

Contesting State’s Perspective

Persisting experiences of vulnerabilities to distress, deprivation, poverty and hunger by certain sections dispute the perspective of the state. They raise serious concerns about the nature of the state’s intervention and its narrow understanding of such experiences. Successive governments for more than two decades have not been able to ameliorate the conditions of destitution and prevent deprivation. The emphasis on higher growth and land appropriation serves the interest of large farmers, non-agriculturists and corporate houses resulting in aggravating the agrarian crisis and consequently increasing farmers suicides. An agriculture policy that facilitates greater mechanization, commercialization of agricultural, and entry of big corporations through contract farming will further deprive the small and marginal farmers leading to increasing alienation of land, and landlessness. We see the trend of consistent decline in cultivators and a corresponding increase in agricultural labourers, land alienation and landlessness.

In the context of blurred boundaries between the interests of the dominant and ruling classes, the possibilities of altering the disadvantageous living conditions of the underprivileged seem to be eroding. It is significant to extrapolate that the political class has been able to graft to the institutional power structures that have seen the resurgence of the hierarchical state. The interventions of the state have not only failed to break the established configuration of dominance and privilege of the ‘powerful class’ but also dispute its role as a ‘neutral arbiter’ between conflicting power relations. Several studies find that the nature of the state itself makes the conditions conducive to sustain the interests of the dominant class. This situation is not new but, the political importance of the problem compels constant discussion.

Power relations are not always a relation of conflict but are determined by a complex of processes whereby active consent on the part of the population to specific exercises of power over them is secured. Power is exercised to ensure that conflicts over the mutually exclusive satisfaction of wants never arise. The powerful groups or individuals can influence the processes to such an extent that even when the powerless are not able to satisfy their wants, they do not question the prevailing structures of dominance and control. Thus, they are vulnerable to the ‘vulnerability Trap’.

Since understanding vulnerabilities cannot be divorced from the experiences of the vulnerable, understanding vulnerability from the vantage point of the latter becomes important. Weaving the narratives together has enabled us in reformulating the perspective of understanding vulnerability based on existing literature on development policies. The phenomenon of vulnerability is extremely complex, which cannot be explained in a linear approach in terms of simple cause and effect relationships or even by a combination of these relationships. The convergences and divergences between the perceptions and explanations of the vulnerable and the state become important. Arguably it is important to dismantle the polarising conversations to transcend the boundaries of conventional debate.

Therefore, while the development reports concede that poverty is declining at a modest pace, the policies and schemes have largely failed to do away with the structural inequalities. Thus, the growing paradox of development reflects the duality of the strategies of the state. The state has emerged strong enough to not only campaign for the corporate development agenda that facilitates the interest of the hegemonic class but has also co-opted some of the critical issues resulting in the decline of radical politics. It is therefore important to understand the increasing depoliticisation of social movements.

The developmental state has been instrumental in perceiving citizens as passive recipients and beneficiaries of development policies. The Panchayati Raj system, which aims at transferring power and authority to the local people at the grassroots to involve them in planning and implementing socio-economic development programmes, is still being manipulated by the dominant landowning class invariably belonging to the upper castes. While the panchayats represent aspects of the local political dynamics, they function as administrative agents of state policies. They have come to play the role of implementing agencies of poverty alleviation schemes and do not address the structural causes of poverty and deprivation. Conversely, while reservation at the panchayat level has broken the psychological barrier around the identity and role of an archetypical woman as they assert their rights as panchayat members in several villages, we find that participation in the Gram Sabha is only ensured when people are democratically conscious of their rights. Despite democratic transitions, the inclusionary rhetoric of development has resulted in the exclusion of the underprivileged and marginalized thus reinforcing the class character of the state.

Summing Up

Therefore, in addition to social capital and human capital, the political will to build the political capital of the deprived and marginalised becomes important to empower them to intervene in the policy decisions that affect their livelihood. The deprived and vulnerable should exercise their political right to alter the conditions which lead to the ‘vulnerability trap’. They should have the right to self-determination. Without dismantling the structures of inequality and oppression, the vast majority of people will continue to remain victims of the processes of marginalization, disentitlement and disempowerment. The demand for land rights by small and marginal farmers, landless, tribals and Dalits and the demand to protect the fertile land, water, forest reserves and mineral resources from unprecedented land grab and land acquisition in the name of development across the country needs to be prioritised in the political agenda of the state. One of the important proposals to reduce agrarian distress is to consolidate land holdings alongside land development activities to enhance farmer incomes. There is a need to conserve and regenerate the forest eco-system for a sustainable livelihood. A coherent policy for enhancing the status of forest alongside agro-ecological system by integrating patterns of land-use including forest land, irrigation, and pastures is therefore important. Inclusive development will only be possible if the underlying causes of the distress conditions in terms of distress sale of land, labour, produce, distress migration and increasing indebtedness are addressed. Therefore, understanding development needs to be liberated from a fixed delineation and preconceived notion outlined by the market economy.

(Author: Suranjita Ray teaches in the Department of Political Science at Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi, and can be contacted at suranjitaray[at] )


  • Ray, Suranjita (2023), ‘Regenerating the Forest Ecosystem: Few Concerns’ in Mainstream, Vol. 61, No. 13, 25 March 2023
  • ……………. (2019a) ‘Bringing Farmers To The Centre -Stage’ in Mainstream (Republic Day Special) Vol. LVII, No.6, 26 January, p 23-28.
  • ……………..(2019b) ‘Comprehending Farmers’ Distress’ in Mainstream Vol. LVII, No. 11, 2 March, p12-15.
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