In the years following independence, looking toward agricultural self-sufficiency, India's national leadership sought to identify cultivators endowed with the daring, grit, and experimental character needed to actualize the promise of plenty. Drawing on Western modernization theory and the idioms of colonial and nationalist economics, India's bureaucrats and politicians contrasted the nation's “progressive farmers” with the passivity and superstition alleged to be characteristic of the majority of peasants, establishing crop competitions and the title of Krishi Pandit—“master farmer”—to reward and trumpet these qualities. Yet the progressive farmers winning these titles were not the agrarian poor, but rather an ascendant, self-cultivating peasantry armed with the capital and connections needed to raise their yields. In a subsequent era of egalitarian reform, exemplified in the Community Development Program, these same progressive farmers continued to bag awards but bucked planners' expectations that they would serve as natural leaders in villages. As these producers mobilized politically, and India's bureaucrats and politicians moved toward the Green Revolution consensus that agricultural productivity would require an inequitable concentration of inputs, progressive farmers emerged as “bullock capitalists,” a demand group that would transform national politics but do little for the aims of equity and rural development.

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