Agrarian Accumulation in Liberalised India: A Study of Capitalist Farmers in Punjab


Shreya Sinha

PhD defended at: 

SOAS University of London


The story of Indian agriculture under liberalisation has been written about most commonly as a story of crisis, especially for the landless and small and marginal farmers. Based within a critical agrarian political economy framework, this thesis shifts the focus to capital and studies how agrarian accumulation in India has been reconfigured by liberalisation of the economy. It has done this by studying the accumulation strategies of capitalist farmers in Punjab, the archetypal Green Revolution state of the country, through year-long mixed methods fieldwork in and around a major market town of the state.

The research has concluded that agrarian accumulation is continuing in Punjab under liberalisation, although it is more precarious than before. State procurement of wheat and paddy from Punjab’s wholesale markets continues to be a major factor supporting this. Some capitalist farmers have also been able to create new spaces for accumulation under the changed circumstances, not least through selective engagement with corporates’ strategies. Therefore, I argue that there is no overarching agrarian crisis in India. At the same time, risks have multiplied as various other forms of State support have been reduced while some more are in the pipeline. Moreover, older strategies of expanding accumulation or averting risk, as the case may be, by investing in land or non-agricultural avenues have been marred by the conditions in the wider economy and have become increasingly less accessible to even many capitalist farmers. The research also finds that agricultural markets are crucial to the process of agrarian accumulation in Punjab. The focus on multiple commodities shows that farmers must negotiate different kinds of market structures over a single agricultural year in order to accumulate within agriculture. These markets involve different risks and carry different kinds of significance for capitalist farmers. An understanding of agrarian capitalism in Punjab, therefore, needs to account for its agro-commercial actors and processes more than it has so far. Finally, although the focus of this study has been on capitalist farmers and not the entire spectrum of agrarian classes, the findings also suggest continuing differentiation among the landowning classes.