Changing Risk for Landless Populations: How Structural Transformation Influences Communist Success in Rural India

Date01 June 2014
AuthorTriveni Gandhi
Published date01 June 2014
Subject MatterArticles
Military-Madrasa-Mullah Complex 67
India Quarterly, 66, 2 (2010): 133–149
A Global Threat 67
Changing Risk for Landless Populations:
How Structural Transformation
Influences Communist Success
in Rural India
Triveni Gandhi
What explains the pattern of communist vote across rural India? One explanation is that landless popu-
lations will vote for left parties because they are more willing to engage with risky groups. But does land
reform change the risk structure for rural voters and how does this change affect the viability of left
parties? This article uses Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression to understand what percentage of
communist vote can be explained by landlessness in three of India’s Lok Sabha elections. Analysis finds
that landlessness is still a significant explanation of communist vote across India but not when control-
ling for left strongholds in West Bengal and Kerala, meaning that structural variables are moderated by
the duration of communist regime. This finding lends evidence to the idea that long term communist
regimes can successfully redistribute wealth in a society to reduce structural differences among peas-
ants. Changes in land tenure increase economic risk for peasant voters, and as recent elections have
shown, decrease the viability of communist parties. To further this point, I supplement my results by case
study analysis of West Bengal and Kerala, thus explicating the mechanisms leading to the more recent
upheaval of communist support.
Leftist parties, communist cote, landlessness, West Bengal, Kerala, Left Front, Left Democratic Front,
rural vote
Despite his passion for proletariat revolution, Marx was infamously dismissive of peasants in his theory
of revolution, classifying them as no more than ‘a sack of potatoes’. Yet historically, Marxist ideals have
succeeded most among rural proletariat in the post-Cold War development era. What explains the suc-
cess of Communist ideals among agrarian voters? Various answers have been put forth by scholars of
agrarian revolution, the most basic of which looks at the structural factors of peasant revolution and
reform. Structural explanations from Paige, Shanin and Zagoria emphasize landlessness (meaning the
lack of land tenancy) as an important factor for rural uprising and mobility, claiming that wage peasants
are more revolutionary (and hence more likely to vote left) than their landed counterparts. In this formu-
lation, wage peasants function as a rural proletariat against the landed rural ‘bourgeoisie’, establishing a
rural economy in which communist ideals of redistribution can thrive.
Triveni Gandhi, Cornell University, Government Department. E-mail:
Studies in Indian Politics
2(1) 67–80
© 2014 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014526092

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