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Capital, interrupted: agrarian development and politics of work in India.

Vinay Gidwani

Permanent Black, Ranikhet Cant., 2008, Page: 337, Price: Rs. 750

Vinay Gidwani's Capital, Interrupted is a unique combination of both theoretical and empirical perspectives on "the very constitution of capital". The book surveys and analyses over two centuries of agrarian change, colonial and post colonial state projects, and politics of labour in rural Gujarat. The salient concern of the book is the trajectories of hegemony of Lewa Patel caste and its changing facets of opportunities in profit making in agricultural sector in Gujarat.

The book strives to generate a genealogical account of capitalism in central Gujarat for over two decades. Chapter 1 ("Waste") analyses the problematic of liberalism and development in India. In this chapter, Gidwani postulates that development in India was not confined to multiply production of wealth through economic activities but it was also strive to transform moral conduct of the subjects as well. The chapter analyses how capitalist economy took shape in Gujarat through a process of channeling and forming of native subjects and their physical environment according to the desired ways of British rulers. In this chapter, Gidwani illustrated the specter of 'Waste' in relation to various concepts (drainage, wasteland, indolent labour) in the background of British understanding of political economy and governance. In this chapter, he unfolded surplus extraction policies in relation to land revenue administration and perspectives about taming conduct (value) of Indian subjects which were very much necessary for optimisation of the former. For analysing these facts, he used the Foucauldian perspectives on governance, about which Foucoult describes government power as "the conduct of the conduct".

The second chapter of the book ("Birth") unfolds how the Lewa Patels emerged as an effluent caste through articulation of caste, class and gender relations with British Government and other caste group in their socio political sphere. The chapter exhibits a sociological genesis of Patel caste (Kanbi+Patidar Caste) in the central Gujarat. It is deciphered that colonial land settlement policies, political and economic transformations among Kanbi and Patidar class factions intersected with hypergamous marriage practices gave rise to a geographically ordered Patel caste. This chapter sandwiched between chapters appears like a primer on colonisation and development in the pre-independence Gujarat. This chapter narrates how Patel rent collectors under villages Deshais and Amins turned into imperial appointee in the early 19th century and how they assumed a vital role in the system of direct revenue collection to accentuate their power in rural and urban Gujarat. Along with historical evidence of this advantageous position, the chapter also delves into social imperative of hypergamous relations of Patel caste with Patidar caste to establish their stranglehold in Gujarat. The chapter also hints the landscape change in Gujarat due to irrigation and its concomitant changes in the rural economy and threat to Patel dominance in the social structure.

The third chapter of the book ("Machine") begins with a discussion of Deleuze and Guattari's concept of "abstract machines" and the concept's relevance to development in the third world. The state led project of "development", Gidwani argues is an abstract machine that brings into relation previously separate human and non-human elements, and through this bringing into relation constitutes new and often unforeseen possibilities, both for enrolled elements and for the trajectory of the machine itself. The chapter is based on a case study of hydropolitics of Matar taluka based on archival and ethnographic research. In this chapter, Gidwani reveals India's post-independent development machines in action in rural Gujarat. The constructions of large scale irrigation system facilitated rich farmers and help them to sow a second crop each year and cultivate higher value irrigated crops. The canal irrigation increased agricultural production, farm employment and attracted capital investment. The new canals also forged new development opportunities among lower caste pastoralists, the new canal facilitated by fodder growth on the banks of the canal and cultivation of green fodder for dairy. This development led them to economic prosperity at par with their erstwhile higher caste employer balancing the social hierarchy.

Chapter 4 ("Distinction") contends the Patel caste's quest for social distinction against the continuous tension with demands of capitalist production. In this chapter, Gidwani depicted the trajectories of labour relations, critically negating the New Institutional Economics (NIE) and Marxist Political Economy (MPE) framework. His analysis based on primary and secondary sources and which says that prevalence of Uchhakpratha (piece work arrangement) is not an outcome of a profit or class centred economic rationality but equally interrupted and contaminated by cultural attributes of the employer and the employee relations over the period of time. Gidwani proposes four processes to understand social distinction of Patel caste in labour process in Gujarat. First, Patel's ability to withdraw family labour power from the commoditised labour circuit (devalorisation of labour); second their ability to maintain this distinction (devalorisation) despite that it is too risky and can cause immiserisation; third, to value this distinction they erected barriers for entry into the club to preserve their identity and fourthly, those Patels households depend upon labour income strategically started shirking wage labour by initiating alternative avenues of income generation. This disengagement from the manual labour and preference for mental labour created a hierarchy between the two and gradually crystalised them as supervisory farmers. The younger generation of the Patel caste added a new form of distinction in labour deployment in the form of "piecework". The new generations disdain spending entire days for supervisory work in agriculture and like to delegate agricultural work on piece rates, where they simply pay a team of workers a lump sum for completing a task. Since piecework regime requires minimal supervision, it suits younger Patels and added a new dimension to their social distinction of getting wwork done from a distance. Thus, Gidwani postulates that the emergence of Uchhakpratha in Matar taluka can not be understood through NIE and MPE independently, it certainly Interrupted by gradual topology of work within the social structures which was a sources of social distinctions of Patel's quest for civility vis-a-vis the other communities in the central Gujarat.

In the fifth chapter ("Interruption") Gidwani postulates an encounter between 'Politics of labour' and 'Politics of work'. In this chapter, he contended that even though capitalist production dominates the universe of human and non human activity, all these activities are not mere expression of capital; on the other hand profit seeking production activity under capitalism always confronts other values or normative practices. In this chapter, Gidwani views the idle behaviour of men as an 'interruption' to the flow of capital, rather than some pre-modern disposition that lies out side of the capital or one that is opposed to it from within. To develop this insight, he postulates, first to disentangle 'work' from labour in order to "reclaim for that term is heterogeneous and irreducible sense of meaningful fabrication-labour as potentiality: potentiality as activity". In this chapter, he conceives work as a non capitalist form of value production which leads to Althussarian logic of over determination.

Over all Capital Interrupted is an important book for scholars who are keen to peep into the intricacies of changing rural labour relations. This book is a product of serious theoretical arguments and field work in the Matar Taluka of Gujrarat. In this book, Gidwani succeeded in analysing constant changes incurred in capitalism and the ways in which large group like Patels retain and expand power admist shifting social, political and economic tides. In this book, Gidwani provided a new orientation to comprehend rural labour relations beyond the dominant theoretical lenses of NIE and MPE approach that is located in the social and cultural practices of a locality. In this regard, present and future generations of scholars are certainly indebted to Vinay Gidwani.

Tapas Kumar Dalapati, Fellow, Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain, e-mail:
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Author:Dalapati, Tapas Kumar
Publication:Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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