Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Looking through the prism of technoscientific research, the dissertation provides a historical understanding of the process of agricultural modernization in India during the period 1947 to 1975. The narrative is set at the backdrop of the Cold War politics, the drive for economic and social development and international exchanges of knowledge, skill and manpower. In a period marked by close interaction between the political and technoscientific establishments, the dissertation demonstrates how they helped to constitute each other. The dissertation argues that cooperation between political and technoscientific wings of the Indian state stemmed largely from mutual interests. The scientists as a professional community was eager to actively participate in the economic development of the newly independent nation-state and in doing so wanted to ensure continuous government patronage, funding for their projects and access to international collaborations. With very little research opportunity in the private sector, government funding was crucial for the professional advancement of any scientific community. Agricultural scientists, therefore, tried with various amount of success, to claim a good portion of budgetary allocations, especially with the introduction of the green revolution technology in the mid-1960s. The Indian government, on the other hand, employed a large pool of scientists and engineers to help it in finding fast and effective solution to a whole range of social, economic and political problems facing the new state. Technoscientific approach looked increasingly more attractive when compared with immensely more complex, expensive path of structural reforms.
The need for modernization is a defining characteristic of the new nation-state. But though largely unanimous about modernization as a normative goal, historical actors rarely agreed on the descriptive part. The dissertation, therefore, explores specifically how different political, social and professional groups variously interpreted the concept of a "modern" agriculture and the ways in which the process of modernization was related to "tradition" and "indigenous". Policy-makers and scientists largely defined "indigenous" in an economic sense, referring mainly to material, natural and intellectual resources available within the political boundaries of the country. The term "indigenous" as used in the agricultural policy documents during this period, therefore, had almost no epistemological connotation. What constituted India's tradition was also selectively appropriated, and largely re-interpreted, to be used in the making of "modern" India. The dissertation discusses in detail how the planners, scientists and politicians used both the terms till the mid-1960s to etch out an agricultural development model for India that was arguably more commensurable with its social, economic and ecological needs.
The first decade and a half of India's history of agricultural modernization shows features that were different from the chemical and capital-intensive development model of N.W. Europe and the Corn Belt of the American mid-west. The dissertation explains the difference largely in terms of priorities: the Indian planners and scientists' choice of agricultural technology was not driven so much by a concern to quickly transform the Indian countryside as a test-case vindicating the viability of capitalist means over communist economy; it was rather goals, such as social equity, large-scale industrialization and limitations of resources and infrastructure, not to mention agro-ecological specificities, which shaped the main contour of India's agricultural development plans.
For a country like India taking the course of planned development, planning "experts" and also the scientists and engineers achieved great significance in development planning. Their identity as `rational' beings made them most eligible to plan the right path for the teeming millions. The dissertation, therefore, analyzes what it meant to be an "expert" in India during this period and the role that technoscientific experts played in the process of agricultural modernization of India. In an age marked by ever-growing importance of scientists and "scientific" knowledge, the dissertation locates its approaches to "indigenous knowledge" and local farming practices.
The dissertation also explores whether the Indian government's intended use of science and technology as the primary tool to understand and solve the food question, especially with the coming of the green revolution technology, led to issues of marginalization. Thus, apart from investigating the technological limitations that inhibited the intended uses of technoscientific research as a panacea to complex issues, the dissertation also reexamines how did the scientists responded to problems faced by farmers with limited financial means who could afford to use a new technology; or what did agricultural modernization mean for farmers in the moisture-stressed regions of India. Apart from explaining the unprecedented scale of international collaboration that green revolution made possible, the dissertation also writes the history of dissenting scientists who critiqued the green revolution and looked for alternative means.
The primary contribution of this dissertation is to situate the history of agricultural research in the political, economic and social history of India in the first three decades after it independence. The very nature of the time period, however, takes this history beyond India's geo-political boundary and connects it to international events. It is, however, the specific context of India-political, economic, social, and ecological, more than any foreign influences that shaped the direction of agricultural development during this period. Thus, this dissertation is beyond everything a history of India-its people, institutions, and nature.
Saha, Madhumita, "State policy, agricultural research and transformation of Indian agriculture with reference to basic food-crops, 1947-75" (2012). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 12450.