Political economy offers an insightful way of analysing the influence of proprietary classes on agrarian policy-making and effective class formations in post-liberalisation India. The objective is to identify the key classes dominating the relations of production and their means of production and accumulation, and assess if these means have undergone a change or alteration over the past two decades under the impact of the state policy. Once the economic interest of the proprietary classes is ascertained, their relationship with the state is examined. Intervention by classes and representation of their interests in policy-making is usually covert, if it exists, and nearly impossible to study. Instead, their role in policy-making is construed through a study of formal and informal contact, proximity, and relation with the political leaders and bureaucracy.
Identifying the framework
This section discusses two conceptualisations of social group and state relations – the Marxist theory and the ‘political settlement’ theory – and weaves them into a framework for the study.
The Marxian view on class and state
In the 1970s, two schools surfaced within Marxism with respect to analysis of the capitalist state. Ralph Miliband and Nicol Poulantzas personify the ‘instrumentalist’ and ‘structuralist’ positions, respectively. Miliband's position on the state is based on the Communist Manifesto, while Poulantzas draws on Das Capital and writings of Gramsci (Barrow, 2000). Both scholars are influenced by Gramsci's analysis of the coercive and ideological apparatus of the state and civil society. Miliband argues that the state is directly controlled by capitalists, rather than by capital. Therefore, the state is reduced to an instrument in their hands. The ruling class of a capitalist society is ‘that class which owns and controls the means of production and which is able, by its virtue of the economic power thus conferred upon it, to use the state as its instrument for the domination of society’ (Barrow, 2000: 23). He draws on historical instances to understand state functioning.
On the other hand, Poulantzas’ understanding of class is more nuanced, wherein he incorporates political and ideological relations in what is otherwise seen as a purely economically determined category. He argues that in the capitalist mode of production, the direct producers are dispossessed from the means of production. Economic power is concentrated in the hands of the owners of the means of production – the capitalists.