The green revolution heralded a new era for agriculture in India, but it also changed the country’s politics, the effects of which are still being felt today. In a recent paper in the American Political Science Review, Aditya Dasgupta of the University of California says the green revolution was influential in the rise of agrarian opposition parties in the 1970s and the accompanying decline of the Congress. In the late 1960s, Indian farmers began using high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds, launching the green revolution which saw crop yields and production rise dramatically.

To study the impact of this on politics, Dasgupta links the share of agricultural land planted with HYV crops to 20,000 election races in state elections between 1957 and 1987. Analysing data before and after the green revolution, he finds that the green revolution significantly reduced the Congress’s share of votes and seats in assemblies.

He also shows that as the share of farm land planted with HYV seeds increased, the vote and seat share of agrarian opposition parties also rose significantly.

According to Dasgupta, there were three channels through which the green revolution generated these changes. First, it provided wealth to farmers, especially lower and intermediate caste farmers, who until then had been excluded and unrepresented in politics. Second, it intensified farmers’ dependence on the government for inputs and subsidies which were needed for growing HYV crops. This created a strong incentive for farmers to seek political representation.

Finally, increased production from the green revolution depressed crop prices, providing a rallying point for farmers and enabled collective action. All these forces combined led to the emergence of multi-party competition in Indian politics. More generally, Dasgupta argues that technology, such as HYV seeds, can weaken incumbents, strengthen outsiders, and potentially increase democratization in society.

READ | Technological Change and Political Turnover: The Democratizing Effects of the Green Revolution in India

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