4. Rural community development in India, 1950s to 1980s

India is a prominent example of the changing developmental approaches in the field of agriculture and rural spaces. During colonial times agricultural research and education institutes were established in India, most of which were expanded after independence in 1947 (Arnold 2005; Raina 1999). Independent India’s development debates were also influenced by debates about the role of agriculture and the rural population begun in the colonial era (Zachariah 2005). Seeing that more than eighty percent of India’s population after 1947 lived in the countryside, a visible, integrative rural development policy was necessary in the interest of nation building and political legitimacy. The Community Development Programme of the 1950s, which was supposed to improve rural infrastructure and increase agrarian production, was an expression of these efforts. At the same time the program mirrored the structural (especially economic) limitations India was facing. Based on Indian, European and American concepts of rural uplift, the program was supposed to help villagers to help themselves and allow them to become active members of the new Indian nation (Sinhar 2008). Cooperatives were designed to promote economic growth while also “awakening” the rural population politically. Western donors, especially the United States, considered the approach as an opportunity to prevent the spread of communism (Sackley 2011). Yet the results of the program were disappointing, and in the early 1960s the Indian government followed calls to make India’s agricultural policies more market-friendly. This was the background against which the Green Revolution could take place in the late 1960s and 1970s (Frankel 1978; Lanier 1991).

Due to the polarizing effects of the Green Revolution it has largely been forgotten that India early on experimented with development concepts which, in the 1980s, became known as “Integrated Rural Development”, and which were institutionalized in the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) (Sussmann 1982; Thaha/Prakash 1989). In some ways IRDP can be understood as a reaction to the growing criticism against top-down approaches, and to the call for development models that paid attention to the rural populations and their realities. Supported by international development organizations, the Indian government now funded multidimensional projects that focused on the role of women in the development process, had an interest in environmental, health, and educational problems, and were generally more integrative than earlier approaches. In some aspects the Basic Human Needs approach, which later was so prominently represented by the World Bank, seems to have been formulated on a national and local level (Stokes 1978; Streeten 1981). What seems particularly interesting in this regard is the role of local agricultural knowledge and its interaction with the externally provided expert knowledge (Gupta 1998).

While Indian sociologists covered both the Community Development Programme and the Integrated Rural Development Programme, historical studies on these approaches are missing. Hence, our case study will investigate the continuities, discontinuities, and transformations of rural development policies in India in a diachronic perspective. It pays attention to colonial forerunners and international entanglements, and it studies the political and institutional structures, experiences, and arguments that favored some approaches and marginalized others. It asks why the community development ideas were “forgotten” and had to be “re-invented” several decades later, and it asks how the goals and motives of rural development change over time. The nexus between national development goals, party and state interests, and international debates is of special interest. Furthermore, the study offers an opportunity to investigate the looping effects between experts, field workers, and development organizations (Mosse 2005; Rottenburg 2002) as well as between different, national and international development institutions. Finally, the study promises a better understanding of how India managed to transform itself from a recipient of development aid into a donor and promoter of development aid within a relatively short time.