Charan Singh’s clarion call in 1946 changed agriculture in North India | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Charan Singh’s clarion call in 1946 changed agriculture in North India

Feb 10, 2024 04:51 PM IST

Noted political scientist Paul Brass identified him as the principal spokesman of the middle peasantry of India.

In his broadcast to the nation on 28 July 1979, Chaudhary Charan Singh, after he was sworn in as Prime Minister of India, said “political leadership of the country must remember that nothing mocks our values and dreams more than the desperate struggle of our people for existence. Nothing could, therefore, be more poignant than the look of despair in the eyes of a starving child. Nothing could, therefore, be a more patriotic objective for our political leaders than to ensure that no child will go to bed hungry, that no family will fear for its next day’s bread and that the future and capacities of not a single Indian will be allowed to be stunted by malnutrition.”

former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh.(File)
former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh.(File)

Bharat Ratna recipient Chaudhary Charan Singh - Chaudhary Saheb to his followers - was a towering personality with a public life spanning six long eventful decades. He acknowledged the socio-political influences of both Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Mahatma Gandhi: his life-long austerity and dedication to the cause of Indian farmers and farming communities was born in that milieu. Few would know that he participated in Salt Satyagraha and was imprisoned several times.

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Going back to March 1946 is to come face to face with the redoubtable Choudhary, 48, who was elected for the second time to the United Provinces Legislative Assembly from the Meerut District. He was Parliamentary Secretary (or junior minister) in the Congress Ministry of the United Provinces. In what can be termed as a high point of his intellectual and political achievements is the ‘Report of the United Provinces Zamindari Abolition Committee’ of which he was a key member.

On 8 August 1946, United Provinces Legislative Assembly passed the following resolution: “This Assembly accepts the principle of the abolition of the Zamindari System in this Province which involves intermediaries between the cultivator and the State and resolves that the rights of such intermediaries should be acquired on payment of equitable compensation and that Government should appoint a committee to prepare a scheme for this purpose.”

The Committee’s chairman were all luminaries - Gobind Ballabh Pant, Hukum Singh, Minister of Revenue; K N Katju, Minister of Justice; besides legislators like Kamlapati Tripathi, Abdul Ghani Ansari, Ram Chandra Gupta, Ajit Prasad Jain and Vishwambhar Dayal Tripathi , to name just a few.

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Charan Singh’s role as parliamentary secretary to the Premier Pant was pivotal; other secretaries to the committee included B. N. Jha, Revenue Secretary (now Chief Secretary); A N Jha and Ameer Raza. Each of these illustrious members was to leave their mark on contemporary history.

The terms of reference are worth noting as the government order directed "in submitting their proposals the Committee will, in particular, make their recommendations on the following points:

(1) Accepting the principle of the abolition of the Zamindari System. (а) What rights of intermediaries should be acquired? (b) what would be the principles for the determination of equitable compensation for the acquisition of such rights? And (c) what administrative and financial arrangements would be required to give effect to the proposals formulated under (a) and (b)?

(2) What would be the basic principles and precise scheme of land tenure which will replace the existing system of Zamindari in the Province?

(3) What would be the administrative organization required to give effect to the new scheme of land tenure, and in particular what would be the machinery for collecting government dues?”

To say that ‘Report of the United Provinces Zamindari Abolition Committee’ reads like a primer on the history of agriculture in India – and indeed the world - is to pay tribute to the intellectual depth of men like Charan Singh. The Report stated: “In the first part we have reviewed briefly our main economic problems, the historical development of the land system of the United Provinces, land systems and agrarian reforms in certain other provinces of India, and the measures of land reform recently adopted in some of the agricultural countries of Europe where the system of peasant proprietorship prevails. We have also given a brief account of the development of collective farming in the USSR, Palestine and Mexico. The last chapter of Part One briefly states the reasons why the abolition of zamindari has become inevitable.”

Throughout his political life, speaking up for farmers and farming issues in Parliament and outside it, Charan Singh presented local problems in larger national and global contexts.

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The Report boldly stated, “Many of the shortcomings of the various measures adopted for tenancy reform in our province in the past could have been avoided had the framers of the various enactments studied how similar problems had been solved in other places.”

For sons of the soil like Charan Singh, it was clear that since agriculturists form nearly 75 per cent of the population of the country, and the bulk of them are notoriously poverty-stricken, it is obvious that if the poverty of India is to be removed or drastically reduced, attention must be concentrated on their rehabilitation and the improvement of their economic position. “Any scheme devised for the purpose should have primarily a two-fold object in view, namely, (1) to bring about conditions resulting in more produce from land and (2) to draw the surplus agricultural population into other productive occupations. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said in 1936: ‘Fundamentally we have to face the land problem . . . and the problem of unemployment which is connected with it’,” said the Report.

Sections dealing with uneconomic and fragmented holdings across UP are heart-rending, as it states, accurate statistics are lacking, but, according to the figures quoted by the Famine Inquiry Commission, “the average size of a holding in the United Provinces ranges between 4.8 acres in the Gorakhpur division where the soil is fertile, and 12 acres in the Jhansi division where the soil is infertile, the average for the whole province being about 6 acres. The average yield of cereals per acre is estimated at 0.35 tons. Thus, the average holding in the United Provinces is capable of yielding only a little more than 2 tons of cereals. In actual fact, however, the majority of holdings are very much less in area than even six acres.”

The late Paul Brass, Professor Emeritus of political science at University of Washington, would have delighted in sharing his decades-long friendship with Charan Singh. In the 1960s, when Brass was a doctoral student, he first met Charan Singh who was Cabinet Minister of Home and Agriculture in Uttar Pradesh.

In 1993, Prof Brass wrote, “ Charan Singh played major roles in transforming the agricultural economy of north India in the post-Independence period and the politics of his home state and of the country…Four aspects of his political career and his influence on contemporary north Indian politics seem to me to be especially important. First is the fact that his political career involved him at all levels of the Indian political system. Second, he became identified as the principal spokesman of the middle peasantry of India. Third, he was identified also with aspirations of so-called backward castes of intermediate social status between the elite castes and the lower castes. Fourth, he wrote a number of books, as well as political pamphlets, that presented an extremely sophisticated and coherent alternative development strategy for India entirely different from that of former prime ministers Nehru and Indira Gandhi.”

Prof Brass did not mince his words when he wrote, “Charan Singh was a politician…who operated in the factional system of the UP Congress like other factional leaders, seeking constantly to undermine his rivals, to reward his supporters, punish his enemies, and attain power for himself and his allies, he stood apart from the others in his ability to articulate, as well, coherent policies and principles."

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