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Chaudhary Sahib — the kind of farmers leader India needs

Chaudhary Sahib as Charan Singh popularly known in rural western UP. He was a farmer in spirit and deed. He is known as the Kisan leader and followed the slogan of the 2nd Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shashtri “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” from pre- Independence to the post Independence era. From being the first ‘kisan’ prime minister to deputy prime minister and twice chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, a Union home and finance minister, Chaudhary Sahib never forgot about the farmers and villages.

It is no hidden fact that India is predominantly an agricultural country and it is the main source of income as a backbone for India’s economic development. The share of agriculture in GDP increased to 19.9 per cent in 2020–21 from 17.8 per cent in 2019–20. The share of agriculture in the GDP has reached almost 20 per cent for the first time in the last 17 years, making it the sole bright spot in GDP performance during 2020–21, according to the Economic Survey 2020–2021.

The resilience of the farming community in the face of adversities made agriculture the only sector to have clocked a positive growth of 3.4 per cent at constant prices in 2020–21, when other sectors slid.

Charan Singh (1902–87) is frequently identified as ‘champion of India’s peasants who played a pivotal role in re-organising the political economy of agriculture in Uttar Pradesh by drafting and enacting different bills for agricultural reforms before and after Independence.

Chaudhary Sahib’s life was intrinsically and inextricably wrapped up with the peasantry of northern India; or, at least, in its quintessential orientation, with important sections of the peasantry. He became their political representative, their leader, their spokesman and their ideologist.

About Chaudhary Charan Singh 

  • Shri Chaudhary Charan Singh held office as the Prime Minister of India from 28th July 1979 to 14th January 1980. 
  • Chaudhary Charan Singh was born on December 23, 1902, in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh.  He was the 5th Prime Minister of the country.
  •  He was known as the leader of Indian farmers.  He believed that casteism was the root cause of slavery and that a country cannot achieve equality and prosperity with the prevalence of caste system.
  •  He pioneered in framing some of the most crucial policies needed to improve the condition of farmers during his tenure.  
  • Chaudhary Charan Singh became the first non-congress CM of UP and Prime Minister in 1979.  He has written many books during his life span. His most notable works include; ‘The Abolition of Zamindari, Two Alternatives’, ‘India’s Poverty and Its Solution’ etc.  
  • Chaudhary Charan Singh passed away on 29th May 1987. His memorial is located in New Delhi known as the Kisan Ghat.

Journey of Agricultural reforms by Charan Singh

  • In 1939, he introduced the Debt Redemption Bill in order to relieve the peasantry from moneylenders. This was one of the significant steps in making the farmers’ lives better. Further, in April, he drafted a Land Utilisation Bill, whose aim was to ‘transfer … the proprietary interest in agricultural holdings of UP to such of the tenants or actual tillers of the soil who chose to deposit an amount equivalent to ten times the annual rent in the government treasury to the account of the landlord’. The land reform had at its core the abolition of landlordism in UP.
  • By 1945, he had prepared a draft Congress manifesto on land and agriculture, which provided for that abolition, and it was approved by the All-India Congress Working Committee at its meeting in Calcutta in December 1945. 
  • By this time Charan Singh began his journey to pursue his political battle as the Kisan champion. 
  • However, it was after 1947, however, that the small and middle farmers found in him a representative of power, political skill and effectiveness. Still, in 1947, landlords remained masters of the Indian countryside, in UP as elsewhere.
  • On July 11, 1952, as agriculture minister, he headed Uttar Pradesh in ending the zamindari system and drafted the UP Zamindari and Land Reforms Bill. It was not an easy bet to get it through legislation since the landlord class opposed it and put all efforts to ensure its delay. However, Charan Singh bided his time and saw the legislation through to a triumph, concluding in terms of enactment. It was a milestone in the peasant history of India. This transformed the lives and actions of small and middle farmers and produced a class of rich farmers in western UP and in other parts of India.
  • However, the poor farmers and landless labourers were still incompetent of deriving substantial benefit from the Act. At this point again, Charan Singh stepped in. He had become Congress minister for revenue and agriculture in 1952 and was aware of the malpractices of patwaris in fudging village records. When in 1952 the government initiated reforms, the patwaris launched a state-wide hartal. Singh, dismissed about 28,000 patwaris from service. The sections of farmers were relieved and it led to the reorganization of the patwari system.
  • But Charan Singh had more plans and was not ready to stop just yet and efforts and support for farmers continued. In 1953, he got the Consolidation of Holdings Act passed and implemented it successfully in 1954. This represented a programme of land consolidation for individual peasant holdings. A scattered holding is feature of rural UP and Indian countryside.
  • After moving away from Congress in 1967, he formed the first non-Congress government in Uttar Pradesh and assumed the office of chief minister. He formed the Bhartiya Kisan Dal (BKD) in 1967 along with others and was the leader of Bharatiya Lok Dal in 1974 after merging the former into six other parties that were in opposition to the Indira Gandhi government.
  • Chaudhary Charan Singh formed the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) in 1978. After his death in 1987, Mahendra Singh Tikait resurrected the organisation in Uttar Pradesh. The BKU took a non-political position, which it continues till now to draw its legitimacy. 
  • He presented the Budget of 1979 which was amalgamated to accomplish the needs of the farmers and had included several policies for the betterment of the farmers. 
  • He introduced the Zamindari Abolition Act.

Charan Singh always prioritised agriculture and small scale business in the truest sense. Drawing heavy influence from Gandhi, Charan Singh relentlessly fought for the prosperity of Indian agriculture and farmers and making rural people self-reliant. 

The farmers’ movements in India are dominated by the rich farmers as a political force. The real and root causes of farmers get opaque in the political push that drives the unions now. Where the needs and demands of redressal should be at the top. The whole farming community needs to go hand in hand and the interests of the farmers should be prioritised. The journey of leaders like Charan Singh could be a road map for farmers to move ahead with a unified force. 

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