One day, some farmers from Charan Singh’s constituency went to Delhi to meet him regarding an issue they were facing back home. When Charan Singh met them, the first question he asked was, “how much money have you spent to come till here?“. The farmers replied that they had to spend around Rs. 120. Charan Singh did not like the fact and scolded them saying, “when you can send a postcard of 5 paise mentioning all you want to say, why to waste 120 rupees unnecessarily?”
Charan Singh, who is frequently referred to as the “champion of India’s peasants“, served as the 5th Prime Minister of India between July 28, 1979, and January 14, 1980. Because of his dedication and devoted service and his love for the farmers of the country, his memorial in New Delhi is named “Kisan Ghat” and his birthday on December 23 is celebrated as “Kisan Diwas” in India.
Charan Singh was born in a farmer’s family, so he closely witnessed the harsh realities of Indian farmers. The debt traps, the exploitation, and everything around it. As a member of the Legislative Assembly of the United Provinces (British India) elected in 1937, he took a deep interest in the laws that were detrimental to the village economy and he slowly built his ideological and practical stand against the exploitation of tillers of the land by landlords.
He led a very aggressive approach while dealing with farmers’ issues. Once, when Singh was the Minister for Revenue and Agriculture, he found out about the malpractices that go on in the ‘patwari (lekhpal)’ system that existed in most parts of India. Taking immediate action, he ordered for the dismissal of service of about 28,000 ‘patwaris‘.
Some of the other significant bills and reforms that took shape during the Charan Singh years were – the Debt Redemption Bill, which gave relief to the peasantry from moneylenders, and a land utilization bill to transfer the proprietary interest in agricultural holdings to the actual tillers of the soil.
In a newspaper article, he discussed the blueprint of the land reform he would pursue after Independence. That land reform had at its core the abolition of landlordism – the zamindari system. He also exempted fertilizer from sales tax and the land revenue for farmers owning land up to three and a half acres.
Moreover, he proposed the idea of a 50% quota for children of farmers in government jobs, which must be given irrespective of their caste.
At the core of the ideas of Charan Singh lies the inspiration he took from Gandhi. Gandhi believed in a development model that should go from the bottom to the top, today we see the opposite. But Charan Singh attempted to articulate an alternative model of development for India which was inspired by Gandhi.
He is also famously known for his strong differences with Jawaharlal Nehru on approaches to development. Nehru was more focused on and prioritized the development of industries and urban centers. But Charan Singh believed that in a nation where around 80% of the population, in that era, lived in the villages and were dependent on agriculture and other occupations around it, the developmental activities must be more inclined towards the rural areas.
It’s been a year, and farmers in northern India are still out on the streets and highways. They had to be out of their houses at a time when the whole world had to remain indoors. They had to bear the bitter cold of Delhi for days. They had to face the obstacles and atrocities of the puppets controlled by the Home Ministry. And above all, they are away from their farms because they are fighting for them.
But why they are not able to reach the people in power and convince them? During an interview with the YouTube channel “The Lallantop“, noted poet Kumar Vishwas pointed out a significant problem because of which the farmers are not being heard – the absence of a Charan Singh inside the parliament.
The farmers, for the last one year, are acting as an external force to convince the people in power, but the farmers will need true representation in power. That insider voice is going the shake the parliament and take the protest forward and maybe to a fruitful outcome. That insider can tell the legislature what good they are doing for the farmers, and what is being rejected or is not wanted by the farmers themselves.
Hence today’s politics miss leaders like Chaudhary Charan Singh. May we see more Charan Singhs in our politics and inside the legislatures today and may the voice of the kisans stay alive so that the nation can stay alive.