Chaudhary Charan Singh: A leader of farmers in India

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Lucknow, March 30 (IANS) Though it was former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri who had coined the slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, it was Chaudhary Charan Singh who relentlessly fought for issues related to farmers and came to be known as a farmer leader — an epithet that has become synonymous with his name.

Though a Congress member for most of his life, he quit the party in the 1960s and went on to form the first non-Congress government not just in Uttar Pradesh, but entire north India.

He served as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1970 and also as the Prime Minister of India between July 28, 1979, and January 14, 1980.

He later founded his own political party Lok Dal in 1980.

Born to Netra Kaur and Chaudhary Meer Singh on December 23, 1902, in Noorpur village in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, Singh’s primary education took place in his native village school at Jani Khurd.

He passed his matriculation from the Government High School, Meerut.

Graduating in Science from Agra College in 1923, he did his M.A. in History from Agra University. After passing LLB examination in 1927, he got enrolled as an advocate in Ghaziabad.

He was deeply influenced by the ideas and teachings of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, he joined the freedom movement.

He was sentenced to jail several times for taking part in the freedom movement. He was imprisoned for six months for breaking the salt law. He was again imprisoned for a year in 1940. After getting released in October 1941, he was re-arrested in 1942.

Besides the freedom movement, Singh was also active in politics in the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) before Independence.

He was elected to the United Provinces Assembly from Chaprauli in Meerut district in 1937. He went on to represent the seat in 1946, 1952, 1962 and 1967.

He served as parliamentary secretary in Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant’s government in 1946.

He became a cabinet minister for the first time in 1951 with the portfolios of Justice and Information. Revenue and Agriculture portfolios were added a year later.

Subsequently, he also handled Ministries of Home, Agriculture, Forests and Local Self-Government.

Charan Singh’s political career witnessed a major turn on April 1, 1967, when he quit the Congress. Two days later, he was elected as leader of the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal and went on to become the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

It was the first non-Congress government in entire northern India.

He became the Chief Minister of the state for a second time in February 1970 after the Congress split. However, his government did not last long as President’s rule was imposed in the state on October 2, 1970.

Opposed to the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist economy, he advocated ownership rights to the farmers.

Singh is known for piloting pro-farmer legislation such as the Consolidation of Holdings Act of 1953 and the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari and Land Reforms Act, 1952.

The latter led to the abolition of zamindari system in the state. He was also strict in dealing with the ‘Patwari strike crisis’ in 1953.

He had introduced the Agricultural Produce Marketing Bill in 1938, which was passed in 1964. It helped the farmers in improving the market linkages.

Land reforms resulted in empowering the tillers and providing the landless with ownership of land. It created a conducive atmosphere for the social and economic upliftment of the farmers.

During the drought in 1966-1967, Singh offered the agriculturists a much higher procurement price than the prevailing market rates. The infrastructure he laid down led to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism.

He was active in the anti-Emergency agitation and got arrested on June 26, 1975, when Emergency was imposed.

He merged his Bhartiya Lok Dal with the Janata Party. As one of the founder members of the Janata Party, he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1977 general elections.

He was the Union Home Minister in the Janata Party government. He was appointed as the Finance Minister in January 1979 and was subsequently elevated to the post of Deputy Prime Minister.

He was sworn in as the Prime Minister on July 28, 1979, with the support of the very Congress party which he had opposed since 1967.

Charan Singh also authored an offbeat book, ‘Shishtachar’ on Indian etiquette.

Singh died on May 29, 1987, at the age of 84 years. His birth anniversary, December 23, is celebrated as ‘Kisan Diwas’.

His most celebrated follower happens to be late Mulayam Singh Yadav, who claimed his political legacy as a farmer leader and positioned himself as one.

Charan Singh was succeeded by his son, Chaudhary Ajit Singh, but the latter could not find a firm foothold in national politics.

His grandson Jayant Chaudhary is now leading the party — rechristened as Rashtriya Lok Dal.



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