In formulating the economic demands it proposed:
12) The abolition of indirect taxation and the introduction of graded income tax on all income exceeding Rs 250 per mensem.
13) Nationalisation of land wherein all cultivable land will be leased by Government to cultivator.
14) Nationalisation of means of production, distribution and exchange.
15) Rent of land holding not to be excessive.
16) Establishment by the government of State-aided cooperative banks controlled by local organisations for the provision of credit to peasants, at a rate of interest not exceeding seven per cent.
In a programme formulated for the All India Congress Committee it proposed:
“70 per cent of the population which is engaged in agriculture is to be organised into peasant societies, by district, taluk, and village, on the lines of the village panchayat, based on universal suffrage aiming to secure control of the economic life of the rural areas. Through the agricultural cooperative banks to be established by the State for the provision of cheap credit to the peasants, whereby they will be enabled to free themselves from the grip of Saukars, and to purchase modern machinery and other equipment; limitation by law of the rate of interest at seven per cent per annum; limitation of rent to 10 per cent of the total produce to be paid direct to the Sate, and brining into cultivation by State aid cultivable land by present unused.
But the bourgeoisie leadership of the Congress was not prepared to take up the peasant demands.
When a proposal was mooted before the Subjects committee of the Congress that it should side with peasants and workers when a conflict arose between them and the zamindars and capitalists. Pandit Motilal Nehru, the then President of the Congress, contended in reply, that the Congress was not the Socialist or Communist Party. The reason for making this statement was that the Congress was by no means ready to stand up for those who produce all things by their labour.
J M Sengupta, leader of the Bengal Swarajists, made this even clearer. He said that the party includes many zamindars and that without their help so many men of their party would certainly never be able to enter the Councils. So they could by no means help the peasants, going against those zamindars. They tried to cover this defence of the interest of the landlords under the pretext that no class struggle existed in the countryside, and the congress represented the whole country.
It is not accidental that certain juridical measures of reforms in tenancy rights were introduced in India not at the initiative of the bourgeoisie, but by imperialism often in the face of nationalist bourgeois opposition.
THE AGRARIAN PROGRAMME
The formation of the All India Workers and Peasants Party and the subsequent historic Meerut Trial, helped in popularising the agrarian programme among the Indian masses. The Meerut Trial went on for more than four years. The persons involved in the trial in their statements advocated the programme of the Communists in relation to the working class, peasantry and other toiling sections of the Indian population, along with their unflinching opposition to imperialist rule in the country.
This was the period when the economic crisis of the 30s had engulfed the world. India was the worst hit during this crisis and in 1931 the Central Banking Enquiry Committee registered the general conviction that
“Indebtedness leads ultimately to the transfer of land holdings from the agricultural class to the non-agricultural money-lenders leading to the creation of the landless proletariat with a reduced economic status. The result is said to be loss of agricultural efficiency as the moneylenders sub-let at a rate which leaves the cultivators with a reduced incentive.” (Enquiry Committee Report. P. 59)
The 1931 Census report reached the conclusion that
“It is likely that a concentration of the land in the hands of the non-cultivating owners is taking place.” (Census of India, 1931, Vol. 1)
Similarly, the extent of the collapse in prices of agricultural commodities was such, that whereas in 1928-29 the value of agricultural crops, taken at an average harvest price, was about Rs 1034 crore, in 1933-34 it was only Rs 473 crore a fall of 55 per cent.
In the United Provinces, the number of tenants abandoning their land because they could not pay rent, reached as high as 71 440 in 1931. The burden of debt doubled. Peasants were groaning under their heavy indebtedness, their lands were passing into the hands of moneylenders and they were being forced to live the life of paupers.
The peasant organisations emerging in various States now had a clear-cut programme not only for immediate relief but also directed against the system of landlordism. The peasants had realised the necessity of organising themselves as a class which was numerically not only strong but also the worst exploited under the triple attack of the imperialists landlords and moneylenders and traders. The Indian National Congress was desirous of mobilising them in the struggle for independence since without them it was not possible to bring pressure to bear on the imperialists but it did not want the peasantry to emerge as a class conscious of its rights and determined to put an end to the rule of the landlords.
The Congress started the Civil Disobedience movement but its 11-point charter of demar ds did not contain any demands of the working class and peasantry against the capitalists and the landlords.
The resolution of the Karachi Session of the Congress where fundamental rights were mentioned in relation to the peasant demands it did not stipulate more than a substantial reduction of land revenue and rent, and total exemption only for the necessary period in the case of uneconomic holdings. There was no reference to abolition of landlordism or even the annulment of at least a portion of the rural debt. It was clear that that Indian National congress did not want to rouse the peasantry against feudal oppression.
Gandhi’s hopes for a compromise were shattered at the Round Table Conference and he had again to continue the movement, which lasted up to 1934, drawing into its fold huge masses. Once again the movement was withdrawn without achieving its aim, and Gandhi withdrew from the Congress exercising his influence from outside.
ALL INDIA KISAN SABHA
The Communist Party was banned in 1934 but continued to exercise its influence on the working class and on the Left in the Congress. The ideas of Socialism wee becoming very popular, and left dements in the Congress, becoming disillusioned with Gandhi formed the Congress Socialist Party, in order to give the Congress a Left orientation. Coming to realise that the vast masses of the peasantry could be brought into the struggle for independence only by taking up the anti-feudal struggle and their immediate demands they were also realising the necessity of organisation the peasantry as a class. They had already come to the conclusion that the struggle for real political freedom could not be separated from the struggle of the peasantry for an end to landlordism and for radical restructuring of rural society. The Communists were already trying to develop class organisations and had popularised the ideas of independent class organisations of the working class peasants and other sections of the toiling people. Thus it was the Left Congressmen, Congress Socialists and Communists who took the initiative in organising the All India Kisan Sabha.
The First Session was held in 1936, Lucknow to coincide with the holding of the Session of the Indian National congress. The idea was to project the kisan movement as a part of the national movement though maintaining its separate identity as a class organisation.
The following list of the names of some of the participants in the first All India Kisan Sabha Session is revealing : EMS Namboodiripad, Dinkar Methta, Kamal Sarkar, Sohan Singh Josh, Lal Bahadur Shastri, K D Malaviya, Mohan Lal Gautam, B Sampooranand, Jayaprakash Narain, Swami Sahajanand, NabaKrishna Choudhury, Harekrishna Mahtab, N G ranga, Indulal Yajnik, R K Khadilkar, Bishnuram Medhi and Sarat Sinha. Many of them became prominent national and state-level personalities in subsequent years. It also suggests how broad-based the Kisan Sabha was from the very beginning and how it tried to attack people of varying political views to join together in defence of the democratic rights of the kisans.
The formation of the AIKS was preceded by a meeting in Meerut in January 1936, where the necessary preparations were made. A clear decision was taken to launch the organisation with a broad-based programme and membership to link it closely with the national movement for independence and to view the fight against imperialism as an integral part of the fight against the feudal social order since the former patronised and provided state support to the latter.
Today with the benefit of hindsight one is struck by the simplicity and directness with which the very first session set out its tasks in the main resolution. To quote:
“The objective of the Kisan movement is to secure compete freedom from economic exploitation and the achievement of full economic and political power for the peasants and workers and all the other exploited classes.
“The main task of the kisan movement shall-be the organisation of peasants to fight for their immediate political and economic demands in order to prepare them for their emancipation from every from of exploitation.
“The kisan movement stands for the achievements of ultimate economic and political power for the producing masses through its active participation in the national struggle for winning complete independence.”
It their indicted the zamindari system, “supported by the British government in India”, as “iniquitous unjust, burdensome, and oppressive to the kisans”, and declared that “all such system of landlordism shall be abolished and all the rights over such lands be vested in the cultivators.”
This was the essence of what the kisan movement stood for at the time of the launching of the AIKS. The other issues covered by resolutions included questions of rent, irrigation rates and prices of inputs, prices of marketed agricultural products, indebtedness, forced labour and illegal exactions from the tenants by the landlords and the distribution of landlords land to the landless poor peasants as also the vesting of waste land and grazing land in the village level panchayats. The AIKS also demanded minimum wages for the regulating their unionisation.
Any one reading those resolutions will immediately notice that many of the issues raised by the conference of the AIKS in its first session have remained unresolved till today.
PART OF THE
The Bombay session of the Central Kisan Sabha Council (CKC) held in August 1936 further elaborated many of the points raised in the founding session. It categorically stated that, since the kisans constituted more than four-fifths of the population, “no political or economic programme which has the audacity to ignore their needs and demands can by any stretch of imagination, be labelled as a national programme”, and called upon the Indian National Congress to make “the solution of the problems of the peasantry the chief plank of its political and economic policy.” At the same time the CKC felt the need for a political movement, which draws “its main strength and inspiration from the peasantry.”
These two struggles — the kisan movement and the national movement were seen as “inter-dependent, the strength of the one adding to the other.”
The CKC meeting also strongly emphasised on the need for peasant unity. The AIKS was an “expression of the awakening of the peasantry”, and should represent not only the ryots the tenants and the landless labourers but also all sections of cultivating peasantry — “in other words, it represents, and speaks and fights for those who live by cultivation of the soil. All these different strata among the kisans will have to combine and fight for removal of all the letters imposed by British imperialism and it’s allies the landlords.”
The Bombay Session made a separate listing of “fundamental demands” and “minimum demands”. The former included the demands for abolishing intermediary tenures, replacement of existing land revenues by graduated land tax, cancellation of old debts and allocation of land to landless and poor peasants for cooperative farming.
The minimum demands included the cancellation of the rent and revenue arrears; exemption of uneconomic holdings from land revenue; reduction of rent revenue and water rates by half; immediate grant of right permanent cultivation to tenants cultivating land held by zamindars, talukdars, etc., rent remission for these tenants; graduated taxation of agricultural income abolition and penalisation of all feudal and customary dues, forced labour and illegal exactions; a five year moratorium on debts freedom from arrest and imprisonment for debtors and also immunity from attachment for small holdings; licensing for money-lenders; arrangement of credit from the state cooperative and land mortgage banks over a long period of 40 years t five per cent interest lowering the freight on agriculture goods introduction of one paise postcards; abolition of indirect taxes on salt kerosene sugar, tobacco molasses, etc., stabilisation of agricultural prices minimum wages legislation to recognise collective action of the peasants insurance for cattle fire and health adult franchise and establishment of village panchayats for managing civic affairs and communal land among others.
These show the wide range of issues covered by the AIKS in its campaign which catered to the needs and aspirations of various sections of the peasantry.
From its very beginning the AIKS was alert and reacted to major national and international events. While striving for the country’s independence the AIKS had a distinct concept of independence, which was outlined in various resolution where along with political independence, socio economic independence was emphasised. To quote from the resolution of the Bombay CKC meeting in 1936 again it stated:
“The Kisan must fight for national socio-economic independence Indian a democratic of Britain must be transformed into a free progressive democratic India of the masses.”
There was no room for exploitation and oppression in the concept of the free Indian that the AIKS held. It was never solely concerned with narrow peasant issues and defined the interests of the peasantry in broad terms.
One of the cornerstones of its policies had always been the unity of the peasants with the workers. In its Gaya Session in 1939 the AIKS talked about the objective of building “a democratic State of the Indian people leading ultimately to the realisation of Kisan — Mazdoor Raj”. Even earlier in its second session at Faizpur the Presodential Address stated:
“It is the sacred duty of every of our kisans to fraternise with the workers in the village and in the town… There is much to be achieved by both workers and peasants by common effort for their mutual benefit.”
The adoption of the red flag with hammer and sickle, signifying the unity of these two classes, was strongly defended by the General Secretary Swami Sahajananda at the Comilla Session in 1938 on the grounds aspirations of the exploited and the oppressed.”
Its commitment to anti-imperialism was reflected in the resolutions passed in the earlier years condemning the Italian attack on Ethiopia and the Japanese attack on China, and supporting World War began it doggedly opposed the war efforts championed the cause of world peace and later when the fascist forces of Hitler attacked the USSR it firmly came out with the slogan of defeating the fascist hordes to save humanity from fascist enslavement. It mobilised popular opinion against fascism.
On national issues too, the AIKS conferences not only passed resolutions against the colonial rulers but also fought for a determined struggle against British rule and State organised oppression. In fact, many of the leaders of the AIKS were themselves the stalwarts in the national movement and spent many years in British prisons.
The formation of the AIKS was greeted with hostility from many sides. Both the Hindu and Muslim vested interests joined hands against the AIKS and tried their best to disrupt the working of the organisation by terrorising the peasants and using communal propaganda. The British government alarmed by its growing hold on the peasantry intensified its repression by arresting key leaders, from time to time and forcing many others to go underground. A report of the intelligence Bureau of the British colonial government in India said in 1937:
“The Communist leaders are developing a strangle hold upon any future agrarian movement as well as inspiring this with their special methods and outlook of which by no means the least is the belief in mass violence and the violent overthrow of British rule.”
The right wing of the Congress party led by Sardar Ballavbhai Patel and Dr Rajendra Prasad fought against the collective affiliation of the Kisan Sabha to the Indian National Congress and strongly opposed the separate existence of the kisan organisation had produced such an atmosphere of violence in the countryside that an explosion may occur at any moment.”
In many provinces the Congress leaders took an openly pro-landlord view and used their power in governments formed in the late thirties to suppress the agitation of the peasants. In Bihar they made an alliance with the landlord lobby to fight off AIKS activists.
In its formative years therefore the AIKS had to grow fighting against such heavy odds. But it grew nevertheless. The very formation of the organisations inspired peasants all over the country to take up immediate issues and light. As opposed to the path taken by the Indian National Congress, which compromised with landlords and other vested interests, and spoke of non-violent resistance, the AIKS rallied the peasants to stand up to the attacks by the armed thugs of the landlords and the police. The Gaya Session of the AIKS in 1939 reported that “the past year has witnessed a phenomenal awakening and growth of the organised strength of the kisans in India.
To keep the mass movement under control, congress decided to implement the Constitution of 1935 and formed the ministries. Congress policy was again put to the test and again it was found that it stood by the side of the landlords against the tenant and the landless. But the organised peasant movement supported by the Congress Left was proving capable of exercising influence, and the Congress Ministries were being forced to give some concessions.
However, the Congress never defined the meaning and importance of national freedom other than as freedom from British rule. It was the Communists, Socialists and the Congress Left, which were trying to propagate the understanding that freedom from foreign rule could have real meaning only if it was followed by agrarian revolution and completion of the bourgeois democratic tasks.
The masses were getting disillusioned and impatient, and wanted the Congress leadership to launch a final assault on British rule. The leadership wanted to restrain them and use them for pressure and bargaining. The peasant movement thus came again into conflict with the bourgeois leadership of the Congress, especially on the issue of struggle against feudal and semi-feudal relations. The limitations of the bourgeois leadership were starkly revealed and it could be clearly seen that it did not want to come into conflict with the landlord class.
The leadership was prepared to accept and support certain demands of the peasantry, which were directed against the Government, but was not prepared to take up the basic issue of abolition of landlordism. In fact it was afraid of agrarian revolution. Therefore, the kisan sabhas, while supporting the struggle for national independence had not only to strengthen the independent class organisations of the peasantry but also to forge unity with the working class, the most revolutionary class for our society for completion of the agrarian revolution.
AND THE WAR
As compared to the Indian National Congress, which lent its support to the war efforts of British imperialism the AIKS came out in firm opposition to the war. Here again there were two different class approaches-one supporting the British imperialist power the other expressing its firm opposition to imperialist war being fought with the sole purpose of redividing the world for the continuation of colonial exploitation.
The AIKS gave a call for struggle against British rule and their Indian lackeys, and launched a no rent, no tax movement. The AIKS was naturally subjected to unprecedented police repression and its open functioning became extremely difficult. Its officers in Bengal and other States were raided and put under lock and key, and its main functionaries were either arrested or forced to go underground.
However, with the attack on the Soviet Union by the German Fascists in June 1914 the Sabha raised the slogan of defeating fascism to save humanity from fascist enslavement. It took the view that on the victory over fascism depended the survival of the first Socialist State as well as the independence of countries including ours. The AIKS therefore considered it the sacred duty of the organisation to support the cause of defence of Socialist State and defeat of fascism.
While the task of fighting fascism was given the priority it deserved the AIKS in its Session in 1914 reminded its members that “the struggle for India’s freedom should not be slackened even temporarily.” The CKC meeting at Nagpur in 1942 demanded transfer of power to a national Government and a declaration recognising India’s right to freedom. It identified the British colonial regime, which was working “in complete isolation from the millions on the land” as the greatest obstacle to the mobilisation of India’s millions in the defence of their country and the successful persecution of the war.”
When on August 9, 1942 Gandhi and other leaders of the Congress were arrested leading to violent protests in many parts of the country, the AIKS expressed its full support to the Congress demand for transfer of power, demanded the released of Gandhi and other national leaders, and condemned the “indiscriminate firing and repression that have been let loose by the Government on the people.”
The military defeat of the fascist powers headed by Hitlerite Germany and the decisive role played by the Soviet Union altered the alignment of class forces on a world arena in favour of Socialism. This also resulted in the general weakening of imperialism on a world scale. Inspired by this powerful national liberation struggle swept throughout the countries of Asia.
India the largest country of the British Empire witnessed a mass revolutionary upheaval against British rule-peasant revolts of which the heroic armed struggle of the Telengana peasantry was the most important general strikes of workers, student strikes and the states people mass struggle developed on an unprecedented scale. The demonstrations for the release of INA personnel took the form of a country – wide revolt against British rule. This wave of protest reached a climax with the uprising of the Royal Indian Navy in February 1946 in Bombay, Karachi and Madras. The Union Jack was removed from the ship’s masts and the Congress and Muslim League flags hoisted instead. In Bombay the naval ratings carried the Red Flag of the Communist Party along with the other two. The slogans the navy men raised showed the political nature of the action-Jai Hind, Inquilab Zindabad, Hindu-Muslim Unity. Release INA and other political prisoners. Down with British Imperialism, Accept our demands.
Rajani Palme Dutt, in his outstanding and seminal work, India Today, not only captured the spirit of the time, but gave a keen analytical insight into the significance of the event and the class reactions it engendered:
“The Naval rising and popular struggle in the February days in Bombay revealed with inescapable clearness the alignment of forces in the explosive situation developing in India in the beginning of 1946. It showed on the one hand the height of the movement the courage and determination of the people and the overwhelming mass support for Hindu-Muslims unity and Congress-League unity. It showed that the movement had reached to the armed forces and that therefore the basis of British rule was no longer secure. But it showed on the other hand the unreadiness and disunity of the existing national leadership and their consequent inability to lead the national struggle.
“But now when the masses were really in movement when Hindu-Muslim unity was being realised and practised when the armed forces had united with the civilian population in the common national movement and when the real struggle for freedom had opened the gates of British rule, the attitude of the upper leadership of the national movement revealed a marked change. The upper class leadership of the Congress and Muslim league found themselves in opposition to the mass movement and aligned with British imperialism as the representative of law and order against the people. A whole series of statements and denunciations were issued condemning the “violence” not of the imperialist authorities whose firing slaughtered hundreds in three days but of the unarmed people who had been the objects of military firing Vallabhai Patel issued a statement in which he declared that the Naval ratings ought not to have taken to arms and that he endorsed remarks of the Commander-in-Chief that there ought to be discipline in the Navy” (India Today. P. 583)
The RIN uprising however was followed by militant struggles in the countryside at the head of which, at the many places stood the Communist Party. And by 1946 the AIKS through militant struggles in Punjab, UP, Bihar, Kerala, Maharashtra and Andhra had drawn the attention of all on the question of abolition of landlordism. The slogan of agrarian revolutions was brought onto the agenda in the armed resistance of the peasants of Vayalar and Punnapra in the State of Travancore, the militant Tebhaga struggle of the peasants of Bengal the struggle of the Warli peasants in Maharashtra and the struggle of the Tripura peasants.
Crowning all these struggles was the epochal struggle of the peasantry of Telengana, which has no parallel in the history of the country where peasants fought with arms in hands from 1946-1951 for three years, 1948-51 against the armies of the Indian State.
In the course of the movement guerrilla squads were formed from the village to the district level, which met the terror unleashed by the Razakars, and in many instances scared away the landlords in the area. At the peak of the struggle almost 3000 villages, with roughly 30 lakh of the people and an area of 16,000 square miles were liberated and brought under the administration of Gram Raj. In this area guerrilla squads of 2000 and a people’s militia of 10,000 guarded the villages and about10 lakh acres of land were distributed among the landless. Among the reforms introduced by the revolutionary leadership was the slashing of usurious interests banning of forced labour and fixation of a minimum wage. This was the real alternative developing to bourgeois landlord rule in the countryside and its significance lay in the fact that if it had been allowed to develop a qualitative change would have come about in the situation combining agrarian revolution with the national liberation movement and the course of history would have been entirely different.
BOURGEOIS PARTIES SETTLE
Telengana showed the direction the mass movement could have taken if it had not been checked. The completion of the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution had come onto the political agenda with the agrarian revolution as its crux. But though the ‘workers and peasants’ alliance was being forged and the Communist Party was at the head of some of these struggle it was not in a position to assume the leadership of the national movement, which still remained in the hands of bourgeoisie.
Afraid of this mass upsurge the bourgeoisie realised that if the struggle against imperialism developed into a general revolt the leadership of the mass movement would slip away from is hands. British imperialism also saw that it would no longer be possible to continue their rule. Under these circumstances the leaders of the National Congress and the Muslim League reached a settlement with the British imperialists.
With the outmoded agrarian relations not being radically changed and a path of capitalist development in compromise with imperialism and feudalism being pursued by the ruling Congress party, it was but natural that the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution remained incomplete.
Had the bourgeoisie not compromised at this stage, the situation would have gone out of its control. It would have lost its leadership and the working class would have been in a position to lead the movement and complete the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution. By now our country would have also taken the road to Socialism as has been done by China, Vietnam, North Korea and other Asian countries.
EXISTENCE OF CASTE AND
The existence of the communal and caste problems and threat of divisive forces with which we are faced today also originates from the policies pursued by the Congress party in the pre-in-dependent and post-independent period-its policy of alliance with feudalism instead liquidating it and the weakness of the organised peasant movement in leading the agrarian revolution in alliance with the working class the position which it started acquiring during the post-war period but was not able to bring to a decisive turning point.
Historical experience shows that it is only in countries where feudal and semi feudal relations have been put an end to and the agrarian revolution has been led to successful completion that the problem of caste or communalism can be overcome. It is only in the countries where the national liberation struggle was led by bourgeoisie but was not led to its completion that this problem not only remains but gets aggravated to be used by the ruling classes to divert the discontent of the masses and to disrupt the unity of the democratic movement. Experience has also shown that in the areas where the peasant movement was strong in spite of efforts made by the British imperialists riots could not be organised and the unity forged during the struggle between the Hindu-Muslim peasants stood as the guarantee of communal peace. The Kisan Sabha never allowed any scope for communalism and casteism on its platform. It not only maintained its secular character but exposed the communal ideology and fought against this virus during the riots in Punjab, Bihar and Bengal. In pursuing this policy some of its leaders and cadre laid down their lives fighting against the dark forces of communalism.
Thus, though the leadership of the national liberation movement was in the hands of the bourgeoisie, alternative political forces represented by the trade unions and kisan and other militant organisations had started emerging as a powerful force at the end of the war to offer a real challenge to the bourgeoisie. This became clear with the results of the first general election in free India. Wherever there had been strong peasant organisations, the combination of Left and other Opposition forces won a magnificent victory, becoming the main opposition in Parliament, the recognised Opposition in four State Assemblies-West Bengal, Hyderabad, Madras and Travancore-Cochin. The struggle for an alternative leadership continues to this day.
In the post-independent period the bourgeoisie continued its alliance with the landlords and the balance sheet of bourgeois agrarian policy is explained in the Programme of the CPI(M), in para 34.
“In no field is the utter failure of the bourgeois-landlord government’s policies so nakedly revealed as in the case of the agrarian question. Nearly two decades of Congress rule has proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the aim and direction of its agrarian policies is not to smash the feudal and semi-feudal fetters on our land relations, and thus liberate the peasantry from age-old bondage, but to transform the feudal landlords into capitalist landlords and develop a stratum of rich peasants. They want to depend upon the landlord and rich peasant section to produce the surplus of agricultural products to meet the requirements of capitalist development. They also want to make these sections the main political base of the ruling class in the countryside.”
Although these measures did not bring the desired resulted of making the tiller of the soil the owner of the land it made certain changes in the agrarian relations. Under the impact of the agrarian movement intermediary tenures like zaminidaris, jagirs, imams, etc., which prevailed over quite a large area of the country were abolished in the early 50s and more than 20 million tenants were brought into direct relation with the State. It was these occupancy tenants who directly benefited from the land reforms to become owners of the land they tilled. These rich and middle peasants were no longer interested in radical land reforms.
This has been shown by the subsequent developments also.
The overall result has been that even after four decades of independence the pro-landlord, anti-peasant policies of the Government have resulted in the further deepening of the agrarian crisis, which manifests itself in growing landlessness increase in disparities both inter-regional and inter-sectional in the same region, an extremely low level of consumption of food-grains despite increasing production and bourgeoning stocks held by the Government growing poverty and unemployment despite all the poverty alleviation schemes and growing indebtedness which finds partial reflection in the growth of overdues in institutional credit supplied to the agricultural sector and so on.
In spite of two rounds of Land Ceiling legislations in the 1950s and 1970s only 7.2 million acres have been declared surplus out of which 5.6 million acres have been taken over and 4.4 million acres actually distributed. This is about seven per cent of the surplus estimated i.e., 63 million acres by the Mahalanobis Committee after the first round of ceiling laws were enacted and one fifth of the surplus estimated on the basis of date made available by the NSS 26th Round.
Even if we take into consideration the 1981 Agricultural Census land concentration continues. As compared to three per cent land holders holding 10 acres and above and operating a total of 26 per cent of the land in 1976-77 in 1981-82, 2.4 per cent of land holders held 22.8 per cent of the land. It is also estimated by the Planning Commission that even now if a 20-acre ceiling is imposed and all loopholes in ceiling laws plugged about 23 million acres of land can be made available for distribution. But the Seventh Plan makes no mention of amending the ceiling laws nor about breaking the land monopoly. And typically the Central Government took more than five years to give Presidential assent to the West Bengal Land Reforms Legislation, which seeks only to plug certain loopholes.
In the first six years of the post independence period the peasant movement again had to face severe repression at the hands of the Government Afraid of the tempo of the growing revolutionary movement, it unleashed repression making the functioning of various units impossible. The All India Kisan Sabha was not able to hold any session till April 1953. But in spite of this the Kisan Sabha was busy organising the resistance of the peasantry especially on the question of evictions, and militant fights were put up in many States. Subsequently various Congress Government were forced to take measures of land reforms such as ceiling legislations security of tenure and rent reduction, consolidation of holdings, etc., but all failed to fulfil the declared objectives. On the other hand the period witnessed a large-scale eviction offensive throwing millions of tenants into the ranks of agricultural workers.
In the late fifties the Kisan Sabha fought many struggles on the issues of land fair prices for peasants produce, debt relief, in defence of the rights of tribal people and on the issue of the burden of heavy taxation. The most important of these struggles was the heroic struggle of the Punjab peasantry against the imposition of the betterment levy tax in the beginning of 1959. This was the most important struggle fought under the flag of the Kisan Sabha after the epoch-making Telengana struggle. The peasants defied firings lathi-charges, beating and all types of repression. The all in peasant unity forged during the struggle was unparalleled, when peasant united irrespective of their political affiliations. The movement ultimately forced the Government to withdraw the tax amounting to Rs. 136 crore.
The agrarian crisis further aggravated in the 60s. By the mid-1960 stagnation in agriculture and the consequent food crisis worsened. The bourgeois-landlord classes began losing their hold over the mass of the peasantry with the result that in the 1967 elections the Congress monopoly of power was broken in eight States with West Bengal and Kerala giving victory to the Left and democratic force among which the CPI(M) played an important role. Powerful peasant struggle took place in different States on different issues. In Kerala and West Bengal these struggles were most widespread and became intimately connected with political issues.
The United Front Government of West Bengal and Kerala made a big impact on the masses, not only in those States but also in the rest of the country. When the Central Government dismissed these governments hundreds of thousands of peasants actually joined the struggle for democracy in West Bengal combining this with the struggle for defending heir land and crops.
Mid-term elections gave a bigger victory to the United Front in West Bengal and the peasant movement attained wider sweep. Millions of peasants all over the State unleashed an unprecedented struggle with the backing of the United Front Government, for recovering benami land for possession and distribution of surplus lands, for loans in kind and for checking hoarding and black-marketing. In this period more than three lakh acres of land were located taken over and distributed among the landless through village level committees. Many peasants lost their lives in the battles fought on this issue, but it gave a big impetus to the kisan movement and the AIKS spread to all districts.
These struggles achieved important gains and helped in raising the political consciousness of the peasantry. It was because of this that the Kisan Sabha was able to face the semi-fascist terror of 1917 to 1977, fight back the repression and defend their interests though working in semi-legal conditions.
In Kerala, the peasants conducted a statewide movement for agrarian legislation and debt relief legislation for the rights on Government lands against threat of central intervention. As a result of the campaign one lakhs pattas were distributed to erstwhile-unauthorised occupants of the land. The ceiling was revised downwards and made family-based many exemptions were withdrawn and hutment dwellers were given rights on land on which they lived. Tens of thousands of agricultural labourers conducted powerful and successful struggle for better wages and living conditions.
The discontent found powerful expression in other parts of Indian also. In Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Tripura, etc., widespread struggles took place for occupation of forest or government lands and against eviction from these lands. In Punjab and UP widespread agitations took place on the question of sugarcane prices. Struggle took place against increased taxation on the question of food and relief rent reduction and against unjust levies. Militant struggles of agricultural labourers took place in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
This period also witnessed two splits in the AIKS one from the Right and other from the Left. While they did a lot of harm to the Kisan Sabha, it not only survived these attacks but advanced further. At the same time it also failed to properly understand the changes in the agrarian structure and work out the appropriate tasks on that basis. By 1978-79 it was able to give a new orientation to its policy, which led to its big advance. Membership of the Kisan Sabha, which had never gone beyond ten lakhs till 1968-69 after 1978-79 jumped by millions and now stands at 84 lakhs.
In this connection the question may be asked why has the bourgeoisie not been able to implement radical land reforms when the latter would serve its objective interests? The breaking of the feudal and semi-feudal relations would naturally lead to the expansion of the internal market, which would be helpful for expanding industries. The answer lies in the fact that in spite of the objective interests of the bourgeoisie, the latter dies not want the forces of agrarian revolution to be unleashed which, in unity with the working class would pose a threat to its class rule. It was from this angle that it forged an alliance with the landlords and now tries to solve its contradiction through pressure and bargaining. All conflicts and contradictions, which arise between the landlords and the bourgeoisie whether on the question of remunerative prices for agricultural produce cheep agricultural inputs and machinery or on the question of taxation the push and pull between the two remains but the alliance continues.
It is in this context that the Kisan pursues its alternative line, the line of completing the agrarian revolution, in unity with the working class, and continues to lead the mass struggle of the peasantry in this direction. Since independence the situation has changed. Although land monopoly remains a lot of changes have taken place in the agrarian structure, which require a changed approach in building peasant unity and in leading the agrarian revolution to success.
Land to the tiller and total abolition of landlordism have been the basic slogans of the Kisan Sabha since its inception. What bearing do the changes in agrarian sector have on these basic slogans? Before examining these changes, let me state here at the outset that the seizure and distribution of the land of the landlords still remains the central slogan for the kisan sabha to propagate among the peasantry and other democratic classes. Without the victory of this slogan there cannot be any solution to rural poverty unemployment, a fast development of a balanced economy in the country and so on.
But the correlation of class forces, which existed at the time when the Kisan Sabha inscribed these basic aims in its programme are not the same as exist today. It is necessary for us to understand his change since it has great relevance to the chalking out of our immediate slogans and actions.
The land reforms which the Congress Government set about to introduce after independence were not directed to end landlordism and give land to the tiller though this was the pledge the Congress had made to the peasantry during the freedom struggle. These land reforms had only very limited objectives, the main one of which was to reform, not abolish the old type of feudal landlordism by converting the absentee feudal landlords into capitalist landlords personally supervising cultivation in large farms with farms servants and hired agricultural workers. This is the new type of landlord who combines in himself elements of both feudalism and capitalism.
Another objective was to create a stratum of rich peasants. These two sections were to constitute the political base of the ruling party in the rural areas. They were also to produce the surplus food grains necessary for the Government to feed the urban people as well as to produce the raw materials for industry. With thousands of crores of rupees from the public exchequer pumped into agriculture these sections have been helped to adopt modern methods of farming.
Here, we should warn against one tendency. Earlier there was a tendency to altogether ignore the penetration of capitalism into agriculture. Now a reverse tendency is raising its head, which considers that feudal landlordism, and other semi-feudal relations have almost totally been abolished. This is wrong. The extent of capitalism in agriculture varies from State to State and even from region to region inside a State. Here a concrete study of the situation in each area is necessary.
We have also the note the phenomenon of the monetisation of the entire agrarian economy. Today, it is not only those who have a surplus who are taking their produce to the market, even the poor peasant immediately after the harvest for various reasons, sells his produce in the market and later buys even his food grains requirement from the market. It is only if this phenomenon is properly understood can we mount a struggle against the big traders and monopolists.
Even after the abolition of statutory landlordism like zamindari, jagirdari, etc. concentration of land in the hands of big landlords has not been appreciably reduced. Even today 2.5 per cent of top landlords posses 22.8 per cent of the land. The real concentration would be even more if benami transactions are included.
Congress land reforms have also resulted in the eviction of millions of tenants who have either joined the ranks of landless agricultural labourers or become tenants-at-will without any rights or protection. Only a section of the earlier tenants could by a portion of the land on which they were working either by paying compensation in instalments or outright purchase at lowers than market rates.
So, after the Congress land reforms the situation we find in the rural area is that three per cent of big owners have in their possession about one third of the cultivated land.
Another ten per cent consists of rich peasants owning roughly five to ten acres of wet, or ten to twenty acres of dry land, who contribute manual labour and employ a considerable number of farm servants and agricultural workers.
Another 15 per cent consists of middle peasants owning two to five acres of wet, or ten to twelve acres of dry land. They and their families work on the land but also hire labour in busy seasons.
Twenty per cent of the rural households are poor peasants possessing one or two acres of wet, or two to five acres of dry land. Apart from working on their own land, they have to frequently hire themselves out to earn a living.
The last 50 per cent are those who own no land at all, earns their livelihood mainly by hiring themselves out as wage workers or are engaged in handicrafts, villages’ services, etc.
Of course, it has to be borne in mind that this categorisation will pay from State to State and region to region.
What has to be noted is that unlike in the pre-Independence days, 25 per cent of peasants, rich and middle peasants are not moved any longer by the slogan of seizure of landlords land and its distribution. At the other end of the scale the 70m per cent of landless and poor peasants are not conscious and organised enough to go into action today for the seizure of landlords lands; even when they are moved into action, it is only for Government waste land, cultivable forest land etc. Regarding even surplus land above the ceiling which the landlords are keeping illegally, the struggle as in Kerala or recently in Andhra Pradesh, could not advance beyond the stage of locating such surplus land and exposing the Government’s claims. Only under the United Front Government in West Bengal in 1969, could some of the surplus land be occupied. This we will have to take into consideration when we work out our immediate tasks.
But what we have to note is that the Congress Party, which ruled the country for thirty-five years, while failing to end landlordism, land concentration and growing landlessness has successfully disrupted the pre-independence peasant unity. It is true that unity cantered around the rich and middle peasants, which today we are striving to build peasant unity cantering around the agricultural workers and poor peasants. The ruling class party, whether congress or Janata, also used its control peasantry and the disruption of their unity. The two-year of the cooperatives rural banks etc., to perpetuate the division in the peasantry and the disruption of their unity. The two years of the Janata Party government showed that its policies in regard to land reforms were no different from those of the Congress. In fact, some of the Janata State Governments were proposing to reverse even the Congress legislation to favour the landlords.
Taking note of these structural changes and their multifarious consequences we have to come to the conclusions that the slogan of complete abolition of landlordism and distribution of land of the landless and land-poor continues to be the central slogan of the agrarian revolution a slogan which we have to continue to propagate. But it is a slogan on which we cannot go into action today in most parts of the country.
While continuing to propagate this as the central slogans, while continuing struggles for surplus land, benami lands, waste land etc. the kisan sabha will have to take up for immediate action such issues as the question of wages of agricultural workers, house sites, rent-reduction, 75 per cent of the produce to the sharecroppers evictions, abolition or scaling down of rural indebtedness, remunerative price for agricultural produce, cheap credit, reduction of burdens and heavy levies like water charges, electricity rates, etc., landlord-goonda attacks with the connivance or direct help from the police the social oppression of harijans, corruption in administration etc,. These are issues which affect all sections of the peasantry-poor, middle, rich, and they can all be drawn into the movement on them. All these currents have to be brought together to build the maximum unity of the peasantry cantering around the agricultural workers and poor peasants to isolate the small stratum of landlords.
All this will, course depend on how successfully we organise the agricultural workers and poor peasants and bring them into action not only on their own specific demands but also on the general demands of the peasantry as a whole, and how far we are able to draw other sections of the peasantry into movements on issues affecting them, and on the general demands of the peasantry. There is no doubt that the middle and rich peasants can be drawn into movement on such issues. It is our task to see that while other sections of the peasantry support the agricultural workers in their struggles, the latter in turn extend support to movements on the demands of the peasantry, thus paving the way for building peasant unity.
Our earlier analyses of the agrarian policies of the Congress Governments have shown them to be anti-peasants, serving the interests of the landlords and the bourgeoisie. As compared to that the Left Front Government of West Bengal and Tripura, and the Left Democratic government of Kerala (for a brief period) with the limit power they enjoy under the constitution, backed by the organised peasant movement, have tried to alleviate the conditions of the peasantry. In West Bengal, land has been distributed to 12 lakh families 13 lakh sharecroppers have been registered and more than two lakh of them receive credit from banks in a year, more than two lakhs have been given rights over homesteads, minimum wages fro agricultural workers are regularly revised. Small farmers have been exempted from land revenue and debt relief has been given.
In Tripura more than one-lakh beneficiaries have been given land, debt relief has been given to poor peasants and artisans, while minimum wages have been fixed and sharecroppers recorded. In Kerala under the Left Democratic Front Government holdings under four acres were exempted from plantation tax, rent arrears for holdings up to 2.5 acres cancelled and subsidies given on inputs and exemptions on gifted land taken away.
This would not have been possible without the strength of the peasant organisation because without the active intervention of the Kisan Sabha, the bureaucracy would never have allowed the implementation of measures, which would have remained on paper as pious declarations. It is because of these alternative policies that the Kisan Sabha has grown so strong in West Bengal with almost 33 per cent of the adult peasant population including agricultural workers joining the organisation.
In other states also the kisan sabha has grown through struggles. Kisan Sabha units in different States have taken up different issues depending on the concrete situation in each state. In Bihar the question of eviction of sharecroppers has remained very acute and struggle fought over it; in some, states against rise in taxation and on remunerative prices in most of the states. The first half of 80s witnessed a tremendous upsurge among the peasantry where even the Congress base was drawn into struggles. This shows the tremendous possibilities for building the peasants movement.
OF 50 YEARS
The Kisan sabha has grown into a powerful organisation with 84 lakh members today and if we include agricultural workers the membership surpasses 95 lakh. The 50 years’ record of the All India Kisan Sabha is a record of glorious history. It played an important role in arousing the peasantry in the movement for national freedom. The All India Kisan Sabha was able to unite various sections of the toiling peasantry in the struggle against feudalism, big traders and monopolists. In its long history of 50 years it has had to face severe repression. Even after independence the bourgeois-landlord Government launched severe repression against it but the movement not only survived, it grew in influence and strength. It has emerged as a premier organisation of the peasantry.
But it should not be forgotten that the peasts organised in the AIKS and other peasant organisations under their influence are only a very small percentage of the peasant population in the country. Vast areas in our country especially in the Hindi-speaking region are untouched by the activities of the organised kisan movement. It is imperative that this grave weakness is over come as quickly as possible.
The Golden Jubilee Year of the AIKS should become the starting point of the biggest activity to expand the Kisan Sabha to all the areas, to spread the message of the agrarian revolution in even part of the country. The Kisan Sabha’s aim should be to see that there is no revenue circle in the country without an AIKS unit. Seventy per cent of our population lives in the rural areas and is engaged in agriculture handicrafts and other rural trades. Without organising the bulk of them neither their genuine interests can be defended nor can there be any successful agrarian revolution. The guarantee of the success is a powerful Kisan Sabha as the mass organisation of the peasantry championing also the cause of agricultural workers and forging unity with them and building the unity of the peasantry with the working class. Let the Golden Jubilee Year see the beginning of the efforts to fulfil this historic task.
The Golden Jubilee of the AIKS comes at a time when the national situation is bleak and the international situation is menacing because of the imperialist threat of nuclear war. Only by strengthening the organisation manifold as speedily as possible can the AIKS mobilise the peasantry to intervene in the national situation and strengthen the struggle for peace against the imperialist warmongers.