By Charan Singh
Charan Singh was a prolific reader and writer, and he was happiest when preparing his thesis and pouring over the mass of data he deployed for his many cogently argued government notes, letters, media articles, public speeches, books, political party calls-to-action and party manifestoes. His range of reading spanned global (specially British, Russian European, Chinese) and Indian history, agriculture, economics, sociology and religion. His writings argued in favour of the centrality of the village and the agrarian way of life in India’s development thinking, without taking away from the benefits of an appropriate industrialisation. He, like other leaders of the Indian National Congress who dedicated their lives to rid the country of British colonialism, fervently believed India would be born again and would undo the wrongs of British rule against the peasant (by imposing landlords) and the artisans (by supporting industrial manufacturing in Britain) and move the centre of gravity from the interests of the urban, British and Indian elites to the villages where the mass of India lived. When he realised by the early-1950s that this was not to be, he deployed his scholarship of the Indian revenue and agrarian system to turn his sights on fighting what turned out to be a lonely and life-long political battle for the peasant, for improving village life and in building nationalists of high moral character. His writings are suffused with this struggle against the urban and educated castes of his times, a struggle that he fought ferociously on the battlefield of elections, in books and in newspapers.
The depth and range of his reading as reflected in the bibliography of any of the books he wrote is astounding (click here for the Bibliography of his first book Abolition of Zamindari, 1947). His high scholarship was, it seems to me, certainly a reflection of the times when every nationalist’s mind was in ferment and reading was prized as a means to fight the British. For example, Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow was published in 1938, he had already read it in Bareilly Jail in 1942. But Charan Singh's erudition was mostly a credit to his intellect and depth of thinking seeing that was a son of illiterate peasants, had studied in a village school and his college studies were in Agra - a distance from Cambridge and Oxford that elite Indians had access to. His approach was thus always grounded in Indian realities, and his arguments were marshalled based on global knowledge.
The vast majority of his political colleagues, in the INC and in the other political parties he was in, had little to do with academics, reading and writing busy as they were with factional politics and making money. His juniors and youth leaders even less thus inclined, and a minuscule part of his vast following fully comprehended his wide grasp of global lessons and Indian realities. He was often heard hectoring his political audiences on his thoughts, like a school teacher, and his village audiences would listen in rapt and silent attention as if fully comprehending his academic logic.
He connected with academics (like Professors Paul R. Brass from University of Washington, and J.D. Sethi from Delhi School of Economics, to name two) as he could find in them a foil for the sharp economic and social thrusts of his arguments. How he made time for this intense level of intellectual engagement amidst the 'rough and tumble of representative parliamentary politics’ (Paul Brass) is a credit to his capabilities.
We bring to you, for the first time, all his writings - freely downloadable.
Harsh Singh Lohit