Nehru's Word: Another historic day for kisans

Nov 20, 2021 will go down in history as a day on which democracy defeated autocracy. The PM promised to withdraw the three 'Black Laws' after a year-long heroic nonviolent struggle by the farmers

Pt Nehru interacts with a farmer tilling his land
Pt Nehru interacts with a farmer tilling his land

Mridula Mukherjee

The 20th of November 2021 will go down in history as a day on which democracy defeated autocracy. On this day, the Prime Minister promised to withdraw the three “Black Laws” against which Indian kisans had sustained a year-long and heroic non-violent struggle, and for which around 700 kisans sacrificed their lives.
On another such historic day, 69 years ago, the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, had hailed the abolition of zamindari in Uttar Pradesh on 1 July 1952 as a “memorable” day and declared that “I felt as I did on the day India became free”. We bring to you this week extracts from his speeches on that occasion.

"On the 1st of July, I had gone to Modinagar, which lies on the road to Meerut, because that day was a memorable one for Uttar Pradesh and, in a sense, for the whole of India…because after a great deal of difficulty and effort, a hundred-and-fifty-years old system, the Zamindari and Taluqdari systems, came to an end on this day.

The population of Uttar Pradesh is six to seven crores and the majority of them are peasants. So, it was a great peaceful revolution to have abolished the zamindari system and thereby liberate millions of farmers from its yoke. In other countries, revolutions have meant bloodshed and violence. The peaceful revolution which has taken place in Uttar Pradesh has occurred in other states too...

So, you can imagine how happy I was. I felt as I did on the day India became free. That was a historic day for India and though I do not wish to compare the two, I was extremely happy to see the work of thirty-two years come to a successful end.”

“...I was reminded of the times, more than thirty years ago, when I used to wander among the peasants of this province, in the districts of Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Rae Bareli, Sultanpur and other places. The plight of those poor farmers is etched in my mind. I saw the harm that the Zamindari system had done to the peasantry. It is a pernicious system anywhere in the world….

Thirty years is a long time in the life of any individual. If you had asked me then, I would have said that we would abolish Zamindari immediately because I was young then and full of great hopes and had an impatience to get things done quickly. But it has taken years of hard work to accomplish that task. Our most urgent priority was to challenge the might of British rule and overthrow its yoke. Only then could we take up other tasks…

Well, we made laws. But lawyers would find loopholes in any law that you may make and you will get entangled in legal processes and court cases. The Zamindars and Taluqdars took full advantage of the situation…We had to then change the Constitution and the case was referred to the Supreme Court…

Ultimately the judgement was given two or three months ago and the work gained momentum. (By a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court on 5 May 1952 upheld the validity of the Uttar Pradesh Agriculture and Land Reforms Act, 1950, rejecting the plea that the enactment was not for public purpose and that it did not provide for compensation as per the requirement of the Constitution.)

Today we are putting an end to a system which has lasted for over 150 years… I wonder if you know the origins of the Zamindari system in India. In the olden days too, there used to be big landholders. But the Zamindari system as we see it today began with the coming of the British. They created Zamindars, Taluqdars and Jagirdars in Oudh about a hundred and fifty years ago.

One task is over. But we are mistaken if we think that with the abolition of the zamindari system all our work is done.

Five years have passed since British rule was removed. Within a year or two of that most traces of colonialism were wiped out and India became independent in the true sense of the word. A new Constitution was drawn up and India has now become a Republic. There are no more kings and rulers.

India has embarked upon a new era. Many other steps have been taken following the drawing up of the Constitution… Powers have passed into the hands of the people whether it is our old provinces like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Bombay or former princely states like Hyderabad, Mysore, Baroda and Kashmir. There is people’s rule everywhere in the country.

Recently the first general elections were held in the country in which millions of people went to the polls to elect their representatives to the State Assemblies and the Parliament in Delhi. By these various steps, we have sought to consolidate freedom and democracy in India...

We do not want the progress of a handful of people or of any particular community. We want every single man, woman and child in India, the thirty-six crores of people, irrespective of caste and religion, to progress. Everyone must get equal opportunities for education, work and progress. We do not want too much disparity in the country…We want to bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots and raise the standard of living of the people.

In my wanderings all over the country, I often see the children of farmers and workers and others — little, beautiful children, but they are not well looked after. They do not get enough to eat, proper clothes to wear or get any education at all.

I find this very distressing because the wealth of a nation is not money or gold or silver but its people, particularly its children. Unless we look after this wealth, what will our future be like? The most urgent task before us today is to look after our children even if the adults have to bear some hardships for some time.

[The first two paras are from a speech at a public meeting under the auspices of the Delhi State Congress Committee in New Delhi, 6 July 1952. The rest of the paras are from a speech at Modinagar, 1 July 1952, the day zamindari system was abolished in UP]

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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