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Swami And Friends
Sahajanand Saraswati And Those Who Refuse To Let The Past of Bihar's Peasant Movements Become History
By Arvind N. Das

Paper for the Peasant Symposium, May 1997
University Of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Sections -
[The Swami] [The Organization] [The Movements] [The Economic Context] [Ideology and Programmes] [The Process] [Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow] [Whodunit] [...And Friends] [References] [Acknowledgement]

The Swami

The foremost of the leaders of the peasantry in Bihar was Swami Sahajanand Saraswati. Sahajanand was born in Ghazipur district in eastern U.P. in the late nineteenth century (1889?) [Sahajanand, 1952] to a family of Jujautia Brahmins. He was the last of six sons and had no sisters. His mother died when he was a child and Naurang Rai (as he was known then) was raised by an aunt. His father, Beni Rai, although a Brahmin, was primarily a cultivator, and was so divorced from priestly functions that he did not even know the gayatri mantras. The family held a small zamindari, income from which had sufficed in Sahajanand's grandfathers' time, but as the family grew and the land was partitioned, prosperity dwindled and (tenant) cultivation became the main occupation. However, the family was not so extremely poor that its condition would prevent Naurang from going to school, where he did very well both in the primary grades and in the German Mission high school where he studied English. Even at an early age, however, Naurang showed sings of brilliance and scepticism of conventional populist religious practices. He questioned the institution of people taking guru- mantra from fake religious personages and wanted to study religious texts deeply in order to be able to find real spiritual solace by renouncing the world. To prevent him from doing this, his family had him married to a child bride but, before the marriage could stablise, in 1905 or early 1906, his wife died. The last fetter in his way to sanyas (renunciation of the world) having been removed, in 1907 Naurang Rai was initiated into holy orders and took on the name of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati. This adoption of sanyas prevented him from appearing for the matriculation examination but he spent the rest of his life, especially the first seven years after sanyas, in studying religion, politics and social affairs. In all these he became increasingly radicalised so that towards the end of his life, the world was presented with the incongruous sight of a saffron-clad swami who denounced organised religion [Sahajanand, 1948:96-123].

However, before Sahajanand came to this stage, he had to traverse a long road. His first involvement in public activity started from the very narrow casteist Bhumihar platform. Only gradually did Sahajanand become involved in nationalist Congress politics, and then in peasant movements, progressively in Patna, Bihar and, finally, all over India.

Even in order to get to the peasant question, however, Sahajanand went through political schooling in Congress under Gandhi. In fact, the Swami and the Mahatma had a curious filial relationship. Sahajanand started off in Congress as a devoted Gandhian, admiring Gandhi's fusion of tradition, religion and politics and, by 1920, threw himself into the nationalist movement as directed by Gandhi. However, he first became disgusted with the petty, comfort-seeking hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed `Gandhians' especially in jail and, within 15 years, he was disillusioned with Gandhi's own ambiguity and devious pro-propertied attitudes. The final break came in 1934 after Bihar had been violently shaken by the great earthquake of that year. During the relief operations in which Sahajanand was deeply involved, he came across many cases where, in spite of the destruction perpetrated by the natural calamity, he found the suffering of the people to be less on account of the earthquake than as the result of the cruelty of the landlords in rent collection. When Sahajanand found no way of tackling this situation, he went to meet Gandhi, who was then camping at Patna, to ask for advice. Gandhi sanguinely told him, `The zamindars will remove the difficulties of the peasants. Their managers are Congressmen. So they will definitely help the poor' [Sahajanand, 1952:426]. In spite of this, the oppression of the peasantry by the `zamindari machinery including Congressmen managers' continued. These platitudes of Gandhi disgusted Sahajanand and he broke off his 14 year association with the Mahatma. After that, he consistently saw the Mahatma as a wily politician who, in order to defend the propertied classes, took recourse in pseudo-spiritualism, professions of non-violence and religious hocus-pocus.

After his break with Gandhi, Sahajanand kept out of party politics (though he continued to be a member of the Congress) and turned his energies into mobilising the peasants [Hauser, 1961:109-133]. By the end of the decade, he emerged as the foremost kisan leader in India. In this task of organising the peasants, at different times his political impetuosity took him close to different individuals, parties and groups. He first joined hands with the Congress Socialists for the formation of the All-India Kisan Sabha; then with Subhas Chandra Bose organised the Anti-Compromise Conference against the British and the Congress [Sahajanand, 1940]; then worked with the CPI during the Second World War [Das, 1981]; and finally broke from them, too, to form an `independent' Kisan Sabha [Rai, 1946]. In spite of these political forays, however, Sahajanand remained essentially a non-party man and his loyalty was only to the peasants for whom he was the most articulate spokesman and forthright leader. As a peasant leader, `by standards of speech and action, he was unsurpassed' [Hauser, 1961:85]. He achieved that status by a remarkable ability to speak to and for the peasants of Bihar; he could communicate with them and articulate their feelings in terms whose meaning neither peasant nor politicians could mistake. `He was relentlessly determined to improve the peasants' condition and pursued that objective with such force and energy that he was almost universally loved by the peasants, and almost equally both respect and feared by the landlords, Congressmen and officials. The Swami was a militant agitator; he sought to expose the condition of agrarian society and to organise the peasants massively to achieve change. He did this through countless meetings and rallies which he organised and which he addressed in his own inimitable forthright manner. He was a powerful speaker speaking the language of the peasants. Sahajanand was a Dandi Sanyasi and always carried a long bamboo staff (danda). In the course of the movement, this staff became the symbol of peasant resistance. They cry of "Danda Mera Zindabad" (Long live my staff), was thus taken to mean "Long live the danda (lathi) of the Kisans" and it became the watchword of the Bihar peasant movement. The inevitable response by the masses of peasants was "Swamiji ki Jai" (Victory to Swamiji) [Hauser, op cit]. "Kaise Logey Malguzari, Latth Hamara Zindabad" (How will you collect rent as long as our sticks are powerful?) became the battle cry of the peasants.

This was the manner in which a common communication was achieved. And it was vastly enhanced by the fact that Sahajanand was a Swami, which gave him a tremendous charisma. In 1937, he was reported to have said that as religious robes had long exploited the peasants, now he would exploit those robes on behalf of the peasants' [Hauser, ibid]. When landlords raised the question as to how a sanyasi (mendicant) was taking part in temporal problems of the poor, Sahajanand quoted the scriptures at them:

Prayen deva munayah swavimukti kama

Maunam charanti vijane na pararthnsihthah

Naitan vihaya kripnan vimumuksha eko

Nanyattwadasya sharanam bhramato nupashye

(Mendicants are selfish, living away from society, they try for their own salvation without caring for others. I cannot do that, I do not want my own salvation apart from that of the many destitutes. I will stay with them, live with them and die with them)[Sahajanand, 1952:171].

Such was Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, the charismatic sanyasi rebel, who laid the foundations of kisan organisation in Bihar, built it up into a massive movement, spread it to other parts of India and radicalised it to such an extent that what had started off as a move to bring about reform in the zamindari system, ended up by destroying the system itself. Sahajanand could not, however,m witness the legal death of zamindari in BIhar. While the battle for this was still being fought in the legislature and the courts, on 26 June 1950, Sahajanand passed away [Sudhakar, 1973:14].

The Organisation

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati was, of course, a fascinating personality but what also added immense social significance to him was the fact that he was able to found a massive organisation. This took a great deal of both imagination and effort and the fact that it has had a turbulent history is evidence of the role of the individual as well as the relevance of the political-economic context.

Although the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha was formed in 1929 and a smaller Kisan Sabha had been formed even earlier in Patna district with a formal organisational structure, it really was institutionalised only after a few years. Actually, it is correct to say that the Kisan Sabha never really became an `organisation', but remained a movement [Hauser, 1961:87].

But if that is so for the whole of the history of the Sabha, in its first years it was even more nebulous: an idea, a forum, a propaganda platform, a lobby. Almost immediately after the formation of the Sabha Bihar was plunged, with the rest of India, into the Civil Disobedience Movement, which, although it helped in arousing the general consciousness of the masses, did not give the leaders of the Sabha the time to formalise its structure [Williams, 1933:1- 30]. In fact, the experiences of the Civil Disobedience Movement both outside and inside jails created the beginnings of the rift between the Kisan Sabhaites and some of the Congress leaders [BSCRO:21/1933], and so disgusted the supreme leader of the Sabha, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, that for several years he cut himself off from politics altogether [Sahajanand, 1952:373-381].

But while, because of these problems, the Kisan Sabha remained disorganised, the landlords recognised its potentially dangerous character. In order to meet its challenge and to consolidate their position, they organised themselves and their supporters into three main bodies. The first was a clearcut Bihar Landholders' Association which included within it all the prominent zamindars. The second was a more clever attempt to hide the organisation's basic class character; it was called the United Party and was supposed to represent the interests of various sections of the population. It even included a few Congressmen though its leadership was composed of the leading landlords, including the Maharajadhiraj of Darbhanga and the Raja of Surajpura. Having failed in their first attempt in 1928-29 to get the Tenancy Act amended, the landlords tried to do so through this United Party. Rai Bahadur Shyamnandan Sahay, one of the richest zamindars of Bihar, accordingly drew up a new tenancy bill with the obvious intention of strengthening the zamindars' position by giving them more powers. However, in order to achieve a semblance of zamindar-tenant unity in presenting the new legislation, the United Party conspired to develop a compromise measure by forming a `Kisan Sabha' which held its meeting at Patna early in 1933 [Sankrityayana, 1943:112]. Ironically, it was this effort of the landholders which brought Sahajanand back into politics and vastly strengthened the Kisan Sabha [Sudhakar, 1973:9].

There was no unanimity among Congressmen about their approach to the Untied Party and its `Kisan Sabha'. While leaders like Rajendra Prasad felt that as an election trick the United Party was doomed to failure, they also thought it might actually gain some concessions for the peasantry. Hence they felt opposition to the United Party was `unnecessary'. Some other Congress leaders thought otherwise:

My colleagues were agitated thinking that (an amended tenancy law) would increase the new party's influence among the peasants. They wanted the move to be opposed, but most of the Congressmen were in prison and the organisation was banned and could not do anything. They thought, therefore, of reviving the dormant Kisan Sabha. Word was passed on to Swami Sahajanand to activise the Kisan Sabha and expose the United Party's move... I felt that all this was unnecessary but, as I could not oppose it, kept quiet. [Prasad, 1957:361].

Sahajanand was apprised of the `bogus Kisan Sabha' and its proposed session at Patna by Yadunandan Sharma and induced by him to attend the meeting. After much hesitation about re-entering politics, Sahajnand agreed and made a dramatic entry in the Patna meeting which was being conducted by such well-known zamindars and their henchmen as Dr Sachidanand Sinha (the `Founder Modern Bihar') and Guru Sahay Lal (later President of the Bihar Chamber of Commerce). The Swami's unexpected presence caused considerable embarrassment to the sponsors of the meeting and his forthright stand there condemning such devious manoeuverings marked the end of the effort by the zamindars to play politics through the use of the name of the Kisan Sabha. At the same time, this abortive attempt proved that even the zamindars had recognised the potential of an organisation like the Kisan Sabha even though until then it was no more than a name. Recognising that even the name spelled powerful magic for the Kisans, Sahajanand decided to organise the Sabha.

In spite of the efforts of Swami Sahajanand in the direction of giving the Kisan Sabha a live but formal organisational structure, it remained more a movement than an organisation. However, after 1934, the movement was, in a way, institutionalised though its primary instruments of operation continued to by numerous meetings, rallies, `struggles' and annual conventions rather than paper-work. This was a reflection of the impatient leadership of Sahajanand which, in spite of resolutions to the contrary, was not basically concerned with the formal niceties of organisation. While the agitational character marked the movement as necessarily transitory in nature, it also provided it with an element of spontaneous strength. While the Congress relied on its organisational character for mobilising the people for its movements, the Kisan Sabha drew its organisational vitality from the different movements and struggles. And, for the time being at least, the Kisan Sabha's mode of working was more effective. Even the officials remarked that the `Kisan Sabha touches the ryot more directly and its meetings are larger than the Congress' [BSCRO:16/1935].

But Sahajanand also recognised and emphasised the need for organisation of the peasants, except that organisation to him meant organisation of mass action rather than a fossilised hierarchy of constitutional formalities:

You must speak in great numbers. Government officials are here and when you come in tens of thousands they will listen, otherwise they will think you need nothing because you are silent. In Gaya there were 50,000 kisans and it caused a furore... We do not teach you to assault zamindars, only to get what is your right. We do not seek to create trouble between zamindars and tenants. The Government, zamindars and capitalists are strong. I want you to be strong too and the way to do it is to hold meetings. If you do not organise and hold Kisan Sabhas, troubles will not end [BSCRO:16/1935/I)].

The formal organisational structure of the movement was expressed through the Rules of 1929 and the Constitution framed in 1936. The 1936 Constitution served as the official statement of organisation form and objectives which included the winning of the `fundamental rights' of the peasants [BPKS, 1936]. It also outlined the rules and procedures for membership and other organisational details. All peasants were admitted as members of the Kisan Sabha with a membership fee reduced from two annas (Rs.0.12) to one price (Rs.0.015) in 1936. The basis of organisation was the village, or gram Kisan Sabha, electing representatives to thana Kisan Sabhas, which similarly elected members to the district body which in turn elected members of the Provincial Kisan Sabha. The executive organ of each of these bodies was the Kisan Council, elected by respective memberships. In the case of the Provincial Kisan Sabha, the Kisan Council comprised 15 members including officer-bearers who were specifically designated as a president, secretary and two joint secretaries. However, in practice there was considerable variation, with an increase in the number of joint secretaries normally to cover regional areas and often there were also some vice-presidents. These offices were all held for an annual term but a treasurer was elected to serve `until it was thought necessary to change him'. Income was derived from membership fees and from small levies on the members of various councils, with funds divided between local and provincial bodies. Provision was made for annual sammelans, or conventions of the several bodies of the Kisan Sabha with a president elected for such conferences. it was indicated that reports of the provincial sammelans were to be printed.

In practice, the formal organisation of the movement was confined to the activities of the Provincial Kisan Council and the annual provincial sammelan, though, on an irregular basis, sammelans at other levels were also held. In addition, a secretary was active for the period of 1935 to 1940 and an office was maintained at the Bihta ashram of Swami Sahajanand. In very large measure, the Swami himself co-ordinated much of the work of the Provincial Kisan Sabha when it was formed.

The membership of the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha was estimated at 80,000 in 1935 and the figure for 1938 was placed at upwards of 250,000, which made it by far the largest such provincial body in India. However, these and all other membership figures can be taken as no more than approxzimations. Verification is extremely difficult in the absence of any other data as a basis of comparison. The one possible measure of activity and an indication of participation, if not of membership, is to be derived from the press and official estimates of local meetings and provincial rallies. At the height of the agitation, Sahajanand consistently addressed local village meetings of up to 5000 peasants, and the estimates of peasant rallies in Patna were commonly as high as or even higher than 100,000.

With the formation of the All-India Kisan Sabha at LUcknow in April 1936, the Bihar Kisan Sabha became one of the provincial units of that national body. The Congress Socialist Party pressed for the organisation of an all-India peasant association, and N.G. Ranga [1949:69; 1968:216] became a prime mover in the effort. While Sahajanand was named president of the first meeting at Lucknow, he had come to support the idea reluctantly, holding that a national organisation could function effectively only on the basis of a network of well-developed provincial bodies, which did not in fact exist [Sahajanand, 1952:449-453]. While Sahajanand, once involved, extended total support, and to a large extent created and maintained the organisational framework by his own efforts, the A.I.K.S. suffered from the very shortcomings he had indicated: there was insufficient local depth to sustain a national movement [Mitra, 1938:387-389].

The Movements

The Kisan Sabha may have faltered in finding its feet in other parts of India, but in Bihar, from its very inception, it was involved in strong movements both based on and in turn generating mass enthusiasm for it. Its very foundation in 1929 was marked by the dropping of the proposed tenancy amendment. This was construed by the peasants as a significant victory and proved to be a tremendous morale-booster for them. On the heels of this came the Civil Disobedience Movement; and the Great Depression; and Provincial Autonomy; and the Second World War; and the Quit India Movement. And, finally, Independence. The Kisan Sabha grew from strength to strength on the crest of these waves of stirring political and economic events.

No earlier political campaign in India had fired the imagination of the rural population and become inter-twined with agrarian issues, as the Civil Disobedience Movement of the first few years of the 1930s did. The simple and yet deep issues behind the agitation and the innovative methods of struggle -- illegal manufacture of salt, boycott of government officials, non- payment of taxes, mass courting of arrests, campaign against foreign cloth, liquor and chowkidary levies, combined with boycott of courts, schools and colleges -- mobilised the vast forces of the agrarian population in unison with the urban masses. The campaign became so intense as well as wide-spread that an official view was that `The political history of 1930-31 is... a tale of constant agitation, and of the measures taken by the government to combat this dangerous movement. In the "war"... which resulted, there were frequent and sometimes serious clashes between the forces of law and order and those of unrest...'[Mansfield, 1932:1]. While the movement erupted most vigorously in the towns, the villages, too, were so seriously involved that the government and `loyalists' has to set up `Aman Sabhas' (Peace Councils) in rural areas to utilise the traditional local hold of zamindars to keep the tenants from rebelling against the State. These Aman Sabhas succeeded here and there in restraining the peasantry but in many part of rural Bihar, `police parties and other government officials were attached by mobs of villagers who threatened to murder them'. `In Bhagalpur, a regular camp (of peasant activists) had been started at Bihpur, where volunteers were lodged in barracks and were taught drill and lathi play, the whole routine being regulated by bugle call'. [Ibid:2-3]. Alarmed at this type of mass upsurge combined with the anger of people over the hanging of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, `the Government of India attempted to secure the goodwill of Mr Gandhi and the Congress Party and their cooperation in the work of making a durable constitutional settlement' [Williams, 1933:12]. However, even the Gandhi-Irwin Pact did not pacify the aroused people. In the urban areas it did have some effect because `the cities and the middle classes were a bit tired of the hartals and processions' [Nehru, 1936:232]. But for the villages `the Delhi settlement instead of pacifying... stimulated the forces of disorder' [Williams, 1933:3-4]. These forces of disorder were taken by a section of the Congress leadership to be the factor which `was needed to liven things up, a fresh infusion of blood... where could this come from except from the peasantry -- and the reserve stocks there were enormous'. [Nehru, 1936]. The peasants, the `reserve stocks' of the nationalist movement, did not belie the expectations of the leaders. With tremendous enthusiasm they jumped into the fray and the Civil Disobedience Movement for a while became a `festival of the masses':

A sense of rivalry prevailed in the countryside. Every village wanted to have the honour of getting the largest number of people arrested ... None broke the law clandestinely because it was an open Satyagraha. During my tour of the countryside I often saw the villagers gather in open places decorated with buntings and plantain leaves and manufacture salt with great ceremony [Prasad, 1957:312; Das, 1996].

But the movement did not remain at the level of ceremonies: the peasants translated the movement into their own terms and that greatly disconcerted not only the government and the loyalist zamindars but even a section of the Congress leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru [op.cit.] had foreseen this. With the participation of the peasantry, the campaign, he said, `would again become a mass movement touching the vital interests of the masses, and, what was to me very important, would raise social issues'. These social issues were raised by transforming the no-tax campaign into a no-rent movement. The movement in Bihar did not reach the proportions of the extensive campaign in the United Provinces and, in fact, in Bihar it developed in such a manner that in practice the zamindars tried to camouflage its seriousness by paying their revenue in most cases while the tenantry desisted from the payment of rent. In fact neither the government nor the zamindars took any drastic action, except in isolated cases, to terrorise the recalcitrant tenantry for several months because:

They were not sure of their grounds, as they had the political struggle with civil disobedience on the one side, and the economic slump, resulting in agricultural distress on the other. The two merged into each other, and the Government was always afraid of an agrarian upheaval [Nehru, 1936:237].

Such, indeed, was the actual or potential threat of this no-rent movement in U.P. that rent was reduced there to the 1901 level although officials felt that this action was `entirely contrary to the terms of the permanent settlement' and `not in the least justifiable' [BSCRO:34/1931]. Nevertheless, the rent reduction conceded was substantial, varying between five to eight annas (Rs.0.31 to Rs.0.50) in the rupee in Benaras division and thus, while it did not fully come to grips with agrarian problem it did temper the prospect of a `peasant rising' and `agrarian upheaval'.

Despite this example of the `victory' of the U.P. peasantry, however, Congress leaders in Bihar did not press for rent and revenue remissions, nor in fact did they show much enthusiasm for the radical declarations made at the Karachi session of the Congress. This was because, by and large, the Congress leaders in Bihar were `Gandhians' rather than `Nehru-ites'. Gandhi himself had much earlier made his position clear:

While we will not hesitate to advise the Kisans, when the movement comes, to suspend payment of taxes of the Government, it is not contemplated that at any stages of non-cooperation we would seek to deprive the zamindars of their rent. The Kisan movement must be confined to the improvement of the status of the Kisans and the betterment of the relations between the zamindars and them. [Gandhi, 1921].

Even Nehru recognised that there were different opinions among Congressmen on this issue and tried to work out a method in which both the zamindars and tenants could be involved in the movement:

If the tenants stopped paying their rents the landlords suffered immediately. A class issue was also thus raised. The Congress, as a whole, was a purely nationalist body, and included many middling zamindars and a few of the larger ones also. Its leaders were terribly afraid of doing anything which might raise this class issue or irritate the zamindar elements. So, right through the first six months of civil disobedience, they avoided calling for a general no-tax campaign in the rural areas, although conditions for this seemed to me to be ripe. I was not afraid of raising the class issue in this way or any other way, but I recognised that the Congress, being what it was, could not then patronise class conflict. It could, however, call upon both parties, zamindars and tenants not to pay [Nehru, 1936:232].

The desire to avoid class conflict prevented Congress from taking a consistent line. While in U.P., under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, it backed the no-rent campaign, in Bihar `the landlord element in the Congress camp decided against a no-rent campaign; the "dictator": advised the tenants to cultivate good relations with their landlords, and Congress diverted its energies well-tried channels of agitation. Its chief objects pending Mr Gandhi's return from England was the collection of funds and the enrolling of volunteers' [Williams, 1933.6-9]. The radical declarations were reduced to empty verbiage and the officials smugly remarked:

The revolutionary creed enunciated by the Congress at Karachi provoked little comment and less sympathy. Such a charger could not appeal to the class of petty landowners from which many of the provincial Congress leaders were recruited. Their self-interest recoiled from the prospect of conducting a campaign against the payment of rents which in most parts of the settled districts of Bihar amount to ten times the land revenue [Williams, 1933:5].

In spite of the waverings of the leaders, however, the peasants did agitate in their own manner and even the officials were constrained to record that `the lawless spirit born of civil disobedience was always liable to drive dissatisfied tenants to violence when a dispute occurred between them and the landlords'[Williams, 1933:32]. This also led the tenants to agitate militantly on agrarian issues and organise themselves into Kisan Sabhas. Kisan Sabhas were formed in Patna, Gaya, Monghyr (where three village officials were killed by irate tenants), Champaran (where the Bettiah estate, under the Court of Wards, tried to contain peasant anger by granting concessions) and Palamau where `the genuine grievances of the raiyats gave new life to the local Kisan Sabha, but agitators used the opportunity to preach the non-payment of rent and chaukidari tax, the wholesale cutting down of the jungle, and physical resistance to the landlords' agents' [Williams, 1939:9-16]. In addition, `orators toured Bihar making violent speeches. Large number of volunteers, mainly loafers and unemployed persons were collected in (rural) training camps in the Muzaffarpur, Champaran, Saran and Manbhum districts and gave displays to impress the public' [Ibid:10]. The `public' may or may not have been impressed by this display of force by the lumpen proletariat and the peasantry but the Civil Disobedience movement did affect the kisans themselves in terms of arousing their consciousness. Even Sahajanand, who had kept himself aloof from the movement for a large part [Hauser, 1961:61], observed:

The Satyagraha ... brought unprecedented awakening among the Kisans. The result was that their problems also came to the forefront. They had sacrificed their utmost at the behest of the Congress... However could these (Congress) leaders... neglect them when they had to utilise the Kisans in the coming struggle? [Sahajanand, 1952:327-377].

In spite of their largely pro-landlord bias, even the provincial Congress leaders knew that they could not neglect the peasants. Besides, the peasants themselves by their repeated militant actions were drawing attention towards their plight and were giving indication that if nothing was done soon to ameliorate their condition, matters would go out of the hands of the Congress leaders. In order to control this peasant anger as well as to give an impression of doing things for the kisans, the Bihar Provincial Congress Committee (BPCC) decided to investigate the conditions of peasants in Gaya district. This was in 1931. Up to this day (1997!) no report has been prepared nor was any statement issued to the press after the investigation. The BPCC Enquiry Committee, under the chairmanship of Rajendra Prasad, toured extensively and took copious evidence from the villagers but `its findings resulted in no recommendations for change, beyond seeking the reconciliation of landlord-tenant differences' [Hauser, 1961:51]. In fact, some government officials saw in the activities of the Congress Enquiry Committee and the tours of prominent leaders, a specific effort to disabuse the peasants of the belief that Gandhi's Civil Disobedience Movement and the then economic dislocation (Great Depression) were somehow related (BSCRO:34/1931].

The very failure of the BPCC's Enquiry Committee to come up with a report, however, resulted in highlighting the plight of the kisans of Gaya. For, in order to do the work the Congress had not done, in 1933 the Bihar Provincial Kisan Council appointed a Committee to inquire into the problems of the peasants and to publish a report. The five-member committee consisted of Sahajanand, Yamuna Karjee, Yadunandan Sharma, Yugal Kishore Singh and Badri Narain Singh. This committee also investigated the conditions by extensively interviewing peasants and published its findings in the form of a pamphlet prepared by Sahajanand [Sahajanand,-f].

Sahajanand's damning indictment of conditions in Gaya drew two sorts of reactions from the government. While one lot of officials felt that `Kisan Sabhas established in Patna and Gaya districts were never a source of danger' [Williams, 1933:9], although Sahajanand was `a dangerous individual engaged in a sinister conspiracy to set up the cultivator against the landlord and initiate a `Communist Revolt' on the Russian model ' [Hauser, 1961:97], on the other hand there was more sober assessment in the admission by various administrators that Sahajanand's case was strong and based on a solid substratum of fact'. A member of the Bihar Executive Council admitted that the Swami was `clever and (had) justification for a great deal of what he said' [BSCRO: 163/1934], while a local official observed that Sahajanand was `genuine in his work for the ryots' and drew attention to facts which `really need investigation' [BSCRO:16/1935]. The government launched such an investigation, and concluded that Sahajanand's charges were essentially true. It was admitted that in matters of receipts and rent reduction the law favoured the zamindar and the courts, which in any case were out of reach of the tenant, also joined in opposing him; that kisans were subjected to `harassment and illegal exactions'; that the conditions of bhaoli (produce rent) tenants were worst `as they cannot take a grain of crops without the zamindar's consent'; and that commented rents were excessive and squeezed the tenant in the case of fall in prices. Only on the questions of canal rates and upkeep of irrigation facilities did the investigating officer (the District Collector) differ with the Kisan Sabha report. He concluded significantly that the tenants knew their difficulties, `only they do not know the remedy' [BSCRO: 163/1934].

Not that the government knew the remedy. It `felt that nothing could be done about any of these matters and that the legislative council in any event would not agree to strengthening the law to the detriment of the majority of its zamindar members. In apparent good faith the Governor periodically called together deputations of Zamindars urging on them the establishment of goodwill with their tenants' [Hauser, 1961:98]. This was an oft-repeated and oft-neglected plea.

But one thing that all the three enquiries revealed was that the issue was no longer capable of being decided merely by political or administrative policy-decision. Economic forces had taken the stage decisively and they created their own dynamic. The Great Depression was on.

The Economic Context

In spite of the generally backward conditions obtaining then, during the first half of the 19th century agriculture did show some progress in Bihar. The vast increase in poppy and opium cultivation, which was enforced by the British, necessitated the reclamation of vast tracts and the colonial government settled land on many of its faithful retainers in North and Central BIhar [Mitra, 1980]. This made further reclamation necessary. The potato, a new crop in Bihar, was introduced during this period and although it was not very popular in the beginning, subsequently it became one of the more important cash crops in the region [Diwakar, 1957]. A very small number of minor irrigation measures were also undertaken during this period in Central Bihar [Chaudhuri, 1976].

However, much of the gain was offset by the other effects of colonialism. The de-industrialiasation, and possible de- urbanisation, which followed in the wake of the large-scale importation of factory-made goods from England, were factors which increased the pressure on land and consequently long-term pauperisation in the countryside [Bagchi, 1976]. Similarly, the emphasis on the cultivation of the poppy and later indigo was directly linked with British colonial trade and in fact hindered the development of food grain production. The fact that the local industrial sector could not develop at a sufficiently fast pace hindered the progress of the production of even some `cash crops'. For instance, although in the second half of the 19th century, jute was grown in Purnea in fairly large quantities and in Tirhut to some extent, no thought was given to the establishment of jute mills in these areas. The enormous import of foreign sugar prevented the development of a local sugar industry to the extent that between 1892-93 and 1910-11 the area under sugar-cane decreased by about 20 per cent [Diwakar, 1957].

The result was that while the food-crop sector of Bihar's agriculture continued for a long time to exist in a relatively non-commercial, subsistence set-up under conditions of rack- renting, corvee and heavy indebtedness of the peasantry, the cash-crop sector was tied not to the operations of the Bihar, or even the Indian, market but to the colonial market mechanism. The fluctuations in prices and even the acreage under these crops were determined not by the forces of supply and demand of the indigenous market but of the British economy. For instance, the acreage under sugar-cane fell noticeably during the years of the First World War (1914-18) due apparently to a good proportion of the land being transferred to indigo. But after 1920 there was a swing of the pendulum, and by 1922 the sugar industry was fairly well established in Bihar, the state having nearly 30 factories by 1947. Similarly, the First World War noticeably reduced the export of cereals from India. But Bihar was not affected by this because it exported little rice or wheat, though it ranked next to Bengal in rice production. Agricultural production on the whole showed an upward trend after 1918-19. But before conditions could improve very greatly, the world-wide Great Depression set in towards the middle of 1929 and the plight of poor agriculturists during the next 12 years was deplorable. Prices, however, began to shoot up during 1942-43, thanks to inflation during the Second World War [Diwakar, 1957], and this caused acute distress among the landless rural and urban population and the poor peasantry with chronically deficit family budgets, while the conditions of the landowners -- the zamindars, the landlord- capitalists and the peasant-capitalists -- improved somewhat. The ready availability of money, during and immediately after the Second World War, made this class fairly contented.

It is obvious from these that even such commercialisation as took place in Bihar's agriculture was not due to the inherent dynamics of the agrarian system, but was dependent on exogenous factors just as even the depeasatisation taking place in the countryside was not of immediate effect locally: the labour drawn from agriculture was largely siphoned off on indenture to various parts of the world, to Assam tea plantations and the city of Calcutta, and thus set off a process which has been characterised as `external proletarinisation' [Singh, n.d.], a phenomenon that continues till today.

In spite of this emigration of labour, however, there was a continuous process of peasants losing land or being immiserised. For instance, even between 1931 and 1951 only 50 per cent of the natural increase in population could be absorbed in non-agricultural occupations in Bihar and the percentage of population dependent on agriculture increased from 78.8 in 1931 to 87.3 in 1951 [Bihar, 1952:2]. The result of this was that while agricultural labour became cheap, the power of the landowners- moneylenders increased. Land started going from the ordinary raiyat into the hands of his creditors. This process was facilitated by the necessity of the tenant to borrow in order to pay rents to his zamindar in addition to the need to meet his ordinary consumption requirements. At the very beginning of the Permanent Settlement, in Shahabad and Patna-Gaya, Buchanan found that the payment of rent, apart from other financial obligations of the peasants, nearly universally necessitated borrowing. In Shahabad the number of `farmers who borrow ready money' was larger than of the `farmers who take advance on their crops to pay rent'. In Patna-Gaya, it was the other way round. In either case, the situation was such that the Commissioner of Patna, Mr Metcalfe, who formed his opinion on the basis of the `impressions left by the village scenes in moffusil wanderings over a period of 17 years', concluded half a century later that `the agriculturist regards a village without its money-lender as an abnormal state of things.' [Chaudhuri, 1975].

The money-lenders' operations varied from time to time, depending on the situation outside the immediate context of the village economy. Fluctuation of prices of agricultural produce caused by such factors as the World War or the general world economic depression resulted in changes in the fortunes of money-lenders. Nevertheless, the money-lenders and traders made substantial `hay' in the sunshine of generally rising prices and increased their activities several-fold. This was particularly marked in the economic boom which followed the First World War. There was a rush to corner whatever land was available. Peasants were increasingly thrown out and money-lenders also turned speculators, going even to the extent of borrowing themselves in order to buy land.

And then came the crash. The decade of the Great Depression set in. Many of the money-lenders who had speculated in land were ruined as land prices plummeted.

The economic crisis of the late 1920s and 1930s resulted in a violent fall in the prices of staple food crops. This in turn resulted in great hardship for the peasants and in the context of a general political upheaval created tremendous agrarian torment leading to the emergence of the Kisan Sabha as a powerful movement.

From the late nineteenth century until 1922, there was a steady rise in the price of staple food crops. Brief exceptions occurred in 1911, 1913 and 1917-18, but from 1922 against the high level remained steady. Suddenly, with the depression, prices dropped sharply reaching the lowest point in 1933 when prices were equivalent to the 1912 level. Taking the decade 1919-29, the average annual price of rice is shown to have been from 25 to 48 per cent higher than that of 1938. In six years prices were over 40 per cent higher than those of 1938, and in only one year, 1923, were prices than 30 per cent above those of 1938. The level of the price of maize in this period was even higher [Bihar, 1938]. It was at that level of prices that commutation of rents had generally taken place. In the depressed price situation of the 1930s, therefore, the rent-price discrepancy was enormous. And this discrepancy was reflected in a greatly increased number of rent suits [Bihar & Orissa, 1934] and growing peasant discontent.

There were many other aspects of the Great Depression, when it came in 1929 causing a `catastrophic fall in prices of agricultural produce which began in October and was so rapid that grain was selling in December at two theirs of the price at which it was sold a couple of months before... the fall in price did cause difficulty in the disposal of stocks, and therefore the payment of rent and cess. There was a very distinct shortage of money and credit which got no less acute as time went on' [Mansfield, 1932:14]. The low prices were particularly unfortunate for those whose rents had been enhanced in the years of high prices, and still more for those who, holding land on produce rent, had the rents legally commuted to cash rents in the years when prices were high. Because of fairly good crops, there was no actual distress on account of shortage of food, although the general standard of living fell. However, the severity of rent collection did casue hardship. It is remarkable that throughout the depression the land revenue collection was almost always more than 90 per cent of the total demand [Mansfield, 1932] [Williams, 1933] Wilcock, 1935] [Solomon, 1937] [Narayan, 1938] [Wasi, 1938], the bulk of the deficit being in Government estates `where any default in the payment of rent constitutes ipso facto a default in the revenue' [Mansfield, 1932:80]. In the private estates, the zamindars showed no remorse in collecting the rents and were fairly regular in paying the revenue. Because of those factors, land prices plummeted: `in the first quarter of 1931 land prices of raiyati holdings were about two thirds of what they had been in the first quarter of 1930 [Ibid:81]. In 1931 `the rural population of the province, which accounts for as much as ninety six per cent of the total population of thirty eight millions, was exposed to the full effects of the slump in commodity prices' [Williams, 1933:20]. The depression had a chain effect. For instance, jute prices fell along with those of chillies and tobacco. This caused great distress in Purnea where these were the chief cash crops. As a result of this, the cattle-breeders of Muzaffarpur lost their `export market' because jute growers of Purnea (and Bengal) had no money to replace their cattle. And so on.

The problems caused by the Great Depression were compounded by some other factors. For one thing, nature itself seemed to have turned against the peasantry of Bihar. Floods, the perennial problem of Bihar, wiped out crops in 1934-35 [Solomon, 1937:17]. In the following year, 1935-36, there was drought and, hence, another crop failure [Narayan, 1938:21]. But much more serious than these was the great earthquake of 1934 [Wilcock, 1935] [Sahajanand, 1952:421-427]. Although expenditure on relieve put some money into circulation, the damage done to land by sand being thrown up caused severe dislocation in cultivation and hence agricultural employment. As a consequence, agricultural wages were depressed from the already low level and, combined with the fact that demand for Bihari labour in the depression-hit industrial and plantation sector outside the province also became low, tremendous hardship to the lowest strata of the rural population was caused. In 1934-35, the government instituted an enquiry tinto the indebtedness of the cultivators with the special object of ascertaining whether the situation was deteriorating, and in particular, to what extent transference of land or crops to money-lenders was on the increase. `The result indicated that, except among improvident aboriginal of Monghyr and Bhagalpur districts, who had to be protected by special legislation in March 1935, there had been no marked increase in the transfer of land or in the taking over of crops, chiefly because land and crops fetched, in the market, prices too low to influence or induce shrewd money-lenders to lock up their capital in real estate. This conclusion is supported by the appreciable increase in the deposits during the year in the Post Office Savings Banks in the province, in spite of the earthquake which must have hit a good many persons of the money-lending middle classes... [Solomon, 1937:18-19]. The peasant, however, was little concerned with increase in Savings Bank deposits and his condition kept deteriorating. For, while the government's enquiry did not disclose any marked increase in rural indebtedness due to the contraction of new debts, arrears of interest to money-lenders had kept on increasing.

While on the one side the economic forces were pushing the peasants, especially the poorer peasants, against the wall, on the other the zamindars continued their depredations. Year after year, officials reported the exaction of illegal cesses [Solomon, 1937:116], refusal by the landlords to accept rents through money orders [Jagmohan, 1931:89], denying tenants receipts for rents paid by them [Mansfield, 1932:82], neglect of irrigation system [Gupta, 1934:81], oppression practised by the zamindars, or if they were absentee landlords, by their amlas, charging of exorbitant salaami for even distress sale of lands by tenants and so on. These practices even in normal times caused agrarian tension and in the disturbed period of the great depression they proved to be sure grounds for breeding agrarian unrest.

This was particularly so because of the peculiar weight of discrimination in the legal system. One official who had vast experience of the working of tenancy laws reported:

... in Bihar... the enforcement of the tenancy laws is left to the tenants' initiative by way of suit in the civil courts and the revenue officers are not given an opportunity to stop illegal acts which are feared to be only too prevalent... The tenancy law permits the landlord to file a suit in the courts for the enhancement of the rent due from a tenant... The enhancement, if allowed, continued in force for fifteen years. The law also lays down that the court shall not decree any enhancement which is unfair or inequitable. During the 1930(s) there was an appreciable increase in the number of these suits filed in Bihar and in spite of the falling prices the courts were inclined to allow enhancements according to a mechanical rule which overlooked the cultivator's lower purchasing power... To ignore the economic changes of the last few years clearly... (was)... to render the money value of the proportion left to the tenant as low as to involve serious hardship [Williams, 1933:29-30].

This blindness of the courts to economic realities, along with the continuing exploitation and oppression by the zamindars, left the tenants no avenue other than to organise themselves into Kisan Sabhas and launch agrarian movements.

Ideology and Programmes

The experiences of the various struggles taught the leaders of the Kisan Sabha much. When the Sabha was started, the approach was admittedly `class collaborationist' [Sahajanand, -el]. There was even confusion about the definition of `peasants'. The earliest constitutional document of the Kisan Sabha defined a peasant as anyone whose primary source of livelihood was agriculture and even the more elaborate constitution of the BPKS in 1936 said essentially the same thing [BPKS, 1936; BPKS, -a]. In the introduction of the Hindi edition of the Manifesto of the BPKS, written by Swami Sahajanand, the agricultural labourer for the first time was considered as a peasant, with an agricultural labourer for the first time was considered as a peasant, with an explicit awareness by the author of the difficulties inherent in this concept. Sahajanand wrote:

A peasant is known as a grihastha, a person who earns his livelihood by cultivation and agriculture, be he a petty landlord, ryot or the labourer working for wages for ploughing fields. The Kisan Sabha does not desire that by creating a separate organisation of agricultural labourers, any strife should be let loose between them and the ryots, nor should the latter oppress agricultural labourers [Hauser 1994, 1995]

A clarification was added to assure that `a grihastha should not be called a landlord. Only a handful of princes, big feudal chiefs and wealthy individuals are landlords'.

The struggles of the Kisan Sabha taught it otherwise and made its leaders rely more and more on agricultural labourers and the poorer peasants. By 1941, Sahajanabad [-g] was writing that the agrarian problem could not be solved without solving the problems of agricultural labourers. He stated:

The Kisan Sabha belongs to those exploited and suffering masses whose lot is connected with cultivation and live by it. The more they are oppressed and distressed the nearer they are to the Kisan Sabha and the nearer it is to them.

Sahajanand [g:59-60] argued that through the process of de- peasantisation, the poor peasants and agricultural labourers come so close that `no demarcation line can be drawn. Hence, it is proper to regard agricultural labourers as kisans' so that the kisans and agricultural labourers may struggle together.

In spite of the best of intentions, however, this did not happen, so that in a few years, Sahajanand [1944] admitted that the Kisan Sabha was unable to get all peasants together and that `recall the middle and big cultivators (were)... for the most part with the Kisan Sabha.' With characteristic bluntness, he stated:

They (middle and big cultivators) are using the Kisan Sabha for their benefit and gain, while we are using or rather trying to use them to strengthen the Sabha, till the lowest strata of the peasantry are awakened to their real economic and political interests and needs and have become claws conscious... It is they, the semi-proletariat or the agricultural labourers who have very little land or no land at all, and the petty cultivators, who anyhow squeeze a most meager living out of the land they cultivate and eke out their existence, who are the kisans of our thinking... and who make and must constitute the Kisan Sabha ultimately.

This, however, did not happen in Sahajanand's life time. Nor was he able to convince his associates full on this. Even Rahul Sankrityayana [1957:70-73], a founder-member of the Communist Party in Bihar, wrote prevaricatingly in the 1940s:

There is no doubt that ultimately the rights of the peasants and agricultural labourers are two sides of the same problem. It is also undeniable that the conditions of agricultural labourers are piteous and their problems must be solved. However, we should remember that all revolutions cannot be made at the same time... Even if agricultural labourers remain labourers, their wages will go up only if the income of the Kisans increases... I feel that it will be a serious mistake on their part if they enter into a quarrel with the Kisans just now.

Thus although the Kisan Sabha kept debating this question without taking decisive steps to involve agricultural labourers in the organisation, the agricultural labourers slowly started getting organised in two ways. The first was `bogus' organisations [Sahajanand, 1947] set up the zamindars and their agents who tried to take advantage of the differences between the kisans and agricultural labourers. Several paper organisations, `patronised and financed by the zamindars for duping the agricultural labourers and taking advantage of their numbers to win elections' were set up [Sankrityayana, 1957:72]. The second was a move on the part of some leaders of the scheduled castes like Jagjivan Ram to set up a Bihar Provincial Khet Mazdoor Sabha in 1937 [Hauser, 1961:20n]; [The Searchlight, 8 January 1948]. Rahul exposed the first move by the landlords through a series of blistering attacks (and when the second was set up) he advised restraint on part of the ~harijan" leaders. He suggested that instead of taking up issues of agricultural labourers as a whole these leaders should set up caste organisations to carry out social reforms among them and to take up constructive educational programmes. To the agricultural labourers he promised `pie in the sky':

Their problems will be solved after the advent of communism and the revolution which has started today will definitely go on to communism, not stopping at merely abolition of zamindari but going on to abolish private property in land. Till then, the agricultural labourers should aim at furthering the cause of the coming revolution [Sankrityayana, 1957:70-73].

When it was first set up, however, the Kisan Sabha, far from take up issues of abolition of the right of private property in land, was not even concerned with the abolition of zamindari. At first, all its leaders including Sahajanand, merely wanted that the zamindars should give `more concessions to the kisans'. It was with great difficulty and after serious debate that the Sabha adopted the demand of zamindari abolition [Sahajanand, -e; 1952:442-443].

It was only after the great earthquake in 1934 that, when the younger Congress elements were released from jail, they formed the Congress Socialist Party. Many members of that party (some of who had earlier opposed the very formation of the Kisan Sabha) decided to work with Swami Sahajanand in the Kisan Sabha. These radical elements quickly pressed for the adoption of zamindari abolition as a policy of the Sabha. Sahajanand was moving in that direction, but was not yet prepared to accept to drastic a step. Socialist Kisan Sabha members introduced an abolition resolution at the first meeting of the Kisan Council after they became members, and with an eight-member group in a council of 15 got the resolution passed. Sahajanand resigned but was persuaded to continue and the resolution was withdrawn at the intervention of a leading Socialist member. Another reason why the resolution was withdrawn was because there was no agreement about the question of compensation. Many Socialists who, at that stage, were close to Purushotham Das Tandon (whom they had got elected president of the BPKS in 1934) were in favour of compensation being paid after the abolition of zamindari. Sahajanand and a few others insisted that if zamindari abolition was demanded, there was no question of agreeing to payment of compensation. In any case, the resolution could not be passed in 1934 [BSCRO:16/1935].

Through 1935, the Socialists kept introducing resolutions in village and district-level meetings demanding zamindari abolition when a suitable opportunity arose'. Gradually, Sahajanand also came round to the view that the zamindari system was `an obstacle in the way of economic and social advancement of society' and that `zamindars were parasitical elements fattening on the blood of the toiling peasantry'. Thus at the 3rd session of BPKS at Hajipur in Muzaffarpur district, the policy of zamindari abolition without compensation was adopted in November 1935. This shift from compromise to class struggle had been achieved and a new ideological framework had been built for the peasant struggle in Bihar. The Council of Action of the Bihar Socialist Party described these developments in the following terms:

The peasant leaders were provided the organic connection between the social and economic structure and the poverty of the masses. They could (now)... see that the problem had its roots in the social structure based on exploitation of one class by another... They could (now)... see that the peasant problem was a part of the wider problem affecting and embracing the whole society in all its aspects and could not be solved in isolation [The Searchlight, 3 April 1941].

In spite of these glowing tributes paid by the Socialists to themselves, Sahajanand remained the most radical peasant leader in Bihar. When, after Independence, the Socialists were getting lost in the morass of ideological pretensions and incompetent actions through the setting up of such splittist organisations as the Hind Kisan Panchayat [The Searchlight, 13 March 1949], Sahajanand, just before his death, pointed the direction of the future peasant movement by forming an All-India United Kisan Sabha (AIUKS) whose fundamental demand was `the nationalisation of land and waterways and all sources of energy and wealth ... such nationalisation must also result in a planned system embracing not only agriculture and the land but also industries and social services'. As its immediate demand, Sahajanand's AIUKS [1949] stood for `acquisition of land... from those who possess vast domains (and) distributing them on reasonable basis among landless labourers or holders of very small plots'. In the 1970s, the leading ex-Socialist of Bihar, Jayaprakash Narayan, when defending the landowners in Musahari from the onslaught of the labourers through futile Sarvodaya attempts [JSES, 1976] would have done well to remember Sahajanand's experiences and recall his prophetic statement made in 1949 that `the rural proletariat ... is becoming aware of its rights, duties and responsibilities... When it becomes fully aware, there will be the final dance of destruction and then the present iniquitous agrarian system will start crumbling' [Sahajanand, -h].

Today, when agricultural labourers, most harijans and adivasis, have started agitating for their rights in different parts of Bihar, the peasant movement of the 1930s seems finally to have reached its culmination. For many former peasant leaders, representatives of the then `substantial tenantry' and today's rich peasantry, the chickens hatched then have now come home to roost.

The Process

My presentation, while sketching the historic course of the struggle only in its bare outlines, attempted to explain the origin of the Peasant War, the position of the various parties that played a part in it, the political and religious theories by which those parties sought to clarify their positions in their own minds, and finally the result of the struggle itself as a necessary upshot of historically established conditions of the social life of these classes; that is to say, it attempted to demonstrate the political structure of... the time, the revolts against it and the contemporary political and religious theories not as causes but as results of the stage of development of agriculture,... (and) the commerce in commodities... then obtaining. This (is) the only materialist conception of history. [Engels, 1969]

For many years, in spite of having the above statement on historiography in front of it, scholarship on the peasant question got embedded on the shoals of mystification and demystification of concepts and categories. The increasing sophistication of academics did not take into account that, in the final resort, learning is not "a question of dialectical reconciliation of concepts" but "of the understanding of the real relations" whose conceptual format would give help in the commitment to define dimensions of oppression of men by men and of the ways to struggle against them. Thus, in the quagmire of `scientificism' (which, for instance, considered Marx's Capital more `scientific' than his Eighteenth Brumaire), the peasantry, as a living organic entity, was forgotten in the interest of studying capitalist transformation. In any case, capitalism was taken to mean `de- peasantisation', industry would, according to this approach, inevitably outstrip, subordinate, and finally destroy peasant agriculture. So what was the need to waste time over the genus "potato" in the "sack of potatoes"? Hence, in the hands of "the brilliant theorist and indifferent politician Plekhanov" the peasants conceptually disappeared: "Peasantry is not a class but a notion". Other scholars, who did not go so far, concerned themselves with studying ways in which capital penetrates agri,culture and finally conquers it through a conflict of disem,bodied, inhuman `forces'. Yet others, nearer to the ground, were absorbed in the economic phenomena: the study `production rela,tions', `market relations' and the gradual disappearance of the peasantry through the process of `differentiation'. The logic of commodity relations, and exploitative capacity of the richer peasants, indicated a necessary polarisation of the peasants into rich and poor, and eventually into `rural' capitalists and `rural' proletarians. And, as for production, it would inexora,bly move through the stages of serfdom -- peasant farming -- agriculture and, finally, agri-business. The Marxists indulging in the Indian `Mode of Production' debate followed the process of differentiation as a law of nature and received nods of approval from neo-classical economists. Once in while, political activists like Lenin and Mao Tse-tung have suddenly conjured up the differentiating, disappearing peasantry as a major political force: in their hands, peasants seemed to be transformed from derivations and deductions to armies and actors. But every time the dust settled down, the scholars got back once again to work out the dates for the disintegration of the peasantry in the face of the onward march of industry, capital and the nation-state.Only, disintegration was not necessarily inevitable.

Without doubt capitalism transformed agriculture and differentiation played an important part in the capitalist transformation, which often represented very significant structural changes. The theoretical and factual claims in support of this are valid. It is the interpretation of it as the axiomatically necessary and exclusive pattern, which is not. The model should lead to an increasing capital accumulation at the top. Such a process would de-peasantise, create a reserve army of labour, procure jobs for many of the newly pauperised, turning them into proletarians and extending capitalism in the classical sense.

This did not happen. The agrarian surplus accumulated neither in the village nor in the towns nor even in the country, but in a metroplolis thousands of miles away. What followed was a polarisation indeed, but a twisted one in which the downward trend was not matched by an upward one, i.e. what occurred was not differentiation and proletrainaisation of the majority, but a process of pauperisa,tion expressed in the phenomena of the "surplus population", "rural underemployment" and "culture of poverty". It was not a "reserve army of labour" which was produced, for there is nobody to call on those reserves.

The peasants did not dissolve and differentiate into capitalist entrepreneurs and wage labourers, not were they simply pauperised. They persisted, while gradually transforming and linking into the encapsulating capitalist econo,my, which pierces through their lives. Peasants continued to exist, though in the economy as a whole, many of them were margi,nalised, being both within capitalism and outside it. They serve capitalists development (or lumpen bourgeois development of underdevelopment), though in an indirect manner, a type of perma,nent "primitive accumulation", offering cheap labour, cheap food, cheaply captured markets for profit-making goods. "They produce also healthy and stupid soldiers, policemen, servants, cooks and prostitutes; the system can always do with more of each of these. And, of course, they, i.e. peasants, produce tasks and troubles to those scholars and officials who puzzle over `the problem of their non-disappearance'. The scholars have been proved working in their optimistic, classical view of capitalism. They had seen it as aggressive, constructive, overwhelming and supra-energetic in its capacity to spread. Like the finger of Midas which turned everything it touched into gold, so also capitalism was expected to turn everything it touched into capitalism. This did not happen." The capacity of capitalism to milk everything and everybody around it is undoubted; it is capitalism's capacity or need (in terms of optimisation of profits and accumulation of surplus) to transform everything around it into the likes of itself, which is not. The peasants are a case in point. The alchemy of capitalism did turn them from baser metals into higher ones but at best they became merely 44 carat and not the genuine 22 carat gold. But most scholars missed this process. They missed it not because their scholarship was wrong or not "scientific" or "rigorous" enough, but because while they were busy searching for the "peasantry as a theoretical economic category", real flesh and bones peasants were living their day-to-day existence, encounter,ing flesh and bones landlords, merchants, money-lenders and, last but not the least, functionaries of the State; and in this actual -- historical confrontation, they were, if not stopping, at least diverting the onwards march of capitalism, and upsetting the neat applecarts of industrialisation and modernisation theories and prescriptions.

In our study of the peasantry in Bihar we have tried to deal with just such flesh and bones beings and their actual, live, experiences.

While the advent of the Raj of the capitalist, colonialist British, brought trade, some industry and even created a middle class in the towns, it plunged Bihar into continuing backward,ness. For long BIhar suffered from the exploitation and oppres,sion which went along with the Raj and its Permanent Settlement with intermediaries who supplied the Raj with considerable reve,nue. Bihar got very little of the mitigating benefits which were available to the nodal points of contact with imperialism. For instance, even the cultivation of cash crops -- opium and indigo -- did not have any healthy aspects of growth, being cancerous developments fostered and cut off according to the interests of external agencies. At the same time, the Permanent Settlement created a class of parasitic landlords who, by and large, were interested neither in the improvement of agriculture nor the contemporary cultural awakening. Thus, Bihar had neither the development of patni-holding, jotedar-type of prosperous raiyats as a general feature, nor anything equivalent even to the `renaissance' in Bengal as a movement.

However, without any plan or even conscious effort, as sporadic, spontaneous features, some of the peasants of Bihar slowly started adopting new methods of agriculture and cultivating new crops like potato, jute, sugar,cane and wheat. Money came into the village with these crops. There gradually developed a class of `substantial tenants'. The prosperity of the latter was increased by markets for the goods they produced, in the towns which emerged around British administrative outposts and around the creation by the Raj, for its own reason of countering zamindari turbulence, of irrigation schemes like the Sone, and later the Tribeni Canal systems. As the prosperity of the `substantial tenants' increased, so did their hostility towards the zamindars who were skimming off a large share of the agricultural surplus. In areas where the rate of evolution of agriculture was a little faster, where cash-crop cultivation became somewhat widespread, which were linked with the urban consumers, landlord-capitalists, junkers, developed on the one side and peasant-capitalists, kulaks, developed on the other. It was in these areas, like Patna, Gaya, Shahabad, Monghyr and Champaran, that landlords unleashed particularly severe oppression to stall the process of change.Simultaneously, resistance developed among the tenants. First they tried processes of social reform amongst themselves, through caste associations. But soon they were in confrontation with the zamindars. The latter were standing in their way of dealing with the increasing pauperisation, immiserisation and marginalisation by extorting rent in addition to the revenue which the State demanded. Thus, right from the beginning the movement had com,bined anti-government, anti-landlord character. The movement articulated itself through the Kisan Sabha. However, the Sabha, though powerful and fairly widespread, was spontaneous, efferves,cent and largely outside the control of political parties. The Congress, Socialists, Communists, etc. repeatedly tried to fit the movement into their respective ideological straight-jackets; but in vain. The movement remained what it was -- an expression of the urge of the relatively better-off tenantry to find ways of avoiding depredations by zamindars, and of the poor peasantry to prevent its own obliteration.

In this whole process, the State was not a silent spectator. In its first phase of establishing British rule, the government was merely interested in the security of its revenue. Later, the need of expanding a market for its produce as well as avenues of investment, made it enact greater security for substantial tenan,try. Still later, successive peasant movements brought State power face to face not only with evidence of zamindari oppression but also with the fact that a substantial portion of the agricultural surplus which could be used as capital was being frittered away in conspicuous consumption. The emergent Indian capitalists, Birla et hoc genus omne, particularly resented this and their organs -- political and media -- increasingly turned against the institution of zamindari. At the same time, the State was promoting agricultural growth and in this it was as,sisted by the organisations of the substantial tenantry which, at times, even gave up agitation against landlordism and took up campaigns like `Grow More Food'.

The zamindari system could not withstand the assault from three sides, the substantial tenants, the Indian capitalists and the State. After the dissolution of the British Raj in 1947, the Permanent Settlement was soon unset,tled.The substantial tenants and the Indian capitalists had won their battle for accumulation and investment. And the State through it had succeeded in maintaining law and order.

But what of the poor peasantry which was getting increasingly pauperised without getting proletarinised? Soon it was on its feet striving for a process of "re-peasantisation". It wanted land and started agitating for it. The challenge posed by the poor peasants was sought to be met through ameliorative action, like Bhoodan on the one side, and promoting faster agricultural development on the other. The idea was to do away with conflict, promote harmony and at the same time expand the restricted home market which was proving to be a bottle-neck in the economy. In this attempt, the State tried the "trickle down" approach, developing the already better-off in down. The approach was called "betting on the strong" and seemed logical enough, given the presumption of a harmonious countryside after the abolition of zamindari. But the presumption was wrong. The gamble failed. And the Green Revolution started slowly staining itself red at the edges.

The depeasantised poor peasantry not only wanted land, but the pauperised landless labourers wanted higher wages and dignity --izzat. The strategy of countering the upsurge this time was repression.Thus, agrarian unrest in Bihar in the twentieth century has had two rounds: the first at its height in the 1930s and 1940s and the second beginning from the 1969s and 1970s. Both rounds have actually consisted of two fights each. The first one was of (1) the capitalists and middle class (utilising the peasant cannon- fodder) against British imperialism and (2) of the substantial tenants against the zamindars. The second round too has two fights within it. While on the one side the poor peasantry is struggling for survival against the rich peasants, landlords and the State, on the other, the emergent kulaks, not finding further source of accumulation and avenues of investment in agriculture, are turning their energies to getting hold of the eternally milking cow -- the government. This is the content of the current `Backward Caste' phenomenon in Bihar.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

So much has been written on the appalling agrarian conditions in Eastern India, particularly Bihar, for people at large to recognise that something is rotten in that benighted region. With economists writing on the consequences of semi-feudalism, sociologists bemoaning the brutalisation of society, political analyst predicating the erosion of political morality, social ecology developing a new and appropriate discipline of disaster studies and even journalists ad nauseum reporting horror stories, it has been clear that the situation is nearing the breaking point. Something had to give and something new had to come out. And so it has.

In response to the near-total break-down not only of the democratic polity but also of established norms of law and order, reflected in Bihar in the phenomena of booth-capture, mafia maraudings and macabre harijan hunting, all springing from the tension between an antiquated agrarian base and a lumpenised cultural and political superstructure, the subaltern people in the region have always struggled to create space for themselves to survive in dignity, if not in peace. Much of the struggle has been unassuming, unspectacular, even mundane. Occasionally it has burst out into great upheavals such as those led by Birsa Munda or Sahajanand Saraswati. The present episode of this continuing struggle is qualitatively different from the earlier ones in as much as it combines both the elements of long drawn day-to-day resistance to oppression at the village level and spontaneous combustion of the overall polity exemplified in the creation of a new democratic consciousness. Demonstrations in Patna intervening in the process of changing the grand structure of the prevailing politics, have as their point of departure the flaming fields where the fire now has spread far and wide.

Before going into details of the situation, it is necessary to note that the emergent counter-force in Bihar is no flash in the pan. As early as May 1982, the Bihar Government in its "Notes on Extremist Activities- affected Areas" reported that as many as 47 out of a total of 587 blocks, spread over 14 districts, were affected by the `Communist extremist' movement. In a research paper in Economics and Political Weekly, Professor Pradhan H. Prasad reproduces a table from the government's "Notes" which showed that 10.28 per cent of the village, 8.23 of the population, 7.24 of the area, 9.46 of the net sown area and 11.98 of the gross sown area had been affected by "Communist extremist" movement as early as May 1982. Subsequently, if anything, the movement has grown in the face of the corrupt, casteist and incompetent administration of Bihar.

Let us examine the nature of this `Communist extremism'. What has it actually done which would put it outside the pale of `mainstream' politics? The most common charge against `Communist extremists' is that they reject the possibility of peaceful solutions to socio-economic problems and resort to violence. The charge carries some credibility on account of the experience of the first phase of the Naxalite movement which was characterised by at times mindless violence. But the situation in Bihar today is very different.

In a state where violence has become the generalised mode of social intercourse, where even according to government figures more murders are committed every day than in Punjab, where, as Arun Sinha has pointed out, "The major feature of social as well as political life is the prevelanec of the language of force, arms in particular" where "landlords of every village are armed to the teeth and control some private gang of lumpens or other" where "the focal point of armed violence is the institution of landlordism which, on account of its dispersed existence, presents a brilliant demonstration of the Gandhian mode of decentralisation of power", the approach of the `new Naxalites' towards social violence is indeed a marked contrast to prevalent mores.

The prime organisation representing the 'new Naxalites', the CPI (ML) Liberation group, states unequivocally, "First of all, we do not subscribe to any theory of `excitative violence' and still less to `individual assassination'". On the issue of violence, its position is conditioned by the prevailing situation:

"Everywhere in Bihar, it is the landlords who are armed, they derive a sadistic pleasure by beating and killing poor peasants, burning their houses and raping their women. Secondly, by any human logic whatsoever, the rural poor cannot be denied their right to organise their own resistance forces to counter the attacks of landlord armies. Thirdly, if peasant struggle takes violent forms in Bihar, the root must be sought in the forms of oppression."

In fact, reports from Bihar indicate that wherever these 'new Naxalites' have managed to acquire significant strength the incidence of day-to-day rural violence has gone down considerably. It is they rather than the established police machinery that are the best guarantee of law and order in the complete sense of the term.

Another feature attributed to 'extremists' is their lack of participation in the processes of electoral democracy. Again, this was true of the first phase of the movement which was characterised by infantile adventurism. Emerging out of a long and sustained struggle among peasants in the Gangetic plains of Bihar, the 'new Naxalites' appreciate the potency of the electoral processes, though they are not blinded by the stars of parliamentary practices in their eyes. It is clear to them, as to any observer of the electoral scene in Bihar, that a massive charade has been going on in the name of elections in the state. The practice of "booth capturing" has been institutionalised in many areas and in effect this has meant that large numbers of voters, in particular scheduled castes, tribes, landless labourers and women have been disenfranchised.

Thus, the first task of deepening and extending social democracy in Bihar comprises not of aiming for electoral victory but merely to provide for participation of the people in the actualisation of universal adult suffrage. The unobstrusive but significant engagement of the `new Naxalites' in Bihar with electoral democracy found expression in their participation in the 1985 assembly elections under the banner of the mass organisation known as the Indian People's Front. Although their candidates did not win, the signal achievement was that in every constituency that they contested booth capturing was prevented and democratic norms, tomtomed by others but seldom put into practice, were actualised by those who are mst criticised for lack of faith in elections. In this context, the organisation noted,

"Defying severe police repression and attacks by the landlords' armed gangs, the peasants cast their first ever vote in their life. While all the champions of parliamentary democracy - Congress, Lok Dal and CPI like - were busy capturing booths, the fighting peasants of Bihar, through their conduct in the elections, proved that they are the real representatives of democracy." The recent setting up by the IPF of 'Matdata Suraksha Samitis' (Voters' Protection Committees) in view of the forthcoming elections is part of the process of actualising democracy at the grassroots.

Given this kind of non-dogmatic approach and their record of not only ensuring economic gains for the rural poor through enforcing payment of minimum wages, prescribed by law but seldom actually paid by landowners, and even distribution of some ceiling-surplus lands in accordance with long-enacted but hardly ever implemented legislation, but also taking up `constructive activities' like upgradation of community assets in the shape of irrigation works, wells pastures etc., the 'new Naxalites' in south-central Bihar have been playing a role comprising both regulatory and promotional aspects. In short, their struggle has come to represent the very process of state formation in an otherwise anarchic situation.

The qualitatively new aspect of the `new Naxalite' movement as an important force in left politics has not had its significance properly noted by outside abalysts. Political commentators on Bihar have got bogged down in the morass of the Congress-Janata syndrome and even as sociologists try to untangle the various strands of its complicated caste web, they have, by and large, ignored the broad correspondence of the caste and class structure. A refreshing aspect of the 'new Naxalite' movement has been that, unlike vulgar Marxists, it has neither ignored the caste question nor has it gone overboard on non-class understanding of caste, culture and ethnicity. Its creative encounter with caste in Bihar is evidenced by the appeal to kurmi and yadava peasants as well as to dalit labourers, but the same time it recognises that caste is not an invariant absolute. The non-dogmatic and non-sectarian approach is also reflected in discussion of other extra-economic matters like the position of women, issues of cultural heterogeneity etc.

The new politics of the left in Bihar has been spreading not only in the areas of original Naxalite activity like Bhojpur but also to the tribal Jharkhand region and eastern U.P. Organisationally, there is a variety of bodies involved in the movement. They range from various factions of the CPI (ML), the most prominent being the Liberation and Party Unity groups, guerilla groups, like the MCC, mass organisations like the IPF and Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti and agrarian trade unions like the Kisan Sabha. Although many of these groups have distinct organisational forms and there is even some rivalry between them on carving out `spheres of influence' there is similarity in their intent if not in their modes of operation.

In spite of the existence of several such organisations, fratricidal conflict which was a marked feature of the earlier Naxalites is much less today. There are occasions when these organisations criticize each other even severely, as for instance in the Liberation group's denunciation of the tactics of the MCC in utilising caste conflict which led to the Dalelchak-Baghaura and other massacres, but there have been instance of cooperation between these groups and indeed between them and other democratic elements even in parties like the Samajwadi Party and CPI. The re- enactment of Jallianwalla Bag ar Arwal in April 1986 saw a broad movement arising with the participation of all who were horrified by the extent and nature of police atrocities. Today, the unfolding of the fodder scam has once again provided the opportunity for the Left and democratic groups to unite.

Indeed a significant aspect of the `new left' in Bihar has been that it has rejuvenated the tired old CPI which continues to have mass support in different areas of the state. The CPI had built its base from the 1930s when it had effectively led the anti-zamindari agitation. In the process it developed some fairly impregnable citadels like the Begusarai belt in central Bihar where a village is known to till today as the `Stalingrad of Bihar'. After its dalliance with the different United Front Governments in the 1960s and on account of its national policies which were clearly out of tune with the politics of Bihar during the `J.P. period', the CPI started losing its cutting edge on agrarian issues even while retaining some degree of mass support. The emergence of the radical and militant agrarian movement in recent years outside the CPI has put pressure on its cadre to reactivate and again start intervening in the anti-feudal and broadly democratic movement.

Similarly, the trade union movement in Bihar which, faced with the depredations of the mafia in the coalfields and elsewhere, had got somewhat bogged down in narrow economism and even opportunism has been affected by the new trends. Although on the industrial front the situation remains grim, the fact that popular and honest leaders like A.K. Roy are again active against the mafia murders is not an unrelated development. The involvement of the `New Left' with re-emergent Jharkhand movement in terms of highlighting the genuine grievances of the tribals is also not insignificant

At the same time, the role of organisations like the Jan Sanskriti Manch, All India Student Association, Revolutionary Youth Organisation, Inquilabi Minorities Manch, Janwadi Mahila Morcha etc. in the struggle against religious fundamentalism, obscurantist ideology, rank casteism and feudal oppression of women, in short in a democratic awakening in semi-feudal Bihar is increasing. And perhaps as logical outcome of the increasing presence of this `New Left' in Bihar is its intervention in macro-issues.

In the 1970s, the Naxalite movement in Bihar weeakend on account of three major factors: its own adventurist stupidity, the developmentalist and cooptational intervention of Jaya Prakash Narain and repression by the state. But the movement did not collapse. Indeed, the grim agrarian situation and overall deterioration of the political scenario of the state created a new and more vital left. Its challenge cannot be met by old prescriptions. It embodies the emergence of a specific social democracy in the peculiar situation of Bihar.

It is difficult to delineate the formal organisations which are involved in the peasant upsurge and related political, social and cultural movements that are taking place in central Bihar. At most a general picture of the organisational networks can be drawn with only an approximation of the different complexities that hold the network together.

In fact, the conglomeration of organisations can trace its beginnings to the organised peasant movement in the area began in 1928 with the formation of the Patna District Kisan Sabha under the leadership of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati. Later it developed into the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha and became the core of the All India Kisan Sabha which struggled against zamindari. After zamindari abolition in the 1950s, although the formal organisation remained extent, largely under the control of the Communist Party of India (CPI), it lost its teeth. In the 1970s when the peasant movement grew up again in the region, albeit on different premises and demands, several rudimentary mass organisations of peasants came up here and there. In the early 1980s, the need was felt to consolidate them into one formation and the Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha was launched once again. It claimed continuity with the original Kisan Sabha of Sahajanand, even as it took up new issues related primarily to the demands of the small peasants and agricultural labourers.

The peasant militancy in the region proceeded from the late 1960s under the direction of and impetus provided by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML). Lack of proper ideological orientation, internal dissension and repression by the state and local vested interests brought about the effective collapse of this once formidable organisation so that by the mid-1970s, it had for all practical purposes fragmented beyond recognition. The largest surviving faction was known as the CPI (ML) - Liberation group, so called on account of its party organ, Liberation. Over a period of time, this group reorganised and has today grown into a formidable force. Another faction which had a small presence in the area in the 1970s but which has grown subsequently goes by the name of the Central Organising Committee of the CPI (ML) - Party Unity. These two have minor ideological differences with each other but retain their separate identities. They also have separate mass organisations.

Many of these organisations combined in the 1980s into a large umbrella organisation known as the Indian Peoples' Front (IPF). It is difficult to today to delineate the various elements of the IPF from each other or from the whole and in any case, when the CPI(ML) itself emerged from the underground a few years ago, the IPF virtually became defunct. Hence in the account which follows, often the names of difficult formal organisations like the BPKS. CPI (ML) and IPF have been used interchangeably.

The movement in central Bihar covers several districts: among them, Bhojpur, Rohtas, Patna, Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad and Nalanda. In north Bihar, it is growing in Siwan and other areas. The CPI(ML)- Liberation is the main leading force behind it. This phase of peasant struggles in Bihar had its genesis in the heroic struggles of Bhojpur and Patna between 1972 and 1979.

The present phase of peasant struggle began in the rural areas of Patna in early '80s and soon spread to Nalanda and Jehanabad. A new awakening took place in Bhojpur, Aurangabad, Rohtas and parts of Gaya. The government replied with massive police actions. Assisting the armed gangs of landlords, better known as private armies, undertaking certain administrative and economic reforms, mobilising the support of different political parties, particularly the CPI and Sarvodaya groups, as well as of the news media -- the government made multi-pronged attempts to suppress the movement. The organisation records

In the face of these governmental measures and duel to our own tactical mistakes, we suffered setbacks and losses in certain areas and had to make retreats and readjustments in many other areas of operation. On the whole, however, we successfully countered these measures and succeeded in disintegrating the private armies, restricting our losses to a minimum and retaining the initiative in our hands.

In essence, the entire struggle revolves around three issues:

(i) For an increase in the wages of agrarian labourers, who account for 30-40% of the rural population in these areas....

(ii) For the seizure of surplus, vested and homestead land in occupation of landlords, mahants, and rich peasants; and distribution of the same among landless and poor peasants....

(iii) For the social dignity of dalits and backward castes. As it strikes at the root of feudal authority, this struggle tends to become quite intense and the entire range of upper castes of babusahebs, babhans and babajis becomes the target. On the other hand, such struggles, draw support from almost all the classes of backward castes. There are always some exceptions though, from both the sides. Generally, in all the villages a small section of progressive people from upper castes cooperate with this struggle, while sections of backward castes join hands with reactionaries from upper castes. Under the impact of struggle over all these years, certain sections of upper castes in several areas have begun to change their traditional attitudes.

To effect a greater polarisation among people on class lines and to unite broad sections of rural population, we are trying to take up many other related issues as well, say, recording of tenancy rights, mobilising people against the corruption of block officials, etc. The question of corruption is linked with agrarian development, as the lion's share of benefits is usurped by these officials in collusion with local reactionaries. Besides, action against dacoit gangs, certain village development works, relief measures etc. are also taken up to unite the broad masses of rural population.

We hold that only an integrated programme of struggles and activities on all such issues can ensure broad peasant unity under the leadership of agrarian labourers and poor peasants.

We are often accused by opportunists of all hues of disrupting the broad peasant unity and of pitting agrarian labourers against peasants. By sacrificing the interests of agrarian labourers and poor peasants and by refusing to mobilise them in mass struggles, their class consciousness and class solidarity cannot be developed, nor can their leadership be established over the peasant movement. Naturally, the so-called broad peasant unity simply boils down to unity under the leadership of rich peasants. There is no middle way.

We still cannot claim to have altered the class and caste balance in our favour, but gradually we are heading towards building this unity on a new basis. In certain areas, middle peasants and middle sections of upper castes are also being mobilised under the banner of Kisan Sabha.


Remains the task of identifying the dramatis personnae. Just as the acts and scenes themselves have not followed a tight sequence, the cast of characters has also changed. The initial lead was taken by `outsiders', in particular Sahajanand who stood outside the dproduction process as a sanyasi and as such may fall in lthe category of the lumpen intellectual. The othe rimportant characters too, like Gandhi, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Rahul Sankrityayana, K.B. Sahay, etc. though having more interest in land and its ownersship than Sahajananad, were also essentially `outsiders' in their character. They were not directly affected by the process of the agrarian economy. Their action was not a result of experience but of consciousness acquired extraneously. Their process of action, in fact, followed the course of

Consciousness -- Action -- Experience.

These `outsider' leaders did no directly go to the peasants but operated through local level leaders like Jadunandan Sharma, Ramnandan Mishra, Raj Kumar Shukla and others who reached consciousness of cdeprivation through actual experience, and wanted action to remedy the situation. For them the process was Experience -- Consciousness - Action.

Finally, there were (and are) the peasants themselves who, having neither sophisticated theory nor wide experience, acquire both experience and consciousness through action in the process:

Action -- Experience -- Consciousness.

The interaction of these three types of elements also was not confined to one stage. In the first stage, in the period before the Second World War, initiative was with the outsiders and they intervened through local leaders and reached the peasants gener,ating the development of consciousness. In the period of the Second World War, Quit India Movement and the advent of Independence, the `outsiders' were either busy with high political affairs, in jail or in government. Hence the initiative came in the hands of the local leaders who launched struggles through which a great deal of experience which was useful later was gained:in this process, zamindari was abolished and many local leaders benefited either personally or as members of a class of substantial tenants. The acquired vested interests in the changed situation and slided to a back-seat in the context of agrarian movements. For several years, there were indeed no significant movements. With time, however, in the 1960s, a new set of ideologically-oriented `outsiders' emerged and reached the country,side to join the peasant masses in their struggles. However, by then, in many areas like Champaran, Purnea, Bhojpur, and Dhanbad, the peasants themselves had grasped the initiative. Hence followed a process of action:it is this action which is taking place in many parts of Bihar today. The action is sporadic and spontaneous. And it is faced with brutal repression by the landlords, rich peasants and the State. In many instances it takes the form of caste, rather than class, conflict. In some cases the former allies and even leaders of the poor peasantry have become its oppressors and it is not uncommon that yesterday's substantial tenants are today killing poor peasants, burning their miserable huts and raping their women. On the face of it, the situation of the poor peasants, agricultural labourers and other toiling people in Bihar is desperate; it seems it will never change. But propelled by the very desperation of the struggling, toiling people, Bihar is changing. `And yet it moves.'

..... And Friends

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati passed away a few years after Independence and before the legislation abolishing zamindari could be enacted. However, he had led a strong enough movement to make that phase of "land reforms from above" inevitable.

However, as the agrarian change process got bogged down in legalisms on the one side and resistance by vested interests on the other, the focus of politics changed. Class issues were relegated to the background as wheeling and dealing for the loaves and fishes of office took precedence.

Scholarship in social sciences has a habit of following political trends. Thus, it was not surprising that in the years following Independence, the attention of most academics engaged in contemporary studies was focused on the goings-on in "mainstream" political parties, in particular the Congress. It required academic imagination in that context to research peasants, peasant organisations and their leaders. Walter Hauser was among the first to do so. When the smouldering embers of peasant activism appeared to be smouldered under the ashes of realpolitik, it did require some moral as well as intellectual courage to look at peasant activists as subjects -- rather than objects -- of research. Mind you, this was before the period when environmental studies or gender studies became "valuable" because not only were they politically corect but also academically pragmatic. Besides, this was also the period when, before the Journal of Peasant Studies and other such publications lifted the peasant from the footnote to the text of history.

Swami Sahajanand was re-discovered by Walter Hauser also well before Subaltern Studies turned history into mere literature and social science into mere literary criticism. His tools were imperfect, perhaps; being conventionally accepted and tried and tested. He did not, and perhaps could not too, indulge in looking at the various meanings of discourse and the sub-text of records. And yet, somehow, anyhow the moral imperative mattered. Just as it did in the case of the saffron-robed "red Swamy".

It could not have been easy for Walter Hauser to carry out his research when he did. Those were still the years of the "Ugly American", when Time magazine was denouncing Jawaharlal Nehru as a dangerous crypto-communist and Non-Alignment was seen as a vile plot against the "Free World". In India too, not only had the strength of the Kisan Sabha ebbed after the Telengana Uprising but probing into its past -- particularly by an American -- must have seemed distinctly odd. The fact that the publication of Hauser's thesis was delayed only added to the mystery.

And yet, Walter Hauser did not let the past of the Kisan Sabha become mere history. Not only did he make copies of his thesis available to libraries like that at the A. N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies in Patna but he kept on both researching the discourse of Sahajanand as well as the Phoenix-like quality of the Kisan Sabha which rose from its own ashes in the 1970s. Of course, in the latter case, it was the fact that the peasants of Bihar who reinvigorated a comatose organisation added to the effort of the scholar.

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati has still not got his due from history. Despite the efforts of Walter Hauser and others who have studied the life and times of that absolutely fascinating personality, Sahajanand has been largely forgotten and when he is remembered, it is as a leader of the Bhumihars. Recently, peasant assertiveness has made some dent in this image-creation and historical misappropriation but in a time when the agrarian conflict paradigm has shifted from the tenant-zamindar tussle to the labourer/poor peasant-junker/kulak antagonism, when the Ranbir Sena of the Bhumihars is aggressively ranged against today's Kisan Sabha, it is necessary perhaps to review the evolution of Sahajanand. Walter Hauser is doing that. More stregth to his elbows.


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A more detailed account of peasant movements in Bihar is contained in my book, Agrarian Unrest and Socio- Economic Change in Bihar. I am grateful to all those who helped me in many ways in completing that study. It is not possible here to name all of them, but in particular I wish to record my debt to Laksmi Mandal and Jahoor Ali, poor peasants in Bihar, who not only aroused my interest in the subject but also bore with me in many ways, and to Professor B.B. Chaudhury and Dr Walter Hauser, from whose pioneering works I have drawn heavily. I also specially thank Vinay Kumar Sharma who cheerfully typed the present work, square brackets and all.

Much of the description of the Kisan Sabha is taken from the unpublished work of Dr Walter Hauser who had the opportunity to look at organisational documents of the Kisan Sabha in the 1960s before many of them disappeared from Bihta. The reference to Hauser's work cited here may not match the original pagination as it is taken from a typescript prepared from Dr Hauser's thesis, a copy of which he has kindly made available to the A.N.S. Institute of Social Studies, Patna.

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