Agrarian struggles in the 20th century – 5

The All India Kisan Congress/Sabha This sabha was founded in Lucknow in April 1936 with Swami Sahjanand Saraswati as the president and N.C. Ranga as the general secretary. A kisan manifesto eas issued and a periodical under Indulal Yagnik started. The AIKS and the Congress held their sessions in Faizpur in 1936. The Congress manifesto (especially the agrarian policy) for the 1937 provincial elections was strongly influenced by the AIKS agenda.

Under Congress Ministries The period 1937-39 was the high watermark of the peasant movements and activity under the Congress provincial rule. The chief form of mobilisation was through holding kisan conferences and meetings where demands were aired and resolution were passed. Mobilisation campaigns were carried out in the villages.


Kerala In the Malabar region, the peasants were mobilised mainly by the Congress Socialist Party activists. Many “Karshak Sanghams” (peasants organisations) came into existence. The most popular method was the marching of jaths or peasants groups to the landlords to get their demands accepted. One significant campaign by the peasants was in 1938 for the amendment of the Malabar Tenancy Act, 1929.

Andhra This region had already witnessed a decline in the prestige of zamindars after their defeat by Congressmen in elections. Anti-zamindar movements were going on in some places. Many provincial ryot associations were active. N.G. Ranga had set up, in 1933, the India Peasants’ Institute. After 1936, the Congress socialists started organising the peasants. At many places, the summer schools of economics and politics were held and addressed by leaders like P.C. Joshi, Ajoy Ghosh and R.D. Bhardwaj.

Bihar Here, Sahjanand Saraswati was joined by Karyanand Sharma, Yadunandan Sharma, Rahul Sankritayan Panchanam Sharma, Jamun Karjiti, etc. In 1935, the Provincial Kisan Conference adopted the anti-zamindari slogan. The Provincial Kisan Sabha developed a rift with the Congress over the ‘bakasht land’ issue because of an unfavourable government resolution which was not acceptable to the sabha. The movement died out by August 1939.

Punjab The earlier peasant mobilisation here had been organized by the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, the Kirti Kisan Party, the Congress and the Akalis. A new direction to the movement was given by the Punjab Kisan Committee in 1937. The main targets of the movement were the landlords of western Punjab who dominated the unionist ministry. The immediate issues taken up were resettlement of land revenue in Amritsar and Lahore and increase in water rates in canal colonies of Multan and Montgomery where feudal levies were being demanded by the private contractors. Here the peasants went on a strike and were finally able to win concessions.

The peasant activity in Punjab was mainly concentrated in Jullundur, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Lyallpur and Shekhupura. The Muslim tenants-at-will of west Punjab and the Hindu peasants of south-eastern Punjab (today’s Haryana) remained largely unaffected.

Peasant activity was also organised in Bengal (Burdwan and 24 Parganas), Assam (Surma Valley), Orissa, Central Provinces and NWFP.


Because of a pro-war line adopted by the communists, the AIKS was split on communist and non-communist lines and many veteran leaders like Sahjanand, Indulai Yagnik and N.G. Ranga left the  sabha. But the Kisan Sabha continued to work among the people. It did notable work during the famine of 1943.


Tebhaga movement In September 1946, the Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha gave a call to implement, through mass struggle, the Flood Commission recommendations of tebhaga two-thirds’ share to the bargardars, the share-croppers also known as bagchasi or adhyar, instand of the one-half share. The bargardars worked on lands rented from the jotedars. The communist cadres, including many urban student militias went to the countryside to organise the bargardars. The central slogan was “nij khamare dhan tolo” i.e., sharecroppers taking the paddy to their own threshing floor and not to the jotedar’s house, as before, so as to enforce tebhaga.

The storm centre of the movement was north Bengal, principally among Rajbanshis a low caste of tribal origin. Muslims also participated in large number. The movement dissipated soon, because of the League ministry’s sop of the Bargardari Bill, an intensified repression, the popularisation of the Hindu Mahasabha’s agitation for a separate Bengal and renewed riots in Calcutta which ended the prospects of sympathetic support from urban section.

Telangana Movement This was the biggest peasant guerrilla war of modern Indian history affecting 3000 villages and 3 million populations. The princely state of Hyderabad under Asajahi Nizams was marked by a combination of religious-linguistic domination (by a mall Urdu-speaking Muslim elite ruling over predominantly Hindu-Telugu, Marathi, Kannada-speaking groups), totsl lack of political and civil liberties, grossest forms of forced exploitation by deshmukhs, jagirdars, doras (landlords) in forms of forced labour (vethi) and illegal exactions.

During the war, the communist-led guerrillas had built a strong base in Telangana villages through Andhra Mahasabha and had been leading local struggles on issues such as wartime exactions, abuse of rationing, excessive rent and vethi.

The uprising began in July 1946 when a deshmukh’s thug murdered a village militant in Jangaon taluq of Nalgonda. Soon, the uprising spread to Warrangal and Khammam.

The peasants organised themselves into village sangham and attacked using lathis, stone slings and chili powder. They had to face brutal repression. The movement was at its greatest intensity between August 1947 and September 1948. The peasants brought about a rout of the Razaqars the Nizam’s storm troopers. Once the Indian security forces took over Hyderabad, the movement fizzled out.

The Telangana movement had many positive achievements to its credit.

  • In the villages controlled by guerrillas, vethi and forced labour disappeared.
  • Agricultural wages were raised
  • Illegally seized lands were restored.
  • Steps were taken to fix ceilings and redistribute lands.
  • Measures were taken to improve irrigation and flight cholera.
  • An improvement in the condition of women was witnessed.

The autocratic-feudal regime of India’s biggest princely state was shaken up, clearing the way for the formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic lines and realizing another aim of the national movement in this region.