Sir Chhotu Ram is known for planning and executing agrarian reforms in the undivided Punjab during 1920-45. He provided free legal counseling to landless peasants. The reforms carried out by him have not ceased to be relevant even today.
A zealous defender of country's unity and integrity, he once remarked that a divided country is prone to destruction. He warned that partition would irretrievably damage the society and destroy the entire way of life. The country later witnessed the tragic outcome of that failure of collective human wisdom, foresight and understanding! The author, an educationist. has authored several on philosophy, religion. parapsychology and history.
The birth of a great man is generally for the cries of his times. So was Chhotu Ram's. Like others in the family, he was born and brought up in circumstances that were utterly deficient in responding to his urges and aspirations. At a fairly advanced age of ten, he was dispatched to school not that he would study but that the family could heave a sigh of relief from his daylong mischief’s. A genius extraordinary, here he surprised his teachers and classmates by grabbing the first position in his primary school examination in 1895, and was found eligible for a scholarship. Nor was his performance in the elite Christian institutions of Delhi less surprising where he was adjudged the best student both in studies and leadership qualities. As a lawyer, he set the rare example of providing free legal counseling to peasants who had been victims of greedy moneylenders.
It was Chhotu Ram's settled conviction that, if at all afflicted peasants in the Punjab, as elsewhere, were to be saved, only panacea was political power. To pursue his avowed aim he joined the District Congress Committee as its President, but within a short period of four years he felt completely disillusioned. The urbanites had captured almost entire organization, with little care or concern for royalties. With Sith skilful maneuverability, they were busy in strengthening albeit hold and trying to preach and propagate the Congress demand for refusal to pay land revenue and other taxes to the government. The peasants were also asked to keep their fields lying vacant. With an anguished mind Chhotu Ram wrote: "The Punjab Provincial Congress Committee has adopted a secretarial attitude in its memorandum, has wholly identified itself with the urban and commercial classes and deals with the rights and claims of the rural population as if the latter formed no part of the Indian nation and should be content with such crumbs of political rights and privileges as their urban-shall I say-masters be pleased to throw over to them".
Chhotu Ram severed his relation with the Congress, but this was not the end but the beginning of a new eventful era to be mostly dedicated to the peasantry of the British Punjab. Through his own means he reached the top of his new political party-the Unionist Party-and later as the most influential member of the cabinet, through which he sought to realize his most cherished ambition. With carefully planned and executed agrarian reforms he had almost liberated the Punjab peasantry before his death in January 1945. It was all something like a miracle that the age-old complex and complicated problem of land ownership and management had been resolved once and for all. These reforms have not ceased to be relevant even today, though they are becoming increasingly obscure with the passage of time. Needless to say, his untimely demise made the Muslim League's partition demand much easier for acceptance. Notwithstanding all this, however, he remains even to this day little studied and little understood.
Chhotu Ram warned through his public speeches and writings that partition would irretrievably damage the Punjabi society and destroy the whole way of life. His was the lone voice to tell Jinnah in unequivocal and categorical terms that Punjab was no one community's home or heritage, but a mini commonwealth in which every community was an equal partner. A country divided, he once remarked, was a country destroyed. The letter he addressed to Mahatma Gandhi is a rare piece of prophetic forebodings, and deserves serious evaluation not just because of its forceful logic but also because of its vivid description of future course of events - forcible conversions, large scale murders, rapes, abductions and unbearable sufferings caused in the wake of exchange of population on both sides. All this was, to be sure, an earth-shaking tragedy ever known to human history. All this, however, unmistakably points to the failure of collective human wisdom, foresight and understanding.
The whopping wails of the beleaguered peasantry aroused Chhotu Ram's conscience to a point where he could think of no other pursuit, not even the Chief Ministership of Jammu and Kashmir or the membership of the Viceroy's Executive Council. He was neither preceded nor has he been followed by anyone else as the committed champion of peasantry. He was undoubtedly influenced by his heritage, his education and social conditions. Communalism was in his view, humanity's 'enemy' number one. The Punjab's communal composition presented the warning that only a Muslim could be its premier. And Chhotu Ram's insights accepted this warning with clear understanding. He was a zealous defender of the country's unity and integrity and that is why he always finds his place in a class unique in itself.
Let me here sound a note of caution in order to enable the reader to have a clear grasp or the meaning and implication of the term `zamindar' on which stands the entire edifice of Chhotu Ram's thought and action. We shall here note that the issue or land ownership and management has had a chequered history over the ages. For their convenience, the British administrators created 'states', with well defined territorial limits, to be governed by a highly privileged class of aristocrats called 'maharajas'. Next in hierarchy was a less privileged class - the 'rajas' who were allowed their rule to extend to a cluster of villages. Like the maharajas, the class of rajas was also authorized to collect land revenue and manage their estates in their own way, often called zamindars' or landlords. But there was another class of landowners who were neither privileged in any conceivable sense of the term, nor even free to do things as they liked to. These cultivators were called `zamindars', who formed a distinct and distinguishable class or poor people with no facilities for rural credit. Throughout the whole of his speeches and writings Chhotu Ram used the term zamindar in this sense.
I shall conclude the Preface with the plea that my aim has been rather selective but I hope not partial or in any way one sided, and to safeguard against this I have quoted Chhotu Ram wherever and whenever desirable. Whilst this could be somewhat wearisome to those already familiar with the subject, it could perhaps be welcomed by those who want to be acquainted with the broad outlines of his thoughts and deeds.
I remain grateful to the Late Chaudhary Priya Vrat, my esteemed friend and philosopher who till his death in December 2006 continued to help me in many ways, especially in the supply of the material needed for the present work. I would also like to record here my deep sense of appreciation for the help rendered by my son, K.M. Singh and grandson R.P. Singh, both practicing lawyers in the Delhi courts, in giving the manuscript its present book form. I may also express my deep sense of gratitude to those whose words I have consulted and referred to in the book. My chief aim in writing this book is admirabley brought out by Pliny the Younger in the epistles I hold it a noble task to rescue from oblivion those who deserve to be remembered.
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