Articles published in Anasakti Darshan: July 2010, [Vol.5 No.2] and June 2011, [Vol.6 No.1]
[ International journal for building a non-violent egalitarian society ]
An Interview of Razi Ahmad with Aneesh Ankur
Razi Ahmed is one of the best known Gandhians not only in Bihar, but also all over the country. He has been the Secretary of the Gandhi Museum in Patna for the past several decades. Apart from this, he is counted among the few members of the civil society in Bihar. He has worked for a long time with Vinoba Bhave, Jayaprakash Narayan and other prominent Gandhians. His association with activists and leaders of mass movements like Bhave continues even today. His name is taken with a lot of respect in Bihar even today. Some excerpts of his talk with Aneesh Ankur.
Q. Razi Sahab, it has been over 60 years since the Bhoodan movement started. Great men like Bhave and Narayan led the movement. Now in 2011, how do you assess the movement?
A. Look, it is in a sad state of affairs. Bhoodan was most successful in Bihar. There were two to three meetings regarding Bhoodan held in which people from Bihar, Dhirendra Majumdar and Laxmi Sahu (his name was Laxmi Narayan, and he lived at Begusarai) took a leading role. Sahu was a topper in chemistry at the Calcutta University. Such talented people had come for the freedom struggle. At that time, Vaidhnath Choudhary was the Congress general secretary and he used to stay at Rupauli ashram in Purnea. Bhave approached Sri Babu – Srikrishna Singh – and said that he wanted Vaidhnath Choudhary to work with him. This is how things unfolded; Sri Babu had asked Bhave how much land he wanted. I will provide more land than asked for by you. As far as I know it was anywhere between 16,000 to 32,000 acres. Bhave’s reply was that land was not at issue, however they really wanted Choudhary.
In those days there was only one Congress general secretary and he was very dedicated. When the Bhoodan committee was formed, its first President was Gaurishankar Babu of Rajauli. He had great knowledge of law and was member of the Constituent Assembly, and he himself was a big farmer. He was the first president and Choudhary was the secretary. People like Bhave, Narayan and Choudhary and others begged for land from the people and the donors gave them mountains, forests and stony land. Now, people criticize that quality of Bhoodan land was poor and blame Bhave and others, but it was not their fault but that of the donors of the land so donated. Even till this date, there is no correct official record of the Bhoodan land. Though of course, there are claims of how much land has been distributed. The Bihar government claims that from the time of Jagannath Mishra till this date it has distributed this much land among the landless, but the poor have not been benefitted from it.
I believe that after Jayaprakash Narayana joined the Bhoodan movement, its canvas increased. Earlier, Bhave used to contribute by his spiritual movement, but when JP joined the movement, it became of an international magnitude. One may wonder: How did such a big revolutionary come into the movement? JP used analytic analysis and depended on dialectic materialism for arriving at analysis. Once he joined the movement, his approach uplifted the movement. Once the landless first got the land, they did not have control over it. The Government of Bihar had to provide Ameen Sayani and he was required to mark the land, verify it and make it legal and make its final documentation. After providing some financial support to the Bhoodan Committee, representatives of the government assumed that their contribution was sufficient. The government did not support the committee properly. The DMs and ADMs did not take the movement seriously. The Bhoodan Act had a provision whereby Bhoodan land could not be sold. However, the agency that was meant to ensure its implementation probably failed to do it successfully, as much of the land has been sold. Practically pattern noticed was as follows.Once a person donated, say 5 bighas of land, he had some commitment because he believed in the Bhoodan cause. He donated the land and some landless might even have possession of the land. However, now the generation that had donated the land passed away and so did the emotion associated with the cause. Now the grandson, who belongs to the third generation decided that he needs the land so given, were he powerful enough, he can possibly get the land evicted and attempt to sell it.
Although legally, he cannot do so, he might still be able to do so as the implementing agency is seemingly inefficient in carrying out its job. Bhoodan should be seen through the prism of the country. We are a predominately agricultural country with 70 to 80 percent of the population living in villages. The backbone of any village is farming and land. However, post independence we failed to give any attention to the village and farming as a result of which people lost their love for the land. People became willing to sell their land. Those who had say 50 bighas of land were unwilling to work on that land, as they thought that it was beneath their status. If we delve deep, we will see that Bhoodan is also about dignity of labour. Bhave and Narayan used to plough the land and even clean the streets, as like the Indian farmer, they believed in the dignity of labour. Nowadays even the son of a big landowner will prefer to work in a shop but not on his land because the concept of dignity of labour in farming has gone. The new economic policy also has its lacunae as it does not see development from the farmer’s perspective.
If you look at the development pattern of the country in the past 62 years, you will notice that the State had all the major industries in Barauni, and in Sindhri. The Tatas also had some industries there. However, a different scenario is presented in the case of a State like Punjab. It did not have a single industry during independence and its people were depended solely on agriculture. It was only post green revolution that slowly small industries were developed with the support of agriculture. However, it seems that this has taught us nothing. If after Bhoodan we are successful in giving legal possession of the land to the landless, then the love for the land will return once again and many of the problems related to Naxalism will end. The Naxalites or Maoists draw their support from this class of deprived people.
Q. You are trying to say that if Bhoodan land had been distributed properly then the violence would not have taken place?
A. Definitely this would not have taken place. Bihar was the first state after Jammu and Kashmir where zamindari system was abolished. This work was completed in the decade of the 1950s. There are dozens of laws related to land in this State. However, the problem is not the absence of laws but absence of their effective implementation. In contemporary times, due to the involvement of the media, there is complete transparency. Nothing is hidden and everything gets highlighted. In earlier times, when corruption in land started in Bettiah, Mahatma Gandhi had formed committee headed by Sardar Patel to investigate the case, and later Rammanohar Lohia committee was formed to continue similar investigations. In those days, only a few people knew of the Sathgeer scam as the media did not have such an extensive reach as it does now. Recently the Nitish Kumar government set up the D Bandopadhyay committee but its report could not see the light of day. However, if the Bhoodan land had been distributed properly, much of the headache of the government would have gone.
Q. But what is the real problem in a State that was the first to abolish zamindari?
A. The main problem is that of vested interest. There is a book on Bihar by Damodaran, either from Cambridge or Oxford and it is titled ‘Broken Promises’. The book is on the number of laws on land that have been enacted since 1937 but has failed to be implemented. In the book, it is mentioned that the people who had the leadership to fight for swaraj and who were supposed to represent the people, failed to understand the real emotion of the people.
Q. Were all the leaders like this? Or did they fear that if they implemented the law then there would be big conflicts in society and there would be a bloodbath?
A. This is not entirely true. You see the number of positive points related to land in Bihar cannot be found in other States. The number of socialist and communist movement that have taken place in Bihar cannot be matched by other States. Mahatma Gandhi had also raised the issue of land in Bihar. The commitment or emotion of so many people who wanted change in land structure in Bihar cannot be questioned. These people were farsighted and had a vision of moving forward, and the necessary laws were also being made, but the implementing agency, the bureaucracy, did not understand its importance. Sitting in air-conditioned rooms in Delhi or Patna they used to decide and thought that it could be implemented in every village. These people did not have any connection or any desire to know the ground realities. We still remember the days when the Bhoodan Act was being made. People like Gauri Babu, Jaiprakash Babu, Vaidhnath Choudhary used to sit with Deputy Secretary Phool Singh in the latter’s office and discuss what should and should not be there in the Bhoodan Committee. All these people were very learned and dedicated to the cause and that is why the good laws were made. However, there was weakness in the implementing agency. Now that generation has also gone, and the generation that has occupied the government chairs do not have the experience.
Q. Even when Bhave and Narayan had such influence over the government, why did it fail to implement the laws?
A. Till Bhave was around people talked about Bhoodan, but after that people started talking about Gramdan and after that they started talking about Bihardan. I am not sure what Bhave thought but he was in a great hurry for Bihardan in 1969, which was also the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi. He thought that this was the correct opportunity. The Gandhi museum became the headquarters for a month and Bhave stayed here for four months. The errors that Bhave committed in these movements were monumental. Under the gramdan, all the people of the village who had land had to sign away their land on behalf of the village. However, what happened was that those who had land did not sign it, but the 75 percent who did not have land signed that they had handed over the land. I raised this question with Bhave. I told him that I come from Barauni and our area also comes under gramdan. We have land and even though we have not signed, it is being said that Gramdan has been implemented there? How is this possible, I asked him. Then suddenly the concept of Bihardan started. In reality, the spirit of donating land was hurt from that point.
Q. When was Bihardan to take place?
A. Bihardan was supposed to take place on October 2, 1969 at the convention in Rajgir. When Bhave started leaving from Gandhi museum a large number of people came to bid goodbye and they included K B Sahay, Vinodanand Jha among others – I have a photograph that I took with my camera on that occasion. At that time some journalists had also come, and one of them asked what happened to the movement and Bhave said – B stand for Binoba, B for Bihardan and B for Bogus. He meant to say that everything had turned bogus, nothing had been achieved.
Q. There is a Gramdan Act. Was is a blunder to go from Bhoodan to Gramdan to Bihardan?
A. The blunder had been committed. JP also understood that a diversion from the main issue had taken place. The ground level workers had all gone and there was no force left in the movement. Gramdan Act was framed, then Bihardan Act was also introduced, then the concept of Gram Swaraj came and in between the concept of Panchayati Raj also came – all this created contradictions. The Government of India talked about Panchayati raj. Gram Swaraj means that every individual is a member of it. This was the concept of Mahatma Gandhi and Bhave and also of Prem Chand. Everyone would have equal rights, there was no question of male or female. The sarpanch would be of the same caste whose members lived there. Thus, there would be no issue of social clash.
However, Bhave was in a hurry. He wanted that Bihardan should be completed by October 3, 1969. So, one person signed for five to six persons. The work of getting the survey done was given to the primary teacher of the village school and though he got the signatures, there was no verification. Therefore, there was no confirmation and thus there was no mutation of the land and it did not pass legally to the landless. It was a chain reaction and everything failed.
Q. You asked for land and you were given it verbally. May be you even gave the papers, but they were not entered into the government registers, and also the old power equations did not change?
A. Yes, mutation and entry into government registers did not take place and when the price of land started increasing the people who had given the land started taking it back. Those who had given the land in the first place had gone by then and the new generation did not have the commitment for the movement. Bhave and Narayan had their own aura and apart from them even when people like Choudhary Babu and Sahu went to a place the movement caught some momentum, but after they were gone the continuity of the movement ended.
Now, there are no ground level workers left in the movement. At that time, the big names were associated with the Bhoodan movement. Narayan was in Saharsa when he suffered a heart attack, and then the Mushari protest started. From Saharsa he went to Benaras for a medical check up and from there he went to Mushari. There, he received a letter from Badri Babu who was the chairman of the Bhoodan committee. He had received death threats. A couple of murders had also taken place, and slowly the spirit of the movement died away. Then, other people came who did not have the passion for the movement and for whom it was just a job. It was the old generation that had kept the spirit of Bhoodan alive through their sacrifices. In a state where there is murder over every bigha of land, it was by no means an under achievement that the Bhoodan movement received thousands of acres of land.
Q. In Bihar the movement got 6 lakh acres of land – and it was 24 lakh acres if we take Jharkhand into consideration – and of this 6 lakh acres, only 3.5 lakh acres was found unfit to be distributed and the 2.75 lakh acres of land that has been distributed is creditable.
A. What you say is true. So far as land was concerned, there was a revolutionary Telangana movement in the 1950s where land was taken forcibly, but in Bihar the people who were known as feudal elements gave their land freely. It is the very people who are accused of being oppressive who gave their land in Bihar. This factor had a major role in bringing about social change in the state. Along with this, people who were actively involved in the socialist movement, communist movement or in the Congress party during the fight for independence had a commitment towards society. However, as these people passed away, so did the movement. As a result, no one knows, even those with the Bhoodan movement, where the Bhoodan land actually is on the ground. There is no record now.
Q. Razi Sahab, can we say that the violence seen in the rural areas of Bihar during the 1980s over the land issue would have taken place in the 1960s had not the Bhoodan movement taken place?
A. Violence would surely have taken place in the 1960s had it not been for the Bhoodan movement. The people associated with the movement were nationalist, and though they might not have agreed totally with Mahatma Gandhi, they did not believe in violence. They believed that the solution brought through violence was never permanent. Even if it were not nonviolent, it at least had to be peaceful. Like the 1974 movement—Narayan never called it a non-violent movement. He called it a peaceful movement. If you see overall the movement was peaceful. In such a big movement very few people were killed. The thing that is done peacefully is usually permanent.
Q. Like the movement in Bodhgaya, which was against the matt there?
A. The movement in Bodhgaya was in continuation of Narayan’s movement. Priyadarshi and others came later. At first, it was a movement of Bhave. It was due to the goodwill of Narayan that the Mahant gave a lot of
land – like the Sukhoda ashram land. When Narayan came to the Bodhgaya convention in 1954, it was his personality that made many people voluntarily donate land. Once the second generation came, they had to fight for the land.
Q. Razi Sahab, the Bhoodan movement redistributed land. However, what was its impact on Bihar politics, its social scene and land relations?
A. In one way the impact has been revolutionary. For the people of Bihar, land is very important and even murders take place for possession of land. However, under this movement, people gave away their land to others, for the poor, for their neighbour in the village. This is a major social change. The very landowners who were accused of being feudal were giving away land and the poor would benefit from it. This, in itself, was revolutionary. However, of course, we could not keep the spirit of the movement alive, but that is true of the freedom movement also. All the dreams that we had during the freedom movement could not be put in place on the ground. Bhoodan was also such a step and now it is up to the new generation to implement it.
Q. Bhoodan had its impact on Bihar society for two to three decades after independence. And as you said earlier, when problems started cropping up in its implementation and the land under Bhoodan was not distributed properly, rural Bihar took a violent turn.
A. You see in 1971, of the two persons who died in police firing in the Mushari firing, one was a Muslim. He was the only earning member of the family. Narayan brought both his widow and her daughter with him to the
charkha samiti and looked after them. It is our old culture that we help those who are in trouble and stand beside them. There can be no solution with violence.
However, now things have changed. The landowners who gave the land have now taken back their land, because it is now the grandson who owns the land. Also prices of land and increased and he too needs the land. He thinks that since then, all these years, the government has failed to distribute the land given under Bhoodan, it is all right to take it back. All this has happened due to slackness of the government machinery.
Q. Earlier you said that even though the Bhoodan Act was made and the Bhoodan committee was formed, people did not give power to it. People made fun of the committee. Why did this happen?
A. This is precisely what happened. The government gave the bailiff, but did not give them the power. The work has to be done by the District Magistrate, but the ground level worker had to deal with the BDO and CO. Later the problems associated with the secretariat also crept in.
Q. So what should have been done?
A. There should have been a time bound programme. But here diversions took place. Gramdan and then Bihardan entered into Bhoodan. Actually, once you got the land, the act of verification, documentation and distribution should have been done according to a time bound programme, where the movement was at its peak. Then, the entire committee should have been wound up. But here, vested interests entered into the committee who wanted the committee to continue for ever.
Q. So does the committee have any relevance today?
A. The relevance will be there even today because the Bhoodan land has not been distributed. The land donation is on paper and till such time all the land has been distributed, the committee will continue to exist. It is for this reason that Chandawar had undertaken a fast and the government had assured him that he should give the government time till March and they will complete all the work related to Bhoodan in one selected district. Ask the Bhoodan committee people, for which district had this commitment been made? The commitment is to give the land within time; otherwise the work will never take place.
Q. This means that the distribution of land under Bhoodan is still an unfinished agenda?
A. It is an unfinished agenda. Under the Bhoodan Act, the land donated under Bhoodan can neither be bought nor sold. Like the Tenancy Act, the Chotanagpur Act, under which you cannot buy their land. No one can buy tribal land; a tribal cannot sell his land to non-tribal. Similarly, the land belongs to Bhoodan. Till the land is distributed, it will remain with the committee. Now the government through the District Magistrates should verify this land and distribute it in the village, and then a big issue would be resolved.
Q. Razi Sahab, it is said that the earlier governments under the Congress were conservative when it came to the question of land, but in the decade of the 1990s the backwards came to power and they were considered to be less conservative when it came to matters of land. Yet, they did not fulfill the expectations of the people regarding Bhoodan. Why was there a lack of political will among the backward leadership?
A. Yes this is true. Things did not happen. The Socialists who came to power like Karpoori Thakur or Mahamaya Babu did not act. Narayan used to be angry with them as he said that they did not fulfil the promises that they had made. Even during that time the issue of land was not implemented at the ground level.
Q. Razi Sahab, we are blaming the leaders, we are questioning their honesty. However, what if the problem lay with the Act itself?
A. Though I am not a law student, as far as I know, the Act is very good. It is pro-people. Our leaders have never thought of the poor. Had they thought of the poor, then it would never have happened that while Patna was shining and there was no drinking water in the villages. Whether it is the matter of Bhoodan or any other issue, if the benefits do not percolate to the ground level, then there will be problems. From 1967, the governments have been formed by the Socialists, the Communists but the condition of the poor still remains the same.
When in 1990, Laloo Prasad Yadav came to power and decided to take oath in front of Narayan’s statue, I had written an article saying that this is the first time that such a thing was happening. I am not sure whether other people were happy or not, but Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Narayan, would surely have been happy when a leader took oath among the people. It appeared that the fate of the people would change in Yadav’s hand. However, after some time everything collapsed. Once politicians go to the Assembly or Parliament and sit in air-conditioned rooms, they begin to represent one class – the political class. It does not matter whether they are Communists or Socialists. In Bihar, the control of the Socialists and Communists have all but ended, even though this state was their birthplace. The Left movement cannot be seen anywhere. The defeat of the Left is a big blow to all progressive forces. At the time of independence movement, the people looked up to the Congress with hope, later the poor looked up to the Red flag of the Communists to fight for them. It is sad that the Red flag on which the poor relied so much to change the status quo in their favour has ceased to be a force.
Q. The demise of the Left was a big blow?
A. It was indeed a big blow. You can see the result; violence is increasing. The coming days would be more challenging. You cannot just wipe out the people who are poor, who do not have water to drink, who have no food, whose children died without treatment. Suppressing them cannot be a solution as their number is huge and their cause is genuine.
Q. Razi Sahab, there is a big segment that is present in both politics and social life who believe that the land agenda has ceased to exist.
A. No, the land agenda remains. If it is a question of land in the villages then it is not an issue, but if it comes in the city it becomes an agenda. This is totally a wrong approach. Land still remains an agenda. The people of the country and especially of Bihar have an attachment to land. Still a large amount of land is unrecorded. There are still huge land holders in Palamu district. Same is true of Purnea, Motihari and Bettiah, where there are large estates. These people have been able to keep the land illegally by transferring them in the name of nonexistent persons. So still a lot has to be done regarding land and it will be a major challenge for any government that comes to power.
Contact: Gandhi Museum