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Swami Sahajanand Saraswati - Part 2

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 United Party and its `Kisan Sabha'. While leaders like Rajendra Prasadfelt 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 Pandit Yadunandan (Jadunandan) Sharma and induced by him to attend the meeting. After much hesitation about re-entering politics, Sahajanand 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].

Some of his followers and students in the spirit of serving the deprived masses were Pandit Yamuna Karjee, Pandit Karyanand Sharma, Pandit Yadunandan (Jadunandan) Sharma, Pandit Panchanan Sharma, Rahul Sankrityayan and Baba Nagarjun.

Swamiji established an ashram at Neyamatpur, Gaya (Bihar) which later became the centre of freedom struggle in bihar. All the prominent leaders of congress visited there frequently to meet Pandit Yadunandan (Jadunandan) Sharma, the leader of Kisaan Aandolan.

Few will know that it was Yadav peasants who, in 1927, pleaded with Sahajanand to aid them in their struggles against the Bhumihar Brahmin zamindars of Masaurhi, and that it was from that beginning that the most powerful peas-ant movement in India, the Bihar provincial Kisan Sabha, emerged.[10] And among the many beneficiaries of that movement were precisely those productive and upwardly mobile middle caste groups now courted so assiduously by the Janata Dal, the Samata Party, the Congress, and indeed, the BJP


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