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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.