The rise and growth of All India Kisan Sabha
Discontentment among peasants was inevitably endemic in the twentieth century. As a result, a number of agrarian uprisings took place either to change the system, which the peasants thought to be exploitative, or to seek redress for particular grievances without necessarily aiming at overthrowing the system. The resistance movement-violent or non violent, organised or spasmodic, pre-political or political, tended to be directed against the immediate oppressors like the zamindars, taluqdars, moneylenders and the government officials, with the aim of achieving emancipation from all kinds of social, political and economic oppression.
The peasant uprisings of the 20th century was successfully in overcoming the weaknesses of the 19th century struggles, as it was merged with general anti-impearlist discontent. Some of the agrarian movements were led by nationalist parties like the Congress or its regional outfits and the Communists. The Kheda, Champaran, Bardoli, Oudh and Lagaan movements were led by the Congress along with its regional peasant organisations like the Kisan Sabha, the Akhil Bhartiya Charkha Sangh etc., whereas the Tibhaga, Bakhasht, Tanka, Adhya and the Muja movements were conducted by the Communists.
The Indian National Congress under Gandhi, was perceived as a great helper of the peasantry and it gained popularity due to its propeasant propaganda, yet it failed to appease the peasantry completely, as it was very careful not to alienate one element (the landed aristocracy) while doing something for the another (the peasantry). Once the Congress was in power (1937) it became extremely cautious and did nothing much for the poor peasants or those who had no occupancy rights.
The Kisan Sabha movement started in Bihar under the leadership of Sahajanand Saraswati who had formed in 1929 the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS) in order to mobilise peasant grievances against the zamindari attacks on their occupancy rights, and thus sparking the farmers’ movements in India.
Gradually the peasant movement intensified and spread across the rest of India. The formation of Congress Socialist Party (CSP) in 1934 helped the Communists to work together with the Indian National Congress, however temporarily, then in April 1935, noted peasant leaders N. G. Ranga and E. M. S. Namboodiripad, then secretary and joint secretary respectively of South Indian Federation of Peasants and Agricultural Labour, suggested the formation of an all-India farmers body, and soon all these radical developments culminated in the formation of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress on 11 April 1936 with Saraswati elected as its first President, and it involved people such as Ranga, Namboodiripad, Karyanand Sharma, Yamuna Karjee, Yadunandan (Jadunandan) Sharma, Rahul Sankrityayan, P. Sundarayya, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev and Bankim Mukherjee. The Kisan Manifesto released in August 1936, demanded abolition of the zamindari system and cancellation of rural debts, and in October 1937, it adopted red flag as its banner. Soon, its leaders became increasingly distant with Congress, and repeatedly came in confrontation with Congress governments, in Bihar and United Province.
Champaran, Swamiji followed in his path and agitated for the economic rights of the masses. He united people in Bihar against the British and strengthened the Non-Cooperation Movement. He also played a modernizing role in socio-cultural traditions. With Sardar Patel, he addressed many kisan sabhas in Bihar and advocated for their rights. The waiving of farmers’ loans and the ensuring of farmers’ income, issues that are still relevant today, were his main concerns and he is widely remembered as the founder of the All India Kisan Sabha.
In the subsequent years, the movement was increasingly dominated by Socialists and Communists as it moved away from the Congress, by 1938 Haripura session of the Congress, under the presidency of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the rift became evident, and by May 1942, the Communist Party of India, which was finally legalised by then government in July 1942, had taken over AIKS, all across India including Bengal where its membership grew considerably. It took on the Communist party’s line of People’s War, and stayed away from the Quit India Movement, which started in August 1942, though this also meant its losing its popular base. Many of its members defied party orders and joined the movement, and prominent members like Ranga, Indulal Yagnik and Saraswati soon left the organisation, which increasing found it difficult to approach the peasants without the watered-down approach of pro-British and pro-war, and increasing its pro-nationalist agenda, much to the dismay of the British Raj which always thought the Communists would help them in countering the nationalist movement.