METRO PLUS

Empowering peasants was his mission

He was a born kisan leader and perhaps the first and foremost to enlighten and organise the peasants into a political force to reckon with in Indian politics. He had specialised in agricultural economics to extend the principles of economics to the rural areas.

Those were the days when the zamindari system was a hindrance to the rapid development of agriculture. He took up cudgels against the system so that large tracts of fertile land could be brought under cultivation of both food and commercial crops by the hard-working farmers, who might own the land as the tillers of the soil.

That was Acharya N.G. Ranga, the father of the Indian Peasant Movement, a remarkable Parliamentarian, statesman and a professor. He was a matchless expounder of the peasant philosophy and a Gandhian to the core. He fought against the British Government to uphold the dignity of the Gandhi Cap.

Jawaharlal Nehru had once remarked in Parliament, "Who can forget the peasants in this House while Ranga is fighting for them?" He fought with Nehru, Indira Gandhi and other leaders even when he was in the Congress party, whenever anything went wrong as far as the peasants were concerned in their dealings with the government.

Born in an agricultural family at Nidubrolu in Guntur district on November 7, 1900, Ranga earned a place in the hearts of the people as `Rythu Ranga'. He was of the firm belief that no agitation could be successful without the participation of farmers. He opposed the agriculture model of Russia and China, particularly cooperative farming, proposed by Jawaharlal Nehru saying it was not suitable for our country and finally Nehru gave up the idea.

He did his schooling in his native village and graduation at the A.C. College, Guntur. He obtained B. Litt. in Economics from Oxford in 1926. When he was about to leave England on the completion of his studies, the principal of Oxford College, Baker, gave him a testimonial wherein he said, "Ranga had a distinguished academic career at Oxford". This was the best reward that any student could hope for.

He worked as chief professor of economics at the Pachiappa College, Madras. When his teaching duty clashed with his political activities and came in the way of serving the people, he resigned from the post and plunged into active politics. He strictly adhered to the norms of the Election Commission during electioneering. He used to ask his followers to obtain prior permission of the house owners for writing on walls and was prompt in filing his returns of election expenditure. When he came across rivals during campaigning, he used to greet them warmly and enquire about their welfare.

Responding to the call of Mahatma Gandhi, he joined the freedom movement in 1930.

Way back in 1928, he had argued with the British Royal Commission that a Minimum Wages Act should be implemented for agricultural labourers. He spearheaded the rythu-coolie agitation in 1933 and three years later, he launched the Kisan Congress party. He held historic discussions with Gandhiji on the demand for a `rythu - coolie state'. He wrote a book `Bapu Blesses' on the highlights of the discussions.

As a Parliamentarian, he opposed the `unremunerative prices' for agricultural produce fixed by the Agricultural Prices Commission. He demanded that the remunerative prices take into consideration the price paid by the farmers towards fertiliser, provision for risk taking, for credit and other factors. As a result of his efforts, the Central Government fixed the prices at more than what the A.P.C. had recommended.

He had impressed upon the Government on the need to fix the minimum wage for agricultural workers and get it enforced. He wondered, `Can there be a minimum wage for agricultural workers unless there is a minimum price for the farmers? After all, the farmers have got to pay it. They can pay it only when they get it and therefore, that minimum wage has got to be taken into consideration before fixing this minimum price.

Ranga was one of the founders of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. He represented India at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (Copenhagen) in 1946, the International Labour Organisation (San Francisco) in 1948, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (Ottawa) in 1952, the International Peasant Union (New York) in 1954 and the Asian Congress for World Government (Tokyo) in 1955.

Despite entering the Guinness Book of World Records for serving as a Parliamentarian for six decades from 1930 to 1991, he never craved for power and did not serve as a minister either in the State or at the Centre.

He quit the Congress Party and founded the Bharat Krishikar Lok Party and the Swatantra Party, along with Rajaji who was a trenchant critic of the cooperative

farming idea. Ranga became the founder-president of the Swatantra Party and held that post for a decade. In the general elections held in 1962, the party won in 25 seats and emerged as a strong Opposition in Orissa, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar and Punjab. He rejoined the Congress (I) in 1972.

He died on June 9, 1995.

The statue of this leader, who had worked all his life for the cause of the peasants and the downtrodden sections of people, has been installed on Beach Road.

B.M.G.