Swami Sahajanand: One who always moved ahead

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Swami Sahajanand Saraswati
Swami Sahajanand Saraswati

Revolutionary, Social Reformer, Writer, Historian, Intellectual

 

Swami Sahajanand emerges as one of the most outstanding peasant leader the country has ever seen. Recognized as one of the principle and significant leaders of peasantry in Bihar, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati was a brilliant intellectual and a striking master of debate. Gifted with numerous qualities of mass leadership, Sahajanand grew as a social reformer and politician and won a circle of several admirers. However, to his ill-fate, all his contributions towards the freedom movement of India and raising consciousness of peasants are forgotten today, except amongst a small number of historians and social scientists. The most attractive and instructive respect that he earned during his life was his intellectual transformation, which makes him distinguished even today, though with a small population. He was a versatile genius with performing several roles during his entire working career, such as linguist, polymath, sociologist, historian, philosopher, writer, grammarian, ascetic, revolutionary, Marxist, and politician.

Born on February 22, 1889 in the Ghazipur district of Eastern U.P. he became a renouncer at a very early stage of his life. It was the religious life of meditation and study which engaged him until 1914 after which he became a social activist, initially involving himself with the status struggle of Bhumihars. By the early twenties, Sahajanand’s interests shifted to Gandhian politics of the freedom movement, and then in the late twenties and early thirties to the politics of peasant activism. In these transitions he was not only entering new arenas of activism, but in that very process engaging in ideological and political conflict with his former allies. For example, the leading figures in the Bhumihar-Brahman Mahasabha with whom Sahajanand was associated in the teens and twenties, were also among the largest land controllers of Bihar and hence his most vigorous antagonists in his peasant activism phase. And by the same token, his admiration for Gandhi shifted in the middle and late thirties to sharp opposition over the issue of peasant rights within the context of the struggle for political freedom from the British.

Before attempting any hasty slotting of his personality on the basis of his association with any one cause, it should be borne in mind that he was an activist constantly on the leading edge of social, cultural, and political change which for him had to be transformational in character. He himself writes in ‘Mera Jeevan Sangharsh’, I am gradually moving ahead .. I have learnt from my experiences. And this much I can say that I have always moved ahead. This process is an ongoing one.

Kisan Sabha

On the basis of experiences gathered from his social activism, Sahajanand formed the West Patna Kisan Sabha in 1928. His struggle against the brazen exploitation of the peasants by the zamindars and the economic backwardness in the countryside created the platform for the Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha. As the scope of the struggle widened, it moved through the stages of struggle on economic issues like rent and forced labour to soon cover the much broader issue of the abolition of Zamindari system. The struggle in the area of politics strengthened the organisation and there was a time when in Bihar alone there were more than two lakh members of Kisan Sabha. The strength in which the peasants demonstrated in front of the Bihar Assembly in 1936 still remains unparalleled.

The novelty of Swamiji’s career lies in his ability to be always sensitive to his surrounding and transform his ideas and activities in the interest of justice and equity. Hence, given his background in representing the interests of peasant tenants in the early and middle 1930s, it is not surprising to find him arguing the case for agricultural labourers and the rural poor on the margins of the Indian social experience. In his tract ‘Khet Mazdoor’ he asks, “But who cares for the poor?” In the essays of this tract he vividly describes their condition and their history and submits proposals for change that in many respects have as much relevance today as they did in 1941, when it was written.

In his political life he came across politicians of all shades and the affinity and difference which he developed with them on the twin issues of freedom struggle and peasant movement made him more sensitised and multidimensional. He was one of the few members of AICC who opposed the demand for Pakistan. He also opposed the undemocratic manner in which the Constituent Assembly was convened. He remained committed to the idea of an exploitation free socialist India both before and after the independence. His career exemplifies the broad spectrum of Indian experience from the religious and cultural to the social and political activism. There are some direct lessons to be drawn from the life and career of Swami Sahajanand which are very relevant for us today. First, how a meaningful political struggle can be combined successfully with social and economic struggle and, secondly, what should be the nature and form of peasant organisation and struggle in the changing context of rural society. In 1944, in the 8th session of All India Kisan Sabha held at Vijayawada, Swamiji in his presidential speech said, “The middle and big peasantry are trying to use Kisan Sabha for their own benefit, whereas I want to use it for arousing consciousness among the least privileged class of peasants. In my opinion it is the landless peasants and agricultural labourer who are the real Kisan Sabha. It is they who will form the backbone of this struggle in the years to come.”

Such was the personality of Swamiji, he was a fighter to the core and remained uncompromising on the issues concerning the rights of the peasants. There are few in Indian history who can measure his height and he remains one of the most relevant personality for the present society, as much of the countryside is still under the severe clutches of exploitation.

Early Life

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati was born as Naurang Rai on February 22, 1889 in the village of Deva, Dullahpur in Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh state. He was born as the sixth and last son in a Jijhoutia Bhumihar Brahmin family. His father, Beni Rai, was a cultivator and hence, stood away from priestly functions. His mother died when he was kid and was raised by his aunt. The family survived on a small zamindari income that was carried from his grandfather’s time. However, with time and extension of the family, the land was divided and the family had to take up cultivation to earn its living. However, this did not stop the family from sending Sahajanand to school. After receiving formal education in a primary school, he went to German Mission High School where he obtained his education in English medium.

Since childhood, he was attracted towards religious practices. He objected on people believing in fake religious rituals and hence, opted for studying religious texts in order to find real spiritual solace by biding goodbye to the world. To prevent him from doing this, his family got him married to a child bride, but his wife died in 1905 or early 1906, even before the marriage could even stabilize. On his last attempt to adopting the sanyas, he was initiated into holy orders and took the name of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati. By adopting sanyas, he was abandoned from sitting in the matriculation examination. But he spent the first seven years studying religion, politics, and social affairs.

Political Career
Beginning his public appearance from Bhumihar Brahmin, he graduated towards Indian National Congress and Peasant Movement, initially in Patna, Bihar, and later across India. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, he took up political schooling under him and started serving in the Congress as a true Gandhian. By 1920, Sahajanand was ready to plunge himself into the nationalist movement under Gandhi. But he was disgusted with the hypocrisy and false faces of Gandhians within his first 15 years with the party. The final break up with Gandhi came in 1934 when Bihar was affected with a massive earthquake. Although relief operations were carried out, Sahajanand found that people were actually suffering due to the cruelty of the landlords rather than the earthquake. On sighting this, he went to Gandhi who replied with a wily answer indicating that the landlords will themselves handle the difficulties of the peasants.

Thus, Sahajanand ended the 14-year association with Gandhi on the pretext of pseudo-spiritualism, professions of non-violence, and religious hocus-pocus. After the break up, he kept away from party politics though he shifted his interest towards mobilizing the peasants. He was a Dandi sanyasi and hence, carried a long bamboo stick with him. Later on, this stick became the symbol of peasant resistance. He gave the Bihar peasants the slogan “Danda Mera Zindabad” (Long live my stick) which was assumed to be “Long live the danda (lathi) of the Kisans” and became an important motto in the movement. In response to this, the peasants took up “Swamiji ki Jai” (Victory to Swamiji) and “Kaise Logey Malguzari, Latth Hamara Zindabad” (How will you collect rent as long as our sticks are powerful?).

Kisan Sabha
Sahajanand Saraswati formed a smaller Kisan Sabha in Patna district in association with a formal organizational structure, though it was institutionalized only after few years. Later in 1929, he established the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS). With this, he emerged as the foremost kisan leader in India. Immediately after the formation of the Sabha, Bihar was plunged into the Civil Disobedience Movement that helped in creating awareness amongst the masses, but did not give enough time for the leaders of the Sabha to formalize its structure. As such, the experiences of the Civil Disobedience Movement inside and outside the jail created crevices between the Kisan Sabhaites and some Congress leaders. Thus, Sahajanand cut himself entirely from the political world for several years.

The membership of this Sabha was estimated 80,000 in 1935 with the numbers increasing to 2,50,000 in 1938, thereby making it the largest provincial body in India. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was formed with some Congress Socialists at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress on April 11, 1936. Sahajanand was elected as its first President. The Sabha comprised of many eminent leaders, like N.G. Ranga, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Pandit Karyanand Sharma, Pandit Yamuna Karjee, Pandit Yadunandan (Jadunandan) Sharma, Rahul Sankrityayan, P. Sundarayya, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev, and Bankim Mukerji. It demanded the abolition of zamindari system and cancellation of rural debts. Thereafter, in October 1937, it adopted the red flag as its banner.

Soon, the leaders started keeping distance from Congress and got more involved with Congress governments in Bihar and United Province. With the formation of the All India Kisan Sabha, the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha became one of its provincial units. Sahajanand organized the Anti-Compromise Conference with Subhash Chandra Bose against the British and Congress. He even worked with the Communist Party of India during World War II. However, he broke from all politicians to form his own Kisan Sabha and speak up for the peasants of Bihar. With his standards of speech and action, he was successful in creating a reputation for himself amongst peasants. He communicated with them and assured them about improving their conditions. In a short duration, he earned love and respect by the peasants, but was equally respected and feared by landlords, Congressmen, and officials.

Death
Swami Sahajanand Saraswati died on June 25, 1950 in Patna, Bihar at the age of 61.

Posthumous Honors
A commemorative stamp was issued by the Government of India in memory of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati which was officially released by the then minister of Communications, Ram Vilas Paswan on June 26, 2000. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has instituted the Swamy Sahajanand Saraswati Extension Scientist/Worker Award in his honor. A two-day Kisan Mahapanchayat was organized on the occasion of his 112th birth anniversary in Rabindra Bhawan, Patna in 2001 which was inaugurated by the then state assembly Speaker Sadanand Singh and attended by several eminent personalities. A book on the life of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati was released by Bihar Governor R.S. Gavai in Patna on his 57th death anniversary.

Notable Works
Bhumihar Brahmin Parichay (Introduction to Bhumihar Brahmins), in Hindi
Jhootha Bhay Mithya Abhiman (False Fear False Pride), in Hindi
Brahman Samaj ki Sthiti (Situation of the Brahmin Society), in Hindi
Mera Jeewan Sangharsha (My LIfe Struggle), in Hindi
Kisan Sabha ke Sansmaran (Recollections of the Kisan Sabha), in Hindi
Jang aur Rashtriya Azadi
Samyukta Kisan Sabha, Samyukta Samajvadi Sabha ke Dastavez
Gita Hridaya (Heart of the Gita)
Kisanon ke Dave

Timeline
1889: Born on February 22 in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh
1907: Renamed himself as Swami Sahajanand Saraswati
1920: Joined nationalist movement under Gandhiji
1929: Formed the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS)
1934: Ended relationship with Gandhi
1936: Established the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)
1950: Died in Patna, Bihar on June 25, aged 61
2000: Commemorative stamp released by the Government of India
2007: Bihar Governor R.S. Gavai released a book on his life