1. Prologue
  2. #1: Land reforms Congress in Provincial Governments 1937
    1. @Bihar
    2. @Uttar Pradesh
    3. @Bombay
    4. @Other Provinces
    5. Overall Limitations
  3. #2: Congress Resolutions 4farmers
    1. @Karachi session, 1931
    2. @Firozpur Session, 1936
    3. @election manifesto,1937
    4. Other resolutions/Manifestos
  4. Rise of All India Kisan Sabha
    1. Kisan Manifesto, 1936
    2. Limitation of All India Kisan Sabha
  5. Gandhi’s Views on Land Reforms
  6. Justice Ranade’s Views on Land reforms
  7. Mock Question


so far we’ve seen

  1. Three land tenure system of the British: Their features, implications.
  2. Peasant struggles for land reforms in British Raj: causes and consequences.

Now in this article we’ll see Role of Indian Congress in Land reforms during the British Raj. This can be studied under two heads:

  1. When Congress formed ministries in the different provinces (1937), what did they do?
  2. What resolutions did they pass in various sessions?

+ additional topics: Gandhi’s views on Land reforms, Ranade’s view on Land reforms and the rise of All India Kisan Sabha.

#1: Congress Provincial Governments 1937

After the provincial elections in 1937, Congress formed government in

  1. Madras
  2. Bombay
  3. Central  Provinces
  4. Orissa
  5. Bihar
  6. UP
later Assam, North West Frontier Province

And they implemented certain land reforms in these provinces:



  1. Enacted “Restoration of Bakasht Land Act”- to give back land to farmers who were evicted between 1929-1937.
  2. enacted Bihar Tenancy Act
  3. Reduced the salami rates.
  4. Abolished all increases in rent since 1911. As a result, rents were reduced by ~25%
  5. gave under-ryots occupancy rights after twelve years of cultivating the land.
  6. rents had to be reduced if soil degraded, owner didn’t provide irrigation etc.
  7. Existing arrears of rent reduced.
  8. interest on rent-arrears reduced from 12.5 to 6.25%
  9. Debt Relief act: Reduced interest rate on debts to 9%
  10. Prohibited all illegal exactions. if landlord charged illegal dues, he could be jailed for 6 months.
  11. In sharecropping, landlord’s maximum share was kept at 9/20 part of the produce.
  12. if tenant doesn’t pay rent- he cannot be arrested, his property cannot be attached


  • Kisan leaders wanted Congress government to abolish zamindari and redistribute the land among poors.
  • But the Congress Government in Bihar was backed by the zamindars
  • Therefore, zamindari abolition law couldnot be made.
  • Bihar Kisan Sabha resorted to militancy- use of Lathis and violence to prevent rent payments, forcibly occupying Zamindari land etc. Congress government resorted to use of police and section 144=> relations between Kisan Sabha and Congress deteriorated.

@Uttar Pradesh


  • The Congress leaders was more ‘leftist’ than in Bihar. Hence laws/regulations were more pro-farmer
  • Reduced rents
  • Tenants of Awadhs and Agra were given hereditary occupancy. (Meaning Zamindar can’t evict family’s farm if the father died.)
  • Rent of hereditary tenant can be changed only after 10 years.
  • Tenant cannot be arrested, if he doesn’t pay rent.
  • Nazrana (forced gifts) and Begari (Forced labour) were abolished.


  • Governor did not give his assent to the Tenancy Bill even after two years of its passage. Hence most reforms couldn’t be implemented.


  • During Civil Disobedience movement (CDM) the British had attached lands of farmers who did not pay Revenue
  • The congress Government restored the land back to those farmers
  • Forest Grazing fees were abolished.
  • 40,000 bonded labour (Dubla/serfs) were liberated
  • Debt Relief act: Reduced interest rate on debts to 9%. Although it was opposed by Lawyers who supported Congress. (Because lawyers earned a lot from debt related court cases).

@Other Provinces

Orissa Passed: Tenancy act to reduced interest rate on arrears from 12.5 to 6% and provide for free transfer of occupancy holdings.

Failed: bill to reduce rents in Zamindari areas. because governor didn’t give assent.

  • Congress Socialist Party and Communists had setup peasant associations (Krishak Sangathan)
  • organized a campaign towards amendment of the Malabar Tenancy Act.
  • Congress ministry passed law to give debt relief to farmers
  • agitations against Canal Tax
  • Hat Tola Movement: in north Bengal against a levy collected by the landlords from peasants at Hat (weekly market).
  • Agitation against the Union Ministry dominated by landlords of western Punjab for resettlement of land revenue and against increase in canal tax and water rate.
  • Grazing fees reduced.
  • Debt Relief act: Reduced interest rate on debts to 6.25%
  • Committee under Revenue minister T.Prakasam, made recommendations to reduce Zamindar’s rent by 75% (and thus virtually abolishing Zamindari).
  • CM Rajagopalachari planned to implement this reform, withou paying Zamindars any compensation. But before a bill could be drafted, the ministry resigned.
most states
  • laws regulating the activity of the moneylenders and providing debt relief.

Overall Limitations

  1. Time limit: They were in power for barely 28 months. They had resigned in 1939. So, long term reforms could not be carried out. Example: In Madras State CM Rajagopalachari planned to reduce rents by 75%, abolish Zamindari without paying Zamindars any compensation. But before a bill could be drafted on the, the ministry resigned.
  2. Vote power: In Orissa the British governor refused assent to a bill that aimed to reduce Zamindar’s income by 50-60%.
  3. Appeasement: Had to maintain unity for anti-British struggle. so, could not afford to annoy upper caste/rich farmers beyond a level. Congress ministries did not pursue abolition of zamindari in UP and Bihar (despite resolutions from Congress PCCs in UP and Bihar).
  4. Power Limit: Under the Act of 1935, Provincial governments lacked the power to abolish Zamindari, even if they wanted.
  5. Creamy Layer: By and large only superior tenants benefited from these Acts/laws. The subtenants/inferior tenants/agri.labourers were overlooked. May be because they did not form ‘vote-bank’ as Act of 1935 provided for a restricted franchise.

#2: Congress Resolutions 4farmers

Timeline Land reforms Congress role

@Karachi session, 1931

list of ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Programme’ for future India,

drafted by Dr.Rajendra Prasad. It included following provisions for land reforms:

  1. Reduction in agricultural rent or revenue paid by the peasantry
  2. Farmers with uneconomic holdings, will be exempted from rent payment
  3. Debt Relief for farmers. control of Usury
  4. Serfdom/Bonded labour will be abolished.
  5. Farmers and workers will have right to form unions to protect their interests.
  6. Progressive income tax on agricultural income.

Limitation: Didn’t include the demand to abolish Zamindari / Estates of landlords.

@Kisan Conference, 1935 President: Sardar Patel. passed resolution for:

  • zamindari abolition
  • peasant proprietorship without intermediaries

@Firozpur Session, 1936

  • thirteen point program for All India agrarian reforms
  • Reduction in rent and revenue,
  • exemption from rent on uneconomic holdings,
  • Reduce canal and irrigation rates
  • living wage for agriculture labors
  • recognize of peasant associations
  • introduce cooperative farming

In a way, this Firozpur session’s Agrarian reform program= repeating Karachi Session’s points + some new demands from All India Kisan Sabha’s manifesto.

@election manifesto,1937

  1. The appalling poverty, unemployment and indebtedness of the peasantry is resulted from antiquated and repressive land tenure and revenue systems.
  2. We will give immediate relief to farmers for revenue, rent and debt burden.
  3. Structural reform of the land tenure, rent and revenue systems

Other resolutions/Manifestos

1938 National Planning Committee. Chairman: Nehru
1944 Bombay Plan
1945 Election manifesto by Congress Working Committee

All of above talked about:

  1. abolish intermediaries between farmer and state (Zamindar, Jagirdar, Talukdar etc)
  2. Cheap loans to solve the problem of rural indebtedness
  3. Collective farming should be encouraged. Although collective farming did not gain much attention because there was hardly any peasant mobilization for this.

1946 Provincial Election

  • An interim government headed by Nehru was formed at the Centre and the Congress governments in the provinces
  • They set up committees to draw up bills for abolition of the zamindari system.

Rise of All India Kisan Sabha

1920 Awadh Kisan Sabha formed with support of Nehru and Ram Chandra.
1923 NG Ranga formed first Ryot’s association in Guntur, Andhra.
  • Bihar Kisan Sabha formed by Swami Sahajanand Saraswati.
  • Akali leaders formed Punjab Riyasati Praja Mandal.
1929 Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha
1931 Krushak Sangha throughout Orissa
1935 South Indian federation of Peasants and agri.laborers with NG Ranga as Secretary.

Up to 1920, the peasant leaders were associated with the Congress. But later the rift widened because:

  1. In Eastern UP, the Kisan groups wanted government to convert Sharecroppers (Bargadars) into tenants. So they can get all legal protections available under Tenancy laws.
  2. But the Swarajist  group did not want such reform. (due to pressure from Zamindar/rural elite groups)
  3. differences of opinion between the supporters of Non-Cooperation and those who preferred constitutional agitation
  4. In the princely states, Congress followed the policy of non-interferance and did not help farmers against high Revenues.
  5. In Ryotwari areas- Government itself collected taxes. So Gandhi would ask farmers to stop paying rent. But in case of Zamindari areas, Gandhi would ask farmers to continue paying rent to the Zamindars and Talukdars.
  6. Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, prominent Kisan leader from Bihar- was turning towards leftist-militant type of agitation. He advocated use of Lathis (sticks) against Zamindars and their goons. Hence Congress stopped supporting him.

As a result, by mid 30s, the peasant leaders and unions became disillusioned with Congress. They felt a need to setup a Kisan Sabha at the national level, to coordinate the efforts of regional Kisan Sabhas/associations.

  • 1st Sept 1936: First All India Kisan Congress @Lucknow. All India Kisan Day was celebrated on 1st September every year.
  • Swami Sahajanand Saraswati (of Bihar) as its President and N.G. Ranga (of Andhra) as General Secretary.
  • 1938: Became All India Kisan Sabha
  • Launched campaigns in Andra, Bihar and UP
  • started Kisan Bulletin, editor Indulal Yagnik.
  • Gave Kisan Manifesto:

Kisan Manifesto, 1936

  1. Protect farmers for  from economic exploitation,
  2. 50% reduction in land Revenue
  3. security of tenure for tenants,
  4. reduction in interest rates charged by moneylenders
  5. abolition of begar (forced labour)
  6. reasonable wages for labourers,
  7. promote cooperative farming
  8. transfer uncultivated government land, and Zamindari lands to poor and landless farmers.

Limitation of All India Kisan Sabha

  1. leadership was concentrated in the hands of Bhumihar and other rural elites
  2. landless, SC, ST found no representation in its leadership
  3. Kisan Sabha wanted abolition of Zamindari but not abolition of Sharecropping (Bargadari)
  4. As Swami Sahjanant turned towards militant methods of protest, the Congress ordered its workers not to participate in any activities of Kisan Sabha.
  5. Congress ministries in Provinces used section 144, police force to curtail the activities of Kisan Sabha. (especially in UP, Bihar, Orissa and Madras)

Gandhi’s Views on Land Reforms

  • ‘Land and all property is his who will work it’, = similar to concept of land to the tiller.
  • During Non-cooperation movement
    • he asked tenants and landlors to join and fight against the most powerful zamindar- the British.
    • In the Ryotwari regions (where British directly collected taxes), Gandhi asked farmers to stop paying revenue.
    • but in Zamindari areas, Gandhi did not ask farmers to stop paying rent. (Because he did not want to antagonize those Zamindars/intermediaries). He explicitly industructed UP farmers….”We want to turn Zamindars into friends. Therefore we many not withhold taxes from Government or rent from landlord.”
  • During Civil Disobedience movement,
    • he issued a manifesto to the Uttar Pradesh farmers asking them to pay only 50 per cent of the legal rent.
  • During Gandhi-Irwin Pact:
Gandhi’s demand Irwin’s response
wanted Irwin to return the land confiscated from farmers. And if such land was sold to third parties then original farmer be paid some compensation. didn’t agree
reduce land revenue in all areas agreed for only some areas.
  • In Early 30s to UP farmers, “non-occupancy tenants should pay 8 anna rent to the Zamindar and occupancy tenant should pay 12 anna rent to Zamindar. Let me warn you against listening to any advice that you have no need to pay the zamindars any rent at all.”
  • Quote: Peasants could seize the zamindar’s lands and, while there could be some violence, but the zamindars could also ‘cooperate by fleeing’.
  • Quote: After Independence, the zamindars’ land would be taken by the state either through their voluntary surrender or through legislation and then distributed to the cultivators. BUT It would be fiscally impossible to compensate the landlords.

Justice Ranade’s Views on Land reforms

Once UPSC asked about Sir Tejbahadur Sapru’s views on Indian Nationalist. (2006) So similar to that…What were Justice Ranade’s views on Land reforms?

  1. Replace the existing semi-feudal agriculture with capitalist agriculture.
  2. Transform rich peasants into capitalist farmers.
  3. Transform tenants to independent proprietors – subjected to low tax and cheap loans.
  4. Quote: ‘A complete divorce from land of those who cultivate it is a national evil, and no less an evil is it to find one dead level of small farmers all over the land. A mixed constitution of rural society is necessary to secure the stability and progress of the country.’
  5. Post-independence, by and large same model was adopted by Government: replace landlordism and give protection to small farmers.
  6. Through Poona Sarvajanik Sabha: Supported Deccan riots and campaign against moneylenders in Maharashtra

Mock Question

2 marks

  1. NG Ranga
  2. Indulal Yagnik.
  3. Swami Sahajanand Saraswati

12 Marks

  1. Write a note on Gandhi’s views on Land reforms.
  2. Write a note on Justice Ranade’s views on Land reforms.
  3. Write a note on Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s view on Land reforms.
  4. Enumerate the initiatives taken by Congress ministries in the Provinces for land reforms during British India. To what extend did they succeed in bringing land reforms?
  5. Describe the role of Congress in land reforms in pre-independent India.
  6. “We want to turn Zamindars into friends. Therefore we many not withhold taxes from Government or rent from landlord.” Comment
  7.  “A complete divorce from land of those who cultivate it is a national evil, and no less an evil is it to find one dead level of small farmers all over the land.” Comment.
  8. Write a note on the Congress resolutions for Land reforms in British India.

15 marks

  1. In a sense this brief interlude of Congress rule served as a mirror of the future for both the dominant classes in rural India and the oppressed and both learnt their lessons though perhaps somewhat unevenly. Comment
  2. Write a note on the bitter sweat relations between All India Kisan Sabha and Congress.

In the Next article, we’ll start with the land reforms in India after independence.