Choudhary Charan Singh (23 December 1902 – 29 May 1987) was the seventh Prime Minister of the Republic of India, serving from 28 July 1979 until 14 January 1980.
Charan Singh entered politics as part of the Independence Movement. After independence he came to be associated with the rural socialism of Ram Manohar Lohia. Popular particularly among his Jat community from which he himself originated and was born into, his political base was Western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, where that community was dominant.
The leader of the Bharatiya Lok Dal, a major constituent of the Janata coalition, he was disappointed in his ambition to become Prime Minister in 1977 by Jayaprakash Narayan’s choice of Morarji Desai. He settled at the time for the largely honorary post of Deputy Prime Minister of India. However, the internal stresses of the coalition’s government caused him to leave the government with the former Lok Dal, after being promised by Mrs. Gandhi the support of the Congress Party on the floor of the House in any efforts to form a government. He was sworn in as Prime Minister with the support of just 64 MPs.
During his term as Prime Minister the Lok Sabha never met. The day before the Lok Sabha was due to meet for the first time the Indian National Congress withdrew their support from his Bharatiya Lok Dal Government. Choudhary Charan Singh resigned and fresh elections were held six months later.
He continued to lead the Lok Dal in opposition till his death in 1987, when he was succeeded as party president by his son Ajit Singh. His association with the causes dear to farming communities in the North caused his memorial in New Delhi to be named Kisan Ghat. (In Hindi, Kisan is the word for farmer.).
The university of Meerut city in Uttar Pradesh India, is named after him (Chaudhary Charan Singh University).
Charan Singh’s ancestors were the kinsmen of prominent freedom-fighter of the revolt of 1857, Raja Nahar Singh of Ballbhgarh (in present day Haryana). Raja Nahar Singh was sent to the gallows in Chandni Chowk of Delhi. In order to escape the oppression the British Government let loose on Raja’s followers, Charan Singh’s grandfather moved eastward to district Bulandshaher in Uttar Pradesh.
Charan Singh was born on 23 December 1902 in village Noorpur district of Uttar Pradesh in a peasant’s home in poverty. He was a good student, and got degree of Masters in Arts in 1925, and the degree of Law in 1926.
In February 1937 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh (United Provinces) at the age of 34. In 1938 he introduced an Agricultural Produce Market Bill in the Assembly which was published in the issues of The Hindustan Times of Delhi dated 31 March 1938. The Bill was intended to safeguard the interests of the farmers against the rapacity of the traders. The Bill was adopted by most of the States in India, Punjab being the first state to do so in 1940.
Charan Singh followed Mahatma Gandhi in non-violent struggle for independence from the British Government, and was imprisoned several times. In 1930 he was sent to jail for 6 months by the British for contravention of Salt laws. He was jailed again for one year in November 1940 for individual Satyagraha Movement. In August 1942 he was jailed again by the British under DIR and released in November 1943.
In 1952, he became the Revenue Minister of state of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in independent India. He was dedicated to enforcing and implementing the provisions of the Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform Act of which he was the major architect. It has been argued by leading political scientists that success of Indian Democracy lies in successful implementation of this reform. Pakistan on the other hand did not have similar reforms, and the power is concentrated amongst the few powerful landlords or Zamindar who run their lands as their private fiefdom, and use their influence to further their wealth.
Charan Singh opposed Nehru on his Soviet Style Economic reform. Charan Singh was of the opinion that cooperative farms would not succeed in India. Being a son of a farmer, Charan Singh opined that the right of ownership was important to the farmer in remaining a cultivator. Charan Singh’s political career suffered due to his open criticism of Nehru’s economic policy. In 1950’s, no one questioned Nehru in India.
Charan Singh left the Congress party in 1967, and formed his own political party. He had two short stints as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1967, and later in 1970. In 1975, he was jailed again, but this time by then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, daughter of his former rival Nehru. She had declared the state of ‘Emergency’ and jailed all her political opponents. The Indian populace voted her out, and the opposition party, of which Chaudhary Charan Singh was a senior leader came into power.
He became Prime Minister of India in 1979. His speech to the nation on India’s Independence Day (August 15, 1979 ) was very prophetic in which he identified Pakistan’s nuclear ambition as a major threat to India. He also mentioned that that Indian labour laws had to be refined if India were to become competitive in world economy. He also opened high level diplomatic relations with Israel, something that subsequent Indira Gandhi’s government curtailed.
Charan Singh passed away on May 29, 1987. He was survived by his wife, Gayatri Devi, four daughters and one son, Ajit Singh.