With the characteristic fearlessness, simplicity, directness and candour of a jat peasant, Sir Chhotu Ram was the only Indian politician to have “sized up” Mohammad All Jinnah. Determined to call his bluff off, Sir Chhotu Ram completely demolished Jinnah in the provincial politics, and literally forced him to flee from Punjab. In a letter to Gandhi ji on the eve of the historic Ghandhi- Jinnah talks (August 1944), Sir Chotu Ram described Jinnah as a “destroyer” and “separatist “whose politics thrived on ever-mounting demands for concessions, and the Congress’ policies of appeasement.
Next only to Lala Lajpat Rai in political stature, Sir Chhotu Ram, the secure-minded, enlightened politician, asserted that economics should come first in all political plans. True to his convictions, he devoted his life to the uplift of the down-trodden, the exploited and the unprivileged who “through centuries of neglect have sunk or been allowed to sink to a level of ignorance, poverty and helplessness”.
This lucid and fascinating study of Sir Chhotu Ram, the man and his political career abounds in both anecdote and detail. The author, in the pages of the biography, vividly reconstructs the momentous freedom struggle against the panoramic backdrop of the undivided Punjab, brining into sharp focus all the eminent people associated with Sir Chhotu Ram.
Madan Gopal (b. 1919) is a well-known Journalist and author of more than 17 books, scores of articles on Indian topics in different leading papers of India.
A graduate of Delhi University (St. Stephen’s College) and a diploma holder in Journalism from Punjab University, he held editorial assignments on the ‘Civil and Military Gazette” Lahore and as London correspondent of the morning standard and the Sunday standard of Bombay. During that tenure he also represented ‘people’, ‘The Carvan’ and ‘Trend’ in U.K. &Europe and travelled in U.K., France, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Iraq etc. He also represented India at the 18th congress of the International PEN at Stockholm in June 1946.
As Director of Associated Press Services, he contributed a weekly column on the development in the Hindi literacy world in the ‘Navabharat Times, Aaj and other leading weeklies. His translation of Prem Chand’s short stories into English have been published in a number of reputed journals, notably the illustrated Weekly of India.
After serving as Director of Information in the former PEPSU state, he is now working in the press Information Bureau under the Ministry of information and Broad-casting, Govt. ofIndia.
The greatest Haryanavi of the present century – and next only to Lala Lajpat Rai, with his all- India image, and Sir Fazl-i-Husain of the Punjab, his close friend-Sir Chhotu Ram was the only politician in India who properly sized up Jinnah. Had he lived for another three years, there would possibly have been no partition of India, and certainly not the bloodbath which the Punjab (both India and Pakistan )had to go through.
“Temperamentally”, Chhotu Ram came to the conclusion, “Jinnah is a destroyer, not a builder, a demolisher not a constructor and a separationist not a unionist.” Having realized that Jinnah ‘s policy was to get concessions and then ask for more and still more and to use the British capability to outbid the Congress, Chhuto Ram decided to meet Jinnah in a determined manner and to call his bluff off. He literally forced Jinnah to flee from the Punjab in 1944. Jinnah’s ‘retreat’ was a repetition of the performance eight years earlier, when Sir Fazl-i-Husain and Chhotu Ram together had frustrated his attempt to draw in the Muslim members of the Unionist Party into the fold of the Muslim league so successfully that the League in the Punjab secured only two seats out of a house of 175, and of these two, one went over to the Unionist Party! The architect of the Unionist Party’s victory was Chhotu Ram. Even after Jinnah’s success in winning over Shaukat Hyat Khan in 1944, he could muster only six Unionists to go over to the Muslim League. Khizr Hyat Khan and chhotu Ram stood firm like a rock. The controversial letters sent by Khizr Hayat Tiwana were originaaly penned by Chhotu Ram Whose Knowledge and eye for details were remarkable. I remember at the time of Jinnah- khizr talks, Chhotu Ram used to quote figures and dates, as if he were quoting the Scriptures.
A soldier-statesman viceroy once said that almost all the Indian leaders he talked to were lawyers (Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, Liaquat Ali), and he found their quibblings and hairsplitting a little beyond his soldierly comprehension. Chhotu Ram too was a lawyer. But even his worst enemy would not accuse him of double standards. He was a clean fighter. His had no use for political catchwords or slogans. His tongue was at times sharp, making many enemies and opponents, but it was because of the directness of approach typical of the Jat peasant that he was. Uncompromising by temperament, he revelled in political scraps and was prepared to cross swords with anybody who disagreed with his programme. He never retreated from a fight.
“I am neither thick-skinned nor thin-skinned,” wrote Chhotu Ram to a political opponent, “I am a normal man with a normal man’s feelings. I do not believe in Christ’s teaching that you should turn your right cheek also if you are smitten on the left. I believe in the teaching of Moses: an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If you will throw a stone at me, I will hurl a heavier stone at you; please don’t squeal when you are hurt. I promise you I won’t.”
The communal problem, Chhuto Ram came to the conclusion, was basically an economic problem, and religion could not be the basis of political activity. If an economic programme for the amelioration of the poorer sections and the downtrodden could be drawn up and ‘sold’ to the people, communalism would be obliterated from the provinces and the center: ”the fire of communalism would lose its fury and get ultimately extinguished for lack of fuel on which it feeds.”
If Chhotu Ram had opted for all-India politics, he would certainly have made his mark and would have been in the fore-front of any political organization; but he opted for provincial politics, because he was wedded to the cause of helping the backward communities in the province was seized with the idea of improving the lot of the poor cultivators- Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs- and the Harijans of the Punjab, and also showing the way, for resolving the communal problem, to other provinces. And he was among the most towering personalities among provincial leaders all over India.
I first met Sir Chhotu Ram early in 1943, soon after I joined the editorial staff of the Civil and Military Gazette at Lahore, a paper to which Chhotu Ram used to contribute a regular column under the Pseudonym of ‘Rahbar.’ I knew Chhotu Ram disliked the ‘Statutory agriculturists’ community of Haryana to which I belonged, because, according to him, members of this community had become tools in the hands of the money-lenders to take over lands of the jat peasants. He told me that he disliked as a class only those of the community who joined hands with the money-lenders, mahajans, but not as individuals. I had heard about his hostility to non-agriculturist, ‘statutory agriculturists’, and was also aware of the various epithets and derogatory remarks passed about him by the townsfolk. But I took an instant liking for Chhotu Ram for his simplicity and rustic charm, forthright and straightforward manner. And I vividly remember the long conversation which I used to have with him during the evening walks along the Icchra canal, half way on the road from Lahore to Garden Town, where he lived, and beyond to Model Town, where I stayed, on my way back home. His body-guard would invariably take charge of my bicycle, and we would walk along the canal bank for about two miles, when we would part company, I returning on bicycle and Chhotu Ram going over to some friends.
Chhotu Ram had forced Jinnah to retreat from Lahore, but he sensed that the Congress might continue its policy of appeasement to Jinnah, and he, therefore, pleaded for a clear pronouncement on the future of those districts of the Punjab which had a predominantly Hindu or Sikh population, as also Bengal’s eastern districts. He had earlier discussed it with Sikander Hyat Khan, who agreed with Chhotu Ram. He used to talk of the dangers of Pakistan and the migration of population from one side or the other; for, he remembered the accounts of the horrors of mass migrations in Asia Minor at the end of World War I. He pleaded with Gandhiji.
Chhotu Ram was personally responsible for a good many of the enactments for the amelioration of the poor and the downtrodden which were hailed as “Pioneer measures in the modern economic history of India”. In respect of these enactments, the Punjab was ahead of several other provinces. Apart from extending benefits to the agriculturists, he was among the first in India to move for a six –day week for employees of shops and business establishments, and fixed hours of duty for them, the imposition of sales tax and so on. It is indeed a melancholy thought that most of the measures then condemned by the trading classes as retrograde have since been adopted by the welfare state of the Republic of India, and form the basis of the present- day polities, including the core of the twenty- point economic programme.
I was so deeply impressed by his truthfulness, transparent honesty and integrity of a man totally committed to a cause, that I wrote an eulogistic piece entitled ‘Rahbar-i-Azam’ on him for May 1944 issue of the Caravan, New Delhi. (Because of its relevance it is reproduced as an Appendix) He read it. Typical of the man, he offered no thanks or criticism. All that he told me was that it was all right (Theek tha). When I told him that I should like to do a biography of him and asked whether he would give me a few interviews for this purpose, he said he would do that only after I had gone through the three autobiographical note- books in Urdu which he had himself dictated to Tika Ram, his parliamentary secretary. (“I have actually dictated four, but you could use only three of them, the fourth one being meant for posthumous publication.”) Despite my best efforts, I failed to get a response from Tika Ram, a fact which Chhotu Ram regretted in his letter to me.
This biography of Chhotu Ram is in a sense the fulfillment of a commitment made more than thirty years ago. It projects the life of one of the many persons of sterling qualities that this great nation throws up from time to time. It also puts on record some facts which may not be so well known.
Acknowledgements are due to Chhotu Ram’s nephew Sir Chand who had approved the original draft of the book and made useful suggestion, to the successors of the late Fazl-i-Husain for the reproduction of extracts from his letters, and the Caravan for permission to reproduce the text of the article on Rahbar-i-Azam.
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