Chaudhary Charan Singh: The Peasant Prime Minister of India

Chaudhary Charan Singh

This interview – most probably the last recorded interview of Chaudhary Charan Singh before his incapacitating stroke later that year – was recorded in Delhi on 12 April 1985, as part of Dr. Vijay Rana’s radio series ‘100 Years of Indian National Congress’ for the BBC Hindi Service.

I arrived at his house on this fairly warm morning. Chaudhari Saheb, as he was popularly known, was sitting in his Khadi vest and dhoti. We had a long chat about the state of the nation and he described in detail how under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi he jumped into the freedom movement as a young practicing lawyer in Ghaziabad. He employed a Harijan or a Dalit coock as part of Mahatma Gandhi’s programme to eradicate the scourge of untouchability.

What he said off the record was really important. He felt particularly hurt by the Congress accusations of promoting casteism.

He showed me a letter that he wrote to Prime Minister Jawahrlal Nehru in the early 1950s, when he was an important minister in the UP government.  In this letter he advised Nehru to legally abolish the use of caste based surnames. He said Nehru never replied to his proposal.

When be became the Chief Minister of Utter Pradesh in the late 1960s, one of first tasks was to remove the caste based names of educational institutions – for example in our city Bulandshahr Sharma college was renames as JP Janata Inter College.

He also pointed out that on the other hand the record of both Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s on casteism was not so straight. He said that many important central ministers and state chief ministers came from Brahmin caste and many Kashmiri Brahmins were unduly promoted as governors, ambassadors, civil servants and vice-chancellors, both by Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

But in the formal interview he would not be drawn into this kind of personal debate. you can notice in this interview that he is opposing Congress policies but there is hardly a bitter comment against his political adversaries.

Yes India witnessed intense rivalries in those days, but low level personal attacks were almost unheard in those days.