In a media addressing , Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had called Sir Chhotu Ram “an inspiration for future generations.”
On 9 October, Haryana saw a 64-foot-tall statue of this little-known farmers’ leader unveiled, at his native village Garhi Sampla in Rohtak district.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the statue on Tuesday, and later visited a museum where items belonging to the farmer leader are on display and scenes from his life have been recreated. But who is Chhotu Ram? And what political significance does PM Modi unveiling his statue have in Haryana?
Fighting for Farmers’ Rights, A Man of ‘Strong Moral Calibre’
Chhotu Ram is regarded as a champion of farmers’ rights during the British colonial era. A well-regarded politician in the Punjab Province, he served as its development minister after the provincial Assembly elections of 1937.
He is considered to be the driving force behind two significant laws in the 1930s, with the aim of freeing farmers from exploitation by moneylenders.
These were the Punjab Relief Indebtness Act, 1934, and The Punjab Debtors’ Protection Act, 1936, which included the provision for debt settlement boards, caps on interest, and ensuring basic rights to the farmer.
At the personal level, Chhotu Ram has been described as a man of a very “strong moral calibre”, who stood strongly against nepotism. He was awarded the title of ‘Rao Bahadur’ and was famously known as ‘Deen Bandhu’.
An illustration of his commitment to principles was an incident in which Chhotu Ram’s wife had apparently asked an Indian Civil Services officer, SK Kirpalani, for helping out her son-in-law by getting him a promotion in government employment. Kirpalani recounts Chhotu Ram’s reaction to this:
Sir Chhotu Ram… I made it an axiom of conduct that I would never help any relative, close or remote, to find employment with government or private industry. Nepotism is not a matter of degree.
It is a question of approach. If anyone ever points the finger of reproach at me on that score, however disguised that gesture, I shall have no option but to quit politics.
He led a rather simple life and used to set aside a significant portion of his salary for a school in Rohtak.
So What Significance Does PM Modi’s Programme Have?
Even today, Chhotu Ram is said to be a revered figure in Haryana’s Jat community.
The Jat community, which makes up about 25 percent of Haryana’s voter base, has largely been considered to be distant to the BJP.
So, the event on 9 October is seen as an attempt by the Modi government to reach out to the Jat voter base ahead of the General elections as well the Assembly elections in the state to be held next year.
The event is also seen as an attempt to keep Chhotu Ram’s grandson, Chaudhary Birender Singh, pleased with the party.
Birender was, till July 2016, in charge of the Panchayati Raj, Rural Development, and Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolios in the Modi cabinet. Thereafter, he was made the Union Steel Minister.>