Chaudhary Charan Singh was an Indian Jat leader. Born in the village of Nurpur in the Meerut district of the then United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), he was from a peasant family of Jats (prosperous farmers). He was educated at Agra College where he earned a law degree in 1926. In 1929, he gave up his legal practice to join full-time politics with the Congress. He was imprisoned on several occasions during the Independence struggle. Elected to the legislative assembly of the United Provinces in 1937, he proved to be very much concerned by the living conditions of peasants in Indian villages. He became the principal defender of the abolition of the zamindari system which kept small farmers dependent on large land holders. The Zamindari Abolition Bill was eventually passed by the Congress government in 1952. It was a major step. Widely supported by his own caste, the Jats, he became the spokesman for North India’s backward castes and middle peasantry, promoting agriculture and opposing the industrial policies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. In 1967, he left the Congress and became the first non-Congress chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (elected in 1967 and again in 1970). He then created his own political party, the Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD), which later absorbed the Swatantra party (the only Liberal organization) and the weaker political formations which opposed both Mrs. Gandhi and the leftists, becoming the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD). Charan Singh was imprisoned during the Emergency and freed in mid-1976. In 1977, with the support of the peasantry, he was a leading element in the Janata coalition which won the elections. It proved however difficult for him to accept the precedence of Morarji Desai and he had to remain content with the Home Ministry (from 1977 to 1979). Following various episodes, Morarji Desai had to bow out and Charan Singh became Prime Minister of India. It was however a very short tenure (from July 1979 to January 1980), with the Congress coming back to power in 1980. Charan Singh never held government office again. He had a number of well-known disciples like Devi Lal, from Haryana, while his son, Ajit Singh, faced problems to keep the mantle on his shoulders.
BRASS, Paul. 2011. An Indian Political Life: Charan Singh and Congress Politics. Seattle: Sage Publications (one volume published, and two forthcoming).
JAFFRELOT, Christophe. 2003b. India’s Silent Revolution, London: C. Hurst.