ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Land Reform in West Bengal

It was a strange quirk of history that at each stage of West Bengal’s two-phase land reforms there was a stalwart to guide and lead the programme. One was Hare Krishna Konar, the other Benoy Chaudhury. No two persons could have been so similar in some ways and so dissimilar in others than Hare Krishna Konar and Benoy Chaudhury. Both of them were totally committed to the cause, profound believers in the principles of ‘scientific’ socialism, ascetic in their life styles and sincere in purpose. Personality-wise Konar was a whirlwind – a tornado – brooking no obstruction in his path, swathing his way in the face of all opposition. He was a resolute revolutionary who chose the parliamentary path temporarily for tactical reasons. Benoy Chaudhury on the other hand was a gentle colossus, calm, serene and unruffled, who would prefer to discuss and argue with dissenters to convert them rather than searing them with an acidic tongue like Hare Krishna Konar. The fearsome volatility of Konar was necessary to remove the immobility of the administration and to break the stranglehold of the landed gentry of West Bengal on the society and the political establishment in the late sixties. The amiable Gandhian mode of accommodation of Benoy Chaudhury was equally essential in another socio-political setting to carry a large majority of people with him for the success of the massive ‘Operation Barga’. Each performed his unique role to carry out land reforms in two different historical situations. I would not pursue the point further as it would be an exercise in inanity to compare the two incomparables.

Soon after the first United Front (UF) government came to power in 1967, the first arrow of the now famous Naxalbari movement was shot, killing inspector Wangeli of the West Bengal police. The countryside was seething with discontent. It was a troubled time. Hare Krishna Konar became the land and land revenue minister. His talks with his old compatriot Kanu Sanyal, held in a jungle about six km away from the Sukna forest bangalow from midnight to early morning, had failed. The new government faced a militant peasant movement. Konar was convinced that any attempt to suppress the movement by the brute force of the repressive machinery of the state would help spread the movement through underground channels. Being a practitioner of militant peasant movement himself, he knew the fish-in-water tactics of armed partisan action. He was determined to evaporate the water by weaning away the landless and land-poor peasantry by substantially meeting their land hunger. And that could be done only through vesting of ceiling surplus land held clandestinely by the landed gentry of the state. Shortly after he assumed power Hare Krishna Konar had me appointed as director of land records and surveys and put in charge of unearthing land held ‘benami’ in excess of the ceiling and vesting them in the state through due process of law.

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