New Kashmir Manifesto & Economic Reforms
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah signing land to tiller ordinance (left) and ploughing in a field as part of his "Grow More Food" programme

Russia, being a socialist state, had a profound effect on the history of Jammu and Kashmir. The word “Lal Chowk” also comes from Russia. The natives of Jammu and Kashmir were poor. Toiling hard in the lands, didn’t produce enough so that they could live from hand to mouth. In Russia, the peasants were treated inhumanely and they fought for their rights. Hence, came the “October Revolution” or “Russian Revolution”.

Leninism-Marxism left an indelible mark on the annals of history of Jammu and Kashmir. In this background, the tallest leader of the state, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was inspired by the great revolution. He, with the company of communists, set out on the path of developing Jammu and Kashmir on the lines of socialism. It came in the form of “Naya Kashmir Manifesto” and “Economic Reforms” under the first two Prime Ministers of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. What were Naya Kashmir Manifesto and the Economic Reforms? These are discussed in the following lines.

Naya Kashmir Manifesto:

On September 29, 1944, National Conference, the then most popular political party of the state, adopted the Naya Kashmir Manifesto in a meeting of the political activists of the party at Sopore. It was a comprehensive plan for economic, social, political and cultural reconstruction of the region.

B.P.L. Bedi, a well-known Indian communist, was considered as the author of the Manifesto. The Manifesto was divided into two parts-one dealing with the Constitution of the State and the other with the National Economic Plan. It was published both in English and Urdu languages. It further envisaged the establishment of the councils for national education, cultural upliftment, women’s rights, communication and health to ensure an equitable development of all the areas of the state.

The National Economic Plan was the most significant part of the manifesto and had a heavy socialist tune. It advocated the socialization of all instruments of production and the reorganization of property relationships. When the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir was adopted on 17th November, 1956 during the Prime Ministership of Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, the Naya Kashmir Manifesto became the basis of the Directive Principles of the State Policy.

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In case of the Constitutional structure of the state, it included: Citizenship, National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, Ruler, Justice, Local Administration or decentralization, National languages, women’s rights, etc. Here, it is of importance to mention that Kashmiri, Dogri, Balti, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Dardi were to be National languages but Urdu was to be the lingua franca.

In case of the National Economic Plan, it included many things. Some were: Abolition of landlordism, land to the tiller, cooperatives, making people self-sufficient peasants, etc.

The new regime of Sheikh Abdullah was too enthusiastic to translate its New Kashmir Manifesto into a reality. In 1948, the Government headed by him abolished “Jagirs”, “Muafis” and “Mukararies” and discontinued the abatement in land revenue given to the “Chakdars”.

Jagir was a land grant given by state to an individual in lieu of services and the individual held right to collect revenue from the land. Muafis was a land grant exempted from payment of land revenue, given by state to an individual or religious place. Mukararies were fixed cash grants. Chakdars were the native land tenants acting as intermediate in position between the proprietor and the cultivator.

In the same year, to tackle the problem of the shortage of food grains in the region, the Government launched the “Grow More Food Scheme” to bring cultivable waste lands under cultivation by allotting land to the landless peasants. To protect the interests of the tenants, the new Government in October 1948, amended the State Tenancy Act of 1924 Amendment Act, 1948 and also fixed the maximum rent payable by him to the landlord. Furthermore, to alleviate the distress of the poverty-stricken people, the state enacted the Distressed Debtors Relief Act of 1950 to relieve them from indebtedness.

The most important phase of Land Reforms was introduced in 1950 by passing of the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950. Through this Act, landlordism in the State was abolished by transferring land to the tiller without giving any compensation to the expropriator. This Act came to be called as the “Magna Carta” of the peasants’ rights in state and its most important provisions were fixation of ceiling on the holding of proprietor at 182 kanals (22.5 acres) and transfer of land to tillers with ownership rights. 160 kanals for agriculture, 8 kanals for vegetable gardening, 4 kanals for constructing houses and 10 kanals for orchards made up 182 kanals.

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Impact of Land Reforms

These land reforms ended the privilege of the landlords, secured the position of the peasant and restored his confidence by making him the owner of the land. Visiting Jammu and Kashmir in mid-1950s, Daniel Thorner, an Agrarian Historian and Economist, observed that despite certain defects in implementation, the land reforms programme succeeded in removing fear from the peasantry. Land Reforms injected the elements of dynamism in the agricultural setting of the state and encouraged the peasant to make investments in land by making him the direct beneficiary of any such investments.

The economic emancipation of the peasant paved way for his social advancement by motivating him to educate his children and avail facilities of better health and cultural advancement. These reforms also aimed at reducing the taxation which was the primary reason for the discontent among the masses during Maharaja Hari Singh’s period. Under the Dogras, almost everything was taxed and there was nothing left for the peasants.

All the above-mentioned things made the oppressed people of state to feel somehow relieved. They were subjected to ill-treatment under the oppressive feudal system. Feudal lords unleashed every kind of tax over them like in case of France and Russia. Taking clues from the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, Sheikh Abdullah tried to mitigate the sufferings of common people, by adopting the ways of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin, etc.

Not only was Abdullah, Mirza Afzal Beigh from Anantnag was also inspired by the equalitarian principles of the Russian state-controlled system. In this regard, Abdullah removed the yokes from the necks of the helpless peasants and made them bold and owner of the lands. However, that is the secondary question that all the good works done by our past leaders, have been challenged. Let us see which way the wind blows.

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