Ajit Prasad Jain also served in a Nehru Cabinet and backed the abolition of the zamindari system.
New Delhi: A member of the Constituent Assembly, Ajit Prasad Jain vociferously supported Indira Gandhi’s candidature as the third Prime Minister of India. He also once had his resignation as the agriculture minister turned down by Nehru.
Jain brought in a Left-oriented narrative to the debates on the Zamindari system during the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially with reference to the abolition of land rights for landlords in the then United Provinces.
Early years, venture into the political world
Born in 1902 in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Jain’s interest in politics and the Indian freedom struggle began when he transitioned from his initial years as a practising lawyer to a life of active political and electoral participation.
Jain soon joined the Indian National Congress and was one of the participants in the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. Jain subsequently became a member of the United Provinces Congress Working Committee and served as the Secretary of the Provincial Congress Committee. He remained a long-time member of the All India Congress Committee, the central decision-making body of the party.
Jain’s election to the United Provinces Legislature in 1937 also saw him take on the role of Parliament Secretary in the government.
But before he was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946 from The United Provinces, he had a role in shaping land reforms in his state.
The United Provinces Zamindari Abolition Committee set up in October 1946 by the then United Provinces head G.B. Pant was created on the lines of taking a moderate approach towards the task entrusted on them. It is said that Jain was only the second member who took a slightly leftist stance while voicing his concerns against ‘peasant proprietorship’ as he highlighted the plight of landless labourers and alleged neglect towards them.
Role in the Constituent Assembly
As a member of the Assembly, Jain gave his nuanced observations on fundamental issues that reflected on how he had an eye for detail and a mind of rationality coupled with a socialist stance.
On Right of Equality: When the Assembly was discussing Clause 4 of the Right of Equality, which it read as follows: “the use of wells, tanks, roads and places of public resorts maintained wholly or partly out of public funds or dedicated to the use of the general public…”
Jain in his speech had backed a member’s suggestion for including educational institutions and recommended the inclusion of hospitals and dispensaries.
His statement encapsulates his view on this clause: “Educational institutions, dispensaries and hospitals are very necessary for the moral, mental and physical, development and my opinion is that any public institution that receives any assistance from State funds should be open to all persons irrespective of their religion, caste, race or sex”.
On Right of Freedom:
On another crucial matter, which was when the Assembly held discussions on clause 8 of The Right of Freedom that mentioned the right of an individual within certain criteria including when an Emergency was declared, Jain brought up an argument that it was imperative guidelines be laid on who yields power before declaring the state of Emergency in the country.
His words were: “I would, however, request the Hon’ble Mover to make it clear that the declaration of an emergency should be done under authority derived from law. It is not now clear as to who will be the authority that is empowered to declare an emergency. I wish that the Legislature should have the right to declare an emergency and no other body. If the power to declare an emergency is placed in the hands of the executive, it may on occasion, work harshly…”.
On electing the President:
Jain was in support of Nehru’s proposal of electing the President of India through the system of an electoral college that would see the participation of both the houses of the Federal Parliament (The Council of States and House of the People), members of the state legislatures and provincial legislatures but pointed out few difficulties in the proposal which he thought lacked clarity on weightage of votes given to the Federal Parliament.
In his detailed stance on this matter, his concluding statement was: “I wish to draw your attention to the necessity of a clear provision for classifying and giving weight age to the votes of the members of the Federal Parliament”.
Public life after 1950s
Jain went on to hold significant portfolios after the 1950s. He was appointed the Minister of Rehabilitation in 1951 and was the Union Minister of Food and Agriculture from 1954 to 1959. Jain had submitted his resignation to Nehru in act of solidarity when Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, member of Constituent of Assembly and activist of Indian freedom struggle, formed the All India Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party in 1951 due to an ideological incongruity with the then Congress President Purushottam Das Tandon. Nehru, however, did not accept Jain’s resignation.
He became the President of the UP Congress Committee in May 1961 and served as the Governor of Kerala from April 1965 to February 1966. While Governors are expected to be non-partisan, Jain flouted this principle and overtly rallied support for Indira Gandhi’s candidature for Prime Ministership after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri.
He also did not shy away from expressing his opposition to Morarji Desai’s candidacy for the post; Jain considered him to be a right-winger.
Last few years
Jain withdrew from active politics thereafter but accepted the Chairmanship of the Irrigation Commission out of his deep concerns for the country’s agrarian issues. The Commission’s report submitted in 1972 is hailed as a seminal work in highlighting water issues India was facing.
He was also a social worker. In this regard, he set up an institute to look after the accommodation of disabled people and make them professionally capable of earning their own livelihood.
Some of his publications include Shadow of the Bear: The Indo-Soviet Treaty published in 1971, his 1972 book titled ‘Kashmir’, where he recalled memories of the expulsion of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah from the office of Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1953, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai: A Memoir of His Life and Times published in 1965. There are many reports as well written on a host of issues that add up to his publications list.
Ajit Prasad Jain passed away aged 75 on 2 January 1977.