Editor's Pick

01 May, 2024

ON 13 MAY 1956, Vinoba Bhave—seen here commemorating the first anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination—arrived in the Tiruvallur district of Madras to launch his Bhoodan campaign in the region. The campaign called for large landowners to voluntarily give up part of their holdings, so that it might be redistributed among the landless.

Bhave, a former aide of Gandhi, was a national political figure with close ties to the Congress high command. He had come up with the idea of Bhoodan, five years earlier, while visiting the village of Pochampalli, in Telangana. Ninety families controlled the twelve hundred hectares of cultivable land in the village, which also had five hundred landless families. The village’s Dalits asked Bhave to get them some land to subsist on. After he made a public appeal, one landlord agreed to donate forty hectares. Bhave began making similar appeals in every village he visited, refusing to accept food until someone donated land. He asked large landowners to “adopt” Bhoodan as an additional child when dividing their properties.

As he expanded the campaign on a nationwide scale, Bhave set a target of 20 million hectares—a sixth of all cultivable land in the country. By the time he arrived in Madras, after a successful tour of Orissa, Bhoodan workers had collected a little over two thousand hectares in the state. Over the next eleven months, with the full support of the Kamaraj government, Bhave walked more than four thousand kilometres, covering all but two districts. Having failed to secure anywhere close to his target, he had pivoted to calling for gramdan—the gift of a village—in which residents surrendered all their agricultural land to a “sarvodaya panchayat.” During his 409 halts in the state, Bhave managed to secure 253 gramdans. In 1958, the state government passed legislation providing for boards to oversee the process.