Rao Bahadur Sir Chhotu Ram, (24 November 1881 – 9 January 1945) was one of the most prominent pre-partition politicians in Punjab and an ideologue of the Jat peasantry and a champion of its interests. Sir Chhotu Ram was the first Stephanian (St. Stephen’s College, Delhi) to be knighted in 1937.He was a co-founder of the National Unionist Party and later leader of the Punjab Unionist Party.
Chhotu Ram was born on 24 November 1881 in Ohlan clan of Hindu Jat family in village Garhi Sampla of district Rohtak, Punjab (in present day Haryana), India. His parents were Chaudhari Sukhiram Singh Ohlyan and Sarla Devi. His childhood name was Ramrichhpal.
Chhotu Ram joined primary school in January 1891, passing out four years later. He studied for his middle school examination in Jhajjar, 12 miles from his village. He left Jhajjar to be enrolled in the Christian Mission School in Delhi. He passed his intermediate examination in 1903 and then enrolled in St Stephen’s College, Delhi from where he graduated in 1905with a distinction in Sanskrit. He gained his LLB from Agra College in 1910 and began his practice as an advocate in 1912. He started the Jat-Anglo Sanskrit School on 26 March 1913 in Rohtak. He joined National Congress in 1916. Sir Chhotu Ram worked as the President of the Rohtak District Congress Committee from 1916 to 1920.
After 1920, Sir Chhotu Ram tried to create a non-sectarian peasant group consciousness. He formed the Unionist Party (Zamindara League)in 1923 : a cross-communal alliance of Hindu Jats and Muslim agriculturists committed to the Land Alienation. The Punjab Alienation of Land Act was passed in 1901 (Sir Chhotu Ram Act). He soon aligned with such Muslim leaders as Fazli Husain.
He created the Unionist Party which won elections in 1935, forming Provincial government in the capital Lahore. As revenue minister, he brought in changes in the law to stop the practice of usury (charging interest on interest). Among the supporters of the party at this point were such prominent urban Muslims as Sir Abdul Qadir.
Sir Chhotu Ram initially approved the Bhakhra Dam Scheme . He got an agreement between the Maharaja of Bilaspur, in whose territory the waters of river Sutlej were to be impounded. And the Punjab Government signed only a few weeks before he died on 9 January 1945.
Chhotu Ram was greatly influenced by the intellectual poetry of Dr. Mohammad Iqbal. He studied the Geeta and was very much influenced by its philosophy. There are many instances, which represent his value for education and compassion for the poor. A substantial portion of his salary as minister was set aside for scholarships and stipends for economically poor but bright students. A large number of students have completed their studies with assistance received from Sir Chhotu Ram and have made their mark in the life and are in high positions.
The enactment of two agrarian laws was primarily due to his contribution. These were the Punjab relief indebtedness Act in 1934 and the Punjab Debtor’s Protection Act in 1936, which emancipated the peasants from the clutches of the moneylenders and restored the right of land to the tiller.
He is widely credited to lay the foundation of the ‘Green Revolution’and the resulting socioeconomic prosperity of the region due to his steps taken while he was Minister of Agriculture and Commerce. He provided all facilities for the research in agriculture at Lyallpur College of Agriculture and Research. The world famous agricultural scientist Chaudhary Ram Dhan Singh who was first a student and then a principal at the Lyallpur College, went on to develop and release a number of high yielding varieties of wheat, barley, rice and pulses which increased the yield at farmer’s fields and thus brought prosperity to the peasantry.
Sir Chhotu Ram was awarded the title of ‘Rao Bahadur’.
He was knighted in 1937.
He was popularly known as ‘Deen Bandhu’ Chaudhary Chhotu Ram.
Sir Chhotu Ram’s place of residence in Rohtak was known as “Prem Nivas”, also known as ‘Nili Kothi’ (English translation: Blue Bangalow). The chowk (road square) nearest to his house is now known as “Chhotu Ram Chowk” and a Dharamshala exists at the same place in his name.
Sir Chhotu Ram died in Lahore on 9 January 1945. His body was carried back to his home in Rohtak city and then it was taken to the campus of “Jat Heroes Memorial Anglo Sanskrit Senior Secondary School” for cremation. At his cremation, thousands of people whose lives had been greatly improved due to his efforts gathered from towns and villages from far and nearby. All paid their last tributes to their great leader, a messiah of peasantry, with tears in their eyes.
A samadhi (tomb) was created in his memory at the cremation spot where people pay his rich homage on his birthday.
His legacy has been evoked by the formation of a new party, the National Unionist Zamindara Party by guar farmers in Rajasthan in 2013
Chhotu Ram State College of Engineering College in Murthal (Sonepat District), Haryana, is named after him (the name of the college has since been changed to Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology abbreviated as DCRUST, after it got the University Status in 2006).
Also Sir Chhotu Ram College of Education, Kurukshetra is named after him.Further, Sir Chhotu Ram Institute of Engineering & Technology at Meerut is also named after him.
The Indian government issued a commemorative stamp of Sir Chhotu Ram on 9 January 1995.
The Jat-Anglo Sanskrit School was started by him on 26 March 1913 in Rohtak. A Bachelor of Education college at the same campus, is also named after him.