Unionist Party (Punjab)

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The National Unionist Party was a political party based in the Punjab Province during the period of British rule in India. The Unionist Party mainly represented the interests of the landed gentry and landlords of Punjab, which included Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. The Unionists dominated the political scene in Punjab from World War I to the independence of India and Pakistan (and the partition of the province) in 1947. The party's leaders served as Prime Minister of the Punjab.

The creed of the Unionist Party emphasized: "Dominion Status and a United Democratic federal constitution for India as a whole".[1]


The Unionist Party, a secular party, was formed to represent the interests of Punjab's large feudal classes and gentry. Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, Sir Fazli Husain, Sir Shahab-ud-Din, Muhammad Hussain Shah and Sir Chhotu Ram were all members of the party. Although a majority of Unionists were Muslims, a large number of Hindus and Sikhs also supported and participated in the Unionist Party.

In contrast with the Indian National Congress and many other political parties of the time, the Unionist Party did not have a mass-based approach. Unlike the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, the Unionists supported the British Raj and contested elections for the Punjab Legislative Council and the Central Legislative Council at a time when both Congress and the Muslim League had boycotting them. As a result, the Unionist Party dominated the provincial legislature for several years, allowing an elected provincial government to function when other provinces were governed by direct rule.

Punjab government[edit]

Sir Sikander Hayat Khan

In the 1937 Indian provincial elections, the Unionist Party soundly defeated the Muslim League in Punjab.[2] Unionist Party won 98 seats (out of 175 total), including 78 of the 89 Muslim seats, while the Muslim League won only two. Muslim elements of the Unionists shared many common points with the Muslim League and followed a rather similar policy and agenda for national interests and issues.[3] However, the Unionist Party was virtually an independent political party in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Muslim League was unpopular and divided into feuding factions. The links improved after Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the League's president in the mid-1930s and by October 1937. He was able to convince Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan to come to terms with him via the famous Sikandar-Jinnah Pact.[4] The rule of Unionist leader Sir Sikandar remained undisputed in the Punjab and he remained the Punjab's Premier (Chief Minister) from 1937 to 1942, in alliance with the Indian National Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal despite Jinnah's opposition to both parties. Sir Sikandar thus remained the most popular and influential politician in Punjab during his lifetime, preventing both Jinnah and Sir Muhammad Iqbal from gaining the support of a majority of Punjabi Muslims. In the 1946 elections, the Muslim League won 73 of the 89 Muslim seats in Punjab, while the Unionist Party under Khizar Hayat Tiwana won only 13. Overall, the Muslim League failed to win any non-Muslim seat and fell short of the halfway mark of 88 required to form the government, while the Unionist Party won 19 seats in total and formed a short-lived[clarification needed] coalition government[clarification needed]with Congress (which had won 51 seats) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (which had won 21).


After the death of Khan in 1942, the party gradually collapsed.[citation needed] Jinnah and his pro-separatist Muslim League demanded of the new leader, Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana, that the word "Muslim" be incorporated into the party name. Tiwana refused to alienate his Hindu and Sikh supporters,[5] and hence opposed the partition of India.[6][7] As a result, the pro-separatist Muslim League sought to intimidate Tiwana.[6]

The Muslim League's Direct Action Day campaign brought the downfall of Sir Khizar's ministry, which depended on Congress and Akali support; inter-community relations were effectively destroyed as communal violence against Hindus and Muslims across India claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. With the partition of India in August 1947 into the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan, Punjab was also partitioned with the Muslim-majority West Punjab becoming part of Pakistan and the Hindu-Sikh majority East Punjab forming part of independent India. The Unionist Party's diverse pan-provincial organisation was destroyed, with some Muslim Unionists integrating themselves into the Muslim League; the party ceased to exist in independent India and Pakistan.


In Sindh, a Sind United Party modeled on the lines of the Punjab Unionists and represented similar interests. It became the largest party in the province at the 1937 provincial election.

In 2013, Guar farmers in Rajasthan formed the National Unionist Zamindara Party (or Zamindara Party) to represent their interests. While there is no connection to the historic Punjab Unionists, the new party honours the legacy of Unionist leaders like Sir Chhotu Ram.[8] The party was successful in winning 2 seats in the 2013 state election.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Malhotra, S. L. (1983). Gandhi, Punjab, and the Partition. Publication Bureau, Panjab University. p. 73b.
  2. ^ Chakravarty, Debadutta (2003). Muslim Separatism and the Partition of India. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. ISBN 9788126902385. In Bengal, the Krishak Proja Party of Fazlul Huq and in Punjab, the Unionist Party of Sir Sikander Hyat Khan defeated most of the League candidates.
  3. ^ Prof. Stanley Wolpert, "Jinnah of Pakistan", Karachi:Oxford UP, 1999 reprint, pp. 150-151
  4. ^ Wolpert, p.151
  5. ^ Hardy (1972). The Muslims of British India. CUP Archive. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-521-09783-3.
  6. ^ a b Ahmed, Ishtiaq (27 May 2016). "The dissenters". The Friday Times. Here, not only anti-colonial Muslims were opposed to the Partition – and there were many all over Punjab – but also those who considered the continuation of British rule good for the country – Sir Fazl-e-Hussain, Sir Sikander Hyat and Sir Khizr Hayat Tiwana for instance – were opposed to the Partition. The campaign against Sir Khizr during the Muslim League agitation was most intimidating and the worst type of abuse was hurled at him.
  7. ^ Talbot, Ian (1996). Khizr Tiwana, The Punjab Unionist Party and the Partition of India. Curzon Press. p. 303. Khizr was opposed to the division of India on a religious basis, and especially to suggestions about partitioning Punjab on such a basis. He sincerely believed that Punjabi Muslims had more in common with Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs.
  8. ^ Guar farmers plan own party in Rajasthan

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