Punjab’s role in Pakistan’s Freedom Movement

Published: August 14, 2011


Had those who succeeded the Quaid after his death not deliberately delayed approval of a new constitution, the nexus between the British-trained civil-cum-khaki bureaucracy and the remnants of the rural elite created by them in the form of Unionist Party that ruled Punjab before Partition along with a few opportunists from Muslim-minority states, would never have succeeded in derailing the democratic process.

While the political awakening for a separate identity had started in Bengal in 1906, it gained momentum in Punjab, under the dynamic leadership of Allama Iqbal. Bengal represented a state with an overwhelming Muslim majority, where the Muslim League had gained a foothold. In Punjab, a Muslim majority province, the Unionist Party — a conglomerate of Muslim and Hindu feudal — ruled.

By 1926, Muslim leaders of Punjab decided to unite on one platform and reconstitute the Punjab provincial Muslim League. It was headed by Sir Mohammad Shafi, with Dr Muhammad Iqbal as General Secretary and Malik Barkat Ali as Propaganda Secretary. Towards the end of 1934, in response to appeals from Muslim leaders including Allama Iqbal and Malik Barkat Ali from Punjab, Jinnah returned from England.

The Government of India Act 1935 gave a new impetus to political activity and set into motion process of parliamentary democracy in the subcontinent. The All-India National Congress Party had by then established itself as an organised political party and its central leadership comprised of able politicians.

Muslims however were divided and had not united under the banner of All-India Muslim League to effectively launch a campaign for the forthcoming elections. The Masjid Shaheed Gang issue created a stir amongst Muslims in Punjab, when the mosque was demolished on July 4, 1935 by Sikhs, under the protection of the police and the army, and a Unioinist government which included men like Feroze Khan Noon, Nawab Muzzafar and Chaudhry Shahabuddin, the president of Punjab Legislative Council.

Jinnah came to Lahore on April 29, 1936 to organise the Punjab Provincial Election Board. He approached Mian Fazle Hussain, the leader of Unionist Party, to extend support to Muslim League candidates in the forthcoming elections, but Hussain declined.

On May, 1936, Jinnah then went to meet Allama Iqbal who assured his wholehearted support for the formation of a parliamentary board. On May 8, 1936, a joint press statement was issued by Allama Iqbal, Malik Barkat Ali, Khalifa Shujauddin and Pir Taj Din announcing support for Jinnah.

The Punjab Muslim League decided to make preparations for a meeting of the All-India Muslim League Council to be held in Lahore in June that year. On May 21, 1936, Jinnah announced from Srinagar the constitution of the Central Parliamentary Committee comprised of 56 members from all over India, with 11 members from Punjab.

After the death of Sir Fazle Hussain on July 9, 1936, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan – who was serving the Raj as Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India – resigned on December 30, 1936 to assume charge of the Punjab Unionist Party.

The Governor of Punjab, Sir Herbert Emerson appointed him as Member Revenue. Sikandar was now not only the leader of the Unionist Party, but also held the highest government office, second only to governor. All this was done to secure a victory for the Unionist of Punjab, in the 1937 elections. In October 1936, the Punjab Muslim League had invited applications for those seeking tickets for the forthcoming elections. But, unfortunately, the Punjab Muslim League had its affiliation with the national party cancelled by a committee headed by Nawab Liaquat Ali Khan, on April 5, 1936, to accommodate Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan.

On April 18, 1938, the All India Muslim League, in its session held at Calcutta, dissolved the Punjab Provincial Muslim League, for which Iqbal had dedicated his life and constituted a new League with 25 nominees of Sikandar Hayat and 10 belonging to the Iqbal faction of the League.

The Unionist Party had openly opposed the Muslim League in the June 1936 session held at Lahore. This dark chapter disenchanted Muslim League loyalists, and brought to the fore the Unionists of Punjab, who were toadies of the British Raj. These remnants of the Raj continue to haunt the politics of Pakistan, especially of Punjab, even today.

The Jinnah-Sikandar declaration which was never signed by Jinnah, was based on a promise by Sikandar, that all Muslim members of the Unionist Party would join the League and sit in the assembly as part of Muslim League. He also promised to submit signed affidavits declaring their allegiance to Muslim League and Jinnah. This was just a ploy to overcome the difficulties he was facing in retaining his hold on the premiership of Punjab.

Although Sir Sikandar pledged his support to Muslim League in All-India political matters, on a number of occasions he betrayed the League’s stand vis-a-vis the British. In a letter, written by Iqbal to Jinnah dated November 10, 1937, the poet said “I am now definitely of the opinion that Sikandar wants nothing less than complete control of the League and the provincial parliamentary board. All this in my mind amounts to capturing the League and then killing it. Knowing the opinion of the province as I do, I cannot take the responsibility of handing over the league to Sir Sikandar and his friends. The pact has already damaged the prestige of the League in this province.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (10)

    Aug 14, 2011 - 10:37PM

    Thank you for history of sir sikander hayat and all the tavane and others.


  • Homa
    Aug 14, 2011 - 10:40PM

    Freedom Fighters from Punjab such as Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai and others played very critical roles in the freedom struggle. But are they are not recognized or honored in West Punjab, and there is no mention of them in this article which claims to discuss Punjab’s role in the Freedom Movement; proves once again that most Pakistanis (like this author) don’t have a clue about the real history of the subcontinent. Recommend

  • Fawad
    Aug 15, 2011 - 12:46AM

    All the founders of the Muslim League and its major contributors hailed from Bengal. The people of Bengal and adjoining states contributed the greatest in the pressure against the British as they had to face repeated injustices at the hands of the British in the forms of the “Black Hole” of Calcutta and the great famine of Bengal during the early 40’s. As mentioned in this article, during the Pakistan Movement, Punjab’s nationalist parties had created hurdle after hurdle for the League to establish its case for Pakistan. We Pakistanis did not earn Pakistan. We got it in a plate thanks to the efforts of the Bengalis whom we later dumped away during the 1971 war. Proud to be a Pakistani eh?


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Aug 15, 2011 - 1:41AM

    If the separate identity gained momentum in Punjab then why Quaid-dAzam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not buried in Lahore with Allma Iqbal?

    Then Khan Liaquat Ali Khan, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan would have also been buried in Lahore and not in Karachi.

    The author is trying to elaborate that had Punjab been not behind the movement of separate identity, probably Pakistan would have not been created.


  • Aug 15, 2011 - 6:28AM

    The author is little bit unsure about jistory.I thought he will talk about all punjabis who contributed,He never mention Udham Singh who killed O’dwyer for jallianwala bagh massacre.Also all the people who went to Abdaman and nicober Islands 80 % were punjabis.If in total 87 people were hanged 95% were punjabis I am refraining the word Sikhs because I thought We talking about punjabis.


  • Khan
    Aug 15, 2011 - 7:12AM

    First of all, this is a poory compiled article which to me is not more than a compilation of paragraphs from different books tried to be bundled together using the date tags.

    Secondly, I have serious concerns with the name of this article. I feel sorry for these authors who will just put together anything to get published without a moral responsibility.

    Instead of creative writing this essay is racially inclined where the author has represented some biased facts and no conclusion. I guess its time for a career break to take up a short course on article writing.


  • sunny
    Aug 15, 2011 - 7:42AM

    They only fought for freedom not for Pakistan.
    I congratulate the author for mentioning the fact of Pakistan Movement.
    There is no doubt the muslim commoners of Punjab rendered valuable services
    in the independence movement while majority of the Punjabi elites only struggle how
    to further their grip on power. They were sucessful then and even more successful today.
    Common Pakistani in general and Punjabis in particular must note that and open their eys please.


  • Krishna
    Aug 15, 2011 - 7:50AM

    So what. We do not honor any Muslim leaders in India who played vital role in the independence of the sub-continent.


  • sunny
    Aug 15, 2011 - 10:37AM

    No we r talking about Punjab’s role in struggle for Pakistan. Did Sikhs or hindu Punjabis struggled for Pak?? Instead they r responsbile for murdering hundreds of thousands of Muslim during migration.


  • Vicram Singh
    Aug 15, 2011 - 11:26AM

    @sunny: ” … Did Sikhs or hindu Punjabis struggled for Pak?? Instead they r responsbile for murdering hundreds of thousands of Muslim during migration. …

    Typical Muslim “munafiq” attitude – What did you guys do to Sikhs and Hindus in West Punjab ? Put them and their daughters on trains, buses with their abroo and izzat intact, and with food rations and bid tearful goodbyes ?

    There were massacres – hindus, sikhs, muslims – all participated and all were victims too.


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