Politics Of Unionism.

Byline: Samina Yasmeen and Abdul Basit Mujahid

Keeping in view the ruralities' potential as army recruits, the British started patronizing rural population and not only developed canal colonies but also awarded large jagirs to people loyal to them. The reasons behind the promotion of rural people could be traced out from the following extract:

A variety of considerations, some internal some external, combined to induce the British to look to the villages. Indian administrative circumstances served to rivet their attention firmly on the village. It was here too that a handful of alien rulers could find some semblance of mass support, some token of acquiescence or goodwill and some cultural traits that struck a responsive chord in Victorian hearts. By contrast the British were administratively less concerned with the towns, the urban areas did not appear to provide a mass base, or an easily satisfied class ready to extend loyalty. And culturally the towns were entirely alien, striking no spark in the British imagination, and perhaps arousing considerable offence at times.4

It was feared that the expropriation of land owning tribes by moneylenders would create a discontented agricultural class, which would be ready for violence against the moneylenders, and at the least not averse to political change. Agrarian discontent, many officers believed, could easily turn into hatred for the government, which encouraged expropriation by the authority, which its civil courts gave to the moneylenders. In some parts of the country officers already perceived various symptoms of agrarian discontent; in other parts they felt that if nothing was done the growth of such discontent was inevitable.... One officer remembering one of the causes of the mutiny stressed that events that make the agriculturist population dissatisfied also make the army dissatisfied. There was however, general anxiety lest one day a crisis should come and the executive be weakened, perhaps through a threat from outside and the whole fabric of British order and power in countryside collapse.5

The landowners, various officers pointed out, represented a political force in the country, and were being displaced by moneylenders, men of no political significance. The land owning tribes were the foundation of British rule; they had a vast superiority in numbers; they supplied the manpower for the native army; they were the hereditary proprietors of the soil; they were, in many cases warlike with traditions and a history; they were sturdy, courageous and independent; and if discontented and given an opportunity they would fight. They were, as Throburn6 put it in 1886, 'the people of India'; and two years before, writing about the western Punjab, he had even apprehended that a hostile agrarian movement might take up a cry dear to liberal sentiment, that of 'the land for the people'. On the other hand, the trading castes contributed nothing to the stability of the state and little to its revenues.

Their numbers were insignificant and they were feeble in spirit and physique. They were both feared and desp ised by the landowners whose social inferiors they had often been before British rule. Far from being able to fight, the trading castes required protection, so that they were a source of weakness rather than strength in time of danger. And in any case, their loyalty to Government was only doubtful.7

The British, after the careful analysis of the whole affair, decided to tackle the issue and formulated the Land Alienation Act to check the alienation of land from agricultural to non-agricultural tribes, thereby blocking the change, which was to affect the political condition in the province. Punjab Land Alienation Act was a big favour of British to the land owning classes. But this favour was not the end of the process. It was in fact a beginning of new political era. The patronage went on, as M. F. O Dwyer,8 said

"throughout my term in office, I did what I could to further the interest of rural masses, whom I regarded as the basis of stability and prosperity of the province".9 "the races that count were...the races that can fight". Even10 at the time of debate over the Reforms Scheme, 11

Dwyer was against

"the transfer of such wide powers to a small class of politicians, mainly urban, who were not in any sense either representative of the rural masses or sympathetic to their needs and interests".12

O' Dwyer's voice did not go into oblivion and the council proposed by Montague-Chelmsford Reforms was highly biased in favour of land owning classes. Out of sixty-four general seats, fifty-one were allocated to the rural areas of the Punjab. And the four,13 out of seven special seats were also reserved for the landholders of the province. As the result of election demonstrated,14 the government achieved what it desired. Partly for the All India Congress' inactiveness and partly for the zeal of landholders, combined with the favour of rulers bestowed upon them, the Legislative Council formed as a result of December 1920 elections15 was highly rural in character.

"Of 71 elected members, there were only 15 elected members who could be regarded as townsmen, and even of these 15, 10 were landowners".16

Muslims formed the largest group of thirty-five members. Among the other groups, the non-Muslim group captured twenty-one, of which thirteen were rural. The Sikhs got twelve seats, of which eleven were rural. Therefore the results dictated a coalition of various groups with the dominance of Muslims. The Lieutenant Governor of Punjab Maclagan,17 appointed Fazl-i-Husain and Harkishan Lal18 as ministers. These appointments and cordial relationship of government with the rural members laid down the foundation of an alliance, which was to continue for the next two decades to dominate the politics of the province. The Council formed under the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, and subsequent appointment of ministers brought new politicians like Mian Fazl-i-Husain to the forefront of political horizon of the province. Mian Fazl-i-Husain, a lawyer was a former member of Congress and had left the party on the issue of Non-Cooperation.19

Just after the inception of Council he was quick to read that t he power lied with the rural Muslim members.20 But still the graphic representation of the newly formed Council dictated an alliance of Muslims with the non-Muslim members of the Council.

For the Unionist leaders, the aims and objectives of the party were the uplifting of the rural backward classes, as demonstrated the letter of Shahabud-Din21to Mian Fazl-i-Husain, which listed the objectives of the party as following:

  1. To develop national self-respect lawfully and constitutionally;

  2. To provide equal facilities and opportunities to the backward classes and areas;

  3. To promote and protect the interests of the masses without undue encroachment on the interests of capitalists, big land holders and moneylenders;

  4. To reconstruct and reorganize the agricultural and industrial life of the province economically and...

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