The Unionist Party, a secular party was formed in Punjab to represent the interests of Punjab's. Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, Sir Fazal-i-Husain and Sir Chhotu Ram were the co-founders 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.
The Unionists dominated the political scene in Punjab from World War I to the division of British India into India and Pakistan and the partition of the Punjab in 1947.
In contrast with Congress, the Unionists supported the British Raj and contested elections for the Punjab Legislative Council and the central Legislative Council at a time when Congress and the Muslim League were boycotting them. As a result, the Unionist Party dominated the provincial legislature for a number of years, allowing an elected provincial government to function when other provinces were governed by the direct rule.
The 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, but the Unionists were virtually an independent political party in the 1920s and 1930s when the Muslim League was unpopular and divided into feuding factions.
However, the rule of Unionist leader Sir Sikandar Hayat 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 Hayat 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.
As anticipated, in the 1937 elections the Unionist party was able to win a heavy mandate of the Muslims of the Punjab. On the other hand, the Punjab Muslim League was able to win only two seats in the Punjab Assembly. One of the winning candidates, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan deserted the PML as soon as the results were officially announced. The other winning candidate was an urban elite and an academic lawyer Malik Barkat Ali.
Sir Fazal-i-Husain died in 1936, leaving the way clear for Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan to become the first Chief Minister of the Punjab under the newly introduced provincially autonomy under the act of 1935.
Sir Sikander was the strongest Chief Minister in India getting the support of 120 out of 175 members of the Punjab Assembly. He laid the foundation of the strongest pro-government ministry in the Punjab.
Contrary to his expectations, the Congress party soon after resuming power in India made Sir Sikandar’s life extremely difficult in the Punjab. The Punjab Congress and their allies like the Khaksars, Majlis-e-Itihad-e-Millat and the Ahrars pooled their resources to give Sir Sikander a very tough opposition.
Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan and his party could no longer afford to be politically isolated therefore, he agreed to sign a pact with Jinnah called as Sikandar-Jinnah Pact, for some sort of alliance with the Punjab Muslim League, no matter how loose it may be.
Whatever be the reason, this helped the Muslim League to carve out a niche in Punjab but, the PML leaders like Allama Iqbal and Malik Barkat Ali, were not happy with this situation and began to send a catalogue of complaints to Jinnah against Sikandar Hayat Khan alleging that the Punjab Premier had been hindering the growth the PML at all levels and both Barkat Ali and Iqbal also recommended the rupture of Sikandar-Jinnah alliance and punish the Punjab Premier.
Iqbal died in 1938 and Sir Shah Nawaz Mamdot who was a personal friend of Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan became the Punjab Muslim League leader. The Nawab due to his connections with the British administrators and also due to his friendship with Sikander was not in favor of severing links with the Unionist party. Moreover, it seems that Jinnah would have made his own calculations that at least for the time being playing for time was the best policy in dealing with Sir Sikandar Hayat’s policies based on maintaining the status quo model in Punjab politics.
Quaid-i-Azam was a man of vision and farsightedness and he fully understood the limitations of the Punjab Muslim League analyzing that Iqbal was a poet-philosopher and Barket Ali had personal grievances against Sikandar; and that putting undue pressure on Sir Sikandar was not in the best interest of the Punjab Muslim League.
The next biggest move by the Muslim League was the passage of Lahore Resolution. Sir Sikandar Hayat was one of the movers of the Pakistan Resolution that was passed in Lahore, on 23 March 1940, calling for an autonomous Muslim state or region within a larger Indian confederation; this developed into the demand for an independent Pakistan.
Sir Sikandar Hayat supported the British in the Second World War at the request of Sir Winston Churchill after all of India's political parties had refused. The British promised dominion status to India after the war. After the suspicious death of Sir Sikandar Hayat, other players moved in. Sir Sikandar Hayat did not envisage partition of his beloved Punjab. When he learned of the intended partition of Punjab he rejected this outright.
The Lahore resolution created many problems for Sikandar and his successor Khizr Hayat Tiwana. The cooperation between PML and the Unionist, therefore, did not last long.
After Sir Sikandar Hayat death in 1942, Sir Chhotu Ram was invited to be the premier, but he declined in favor of Malik Khizar Hayat Tiwana. The Unionist Party under Khizar Hayat could not match the Sir Sikandar Hayat popularity, and with the increasing popularity and influence of Jinnah, the Unionist Party gradually started to decline. Although it struggled on, under Khizar Hayat from late-1942 to 1946, the writing was very much on the wall.
Khizr was appointed Chief Minister of Punjab and he adopted anti-Muslim League policies, the alliance between the two parties came to an end. The Muslim supporters of Unionist party were therefore advised by the Muslim League to divorce themselves from the Unionist Party and join the Muslim League ranks as early as possible.
Thereafter the Muslim supporters of the Unionist party started trickling towards the Muslim League. Some leading Sajjada Nasheens and Pirs joined the Muslim League and later on, they appealed to the Muslims to support the Muslim League’s Pakistan Movement because by doing so they will be supporting the cause of Islam.
On August 21, 1945, the viceroy announced that elections would be held that Winter to the Central and Provincial Legislative Assemblies. They were to precede the convention of a constitution-making body for British India. The Muslim League had to succeed in this crucial test if its popular support of its demand for Pakistan was to be credible. In particular, it had to succeed in the Punjab as there could be no Pakistan without that province. But in the Punjab's last elections held in 1937, the League had fared disastrously. It had put forward a mere seven candidates for the 85 Muslim seats and only two had been successful. One of those candidates, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan also deserted the Punjab Muslim League, so there was only one Successful candidate of Punjab Muslim League.
On 23 February 1946, all the results of the elections were known and the Punjab Press reported with big headlines the crushing defeat of the Unionist party. Only 13 Muslims were elected on the Unionist ticket, even some of their minister lost their securities in the elections. The Muslim League won a grand victory by capturing 73 seats of a total of 86. Even at this stage, the Congress was all out to install a Unionist ministry in order to keep the Muslim League out of power.
As the demand for Pakistan grew more intense, political loyalties in the Punjab were reshaped on religious lines. The Direct Action Day campaign brought the downfall of Sir Khizar Hayat ministry, which depended on Congress and Akali support; inter-community relations were effectively destroyed and communal violence across Punjab resulted from the massacre of 2 million Punjabis (world's largest massacre within short span of time) and displacement of 20 million Punjabis (largest human mass migration of known history) as the result of division of Punjab.
With the division of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947, Punj Darayaaeab was itself partitioned between the two new countries, with the Muslim-majority West Punjab is forming part of Pakistan, and the Hindu/Sikh-majority East Punjab is forming part of India. The Unionist Party's diverse pan-provincial organization was destroyed, with Muslim Unionists integrating themselves into the Muslim League; the party ceased to exist in existing in independent Pakistan.
The 1946 elections proved to be a turning point in the history of the Punjab Muslim League. In the 1946 election campaign, the Muslim League was able to publicize its views widely. It claimed that Islam was threatened by Congress. "Pirs" and "Sajjada Nashin" helped the Muslim League to attract Muslim voters. By early 1946, the Muslim League had been able to secure the support of many leading families of Punjab and also eminent Pirs and Sajjada Nasheens.
To give one example of his own area Khizr Hayat Tiwana faced strong opposition from the descendants of Pirs and Sajjada Nashins. In district Shahpur, Khwaja Qamar-ul-Din Sialvi, Qazi Zafar Hussain, and Qazi Mazhar Qayyum gave tough competition to Tiwanas. Khwaja Qamar-ul-Din Sialvi of Sial Sharif, a descendant of great Pir Khawaja Sham-ud-Din was president of District Shahpur Muslim League. He was very influential in his region. Likewise, Qazis of Soon Valley and descendants of Sufi Qazi Mian Muhammad Amjad commanded great respect in their areas. They appealed to their people to vote against Tiwanas. With regard to the exertion of religious influence over the people, the grandfather of Khizar Hayat Tiwana, Malik Sahib Khan could not compete with the great grandfather of Qazi Zafar Hussain, and Qazi Mazhar Qayyum, Qazi Kalim Allah, and their father Qazi Mian Muhammad Amjad. According to SARAH F. D. ANSARI, the Sajjada Nashin or Pir families were not so rich in terms of land as the great landlords of Punjab but these Sajjada Nashin or Pir families exerted great political and religious influence over the people.
According to Ayesha Jalal, David Gimartin believes that a number of Pirs developed a personal stake in the League's election campaign; not because this was the most appropriate tactical response to the prospect of a British transfer of power but because the Pirs saw in the Pakistan movement an opportunity to break out of the colonial structures that had for so long thwarted their religious interests.
Pakistan came into being on 14 August 1947, "Pakistan would never have come into being", Talbot argues, "had the Unionist Party held on to the support of Muslim rural elites during the 1946 Punjab Provincial Assembly Election. The Muslim Landlords and Pirs joined the Muslim League before the 1946 election, without its victory in Punjab in that election", Talbot asserts, "the Muslim League would not have gotten Pakistan".
Penderel Moon simply attributes the League's rise to power to the alluring and irresistible appeal of the Pakistan cry to the Muslim masses. Peter Hardy's explained that the Muslim League gained its electoral success in the Punjab by making a religious appeal over the heads of the professional politicians. Pakistani historians have explained the League's success in the Punjab, as elsewhere in the subcontinent, solely in terms of the Two Nation Theory.
Whatever the historians may suggest, one thing is clear that League's success was due to the political vision, farsightedness of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was a Grandmaster of the game by his cleverness and clever calculations.