KHĀLSĀ NATIONAL PARTY was founded in 1936 by two Sikh aristocrats, Sir Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā and Sir Jogendra Siṅgh, with a view primarily to contesting legislative elections in the Punjab under the new scheme of reforms introduced by the British under the Government of India Act, 1935. According to the rules that were adopted to govern it, membership of the party was open to every person above 21 years of age who was willing to subscribe to the party's creed, programme and practices. The party's central organization was established at Amritsar. The work at the centre and in each district was guided by an executive committee. The central executive committee consisted of not more than thirty one members including the party president. In each district the office bearers were a president and a secretary, and the executive committee consisting of at least five members elected by the district organization.
The five-point creed of the party was (1) to work for the realization of the ideals of Sikhism, i.e. the promotion of tolerance, individual freedom and brotherly feelings; (2) to work for the attainment of svarāj or self-rule; (3) to work for the abolition of the Communal Award and its replacement by a just and national solution; (4) to endeavour to unite all sections of the Sikh Panth to save the Punjab from the establishment of communal hegemony; and (5) to work for raising the social and economic standard of the masses.
The programme of the party was set out in fifteen points. It included the following general principles and purposes : to safeguard civil liberties and the freedom of expression of each community, to promote concord among the various communities and to protect the interests of minorities including the depressed classes. In the general economic sphere, the programme proposed to develop the resources of the province by harnessing urban and rural effort, to modernize the railway, to reduce the cost of administration and to relieve the burden of taxation, including land revenue and water rates, and to work for the relief of indebtedness. In the villages, it pledged to work for raising the standard of living by improving methods of marketing, by increasing agricultural prices, by creating agricultural credit, by developing large scale and cottage industries, and by opening new avenues for employment of the unemployed. In the field of education and culture, the programme aimed at providing general liberal, vocational and industrial education as well as making a particular effort to protect and promote the Punjabi language and Gurmukhī script. In relation to the British colonial administration, the party called for strengthening the defence forces by increasing the Indian element in the Indian army, for progressive Indianization of higher ranks, and for protecting the interests of the Sikh community more generally in recruitment to the services and in securing a full share of representation at the local, provincial and all India level.
As for electoral politics, the sixth point of the Party's programme stated : "The Khālsā National Party, without merging itself in any communal party till the Communal Award is abolished, will co-operate with any party that works for similar aims and objects." To put this principle and the overall programme into effect, party rules empowered the central organization to set up a parliamentary board for the purpose of selecting candidates, under the terms of the Government of India Act 1935.
At the polls, out of a total of thirty-three Sikh constituency seats in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, the Khālsā Nationalists gained fourteen-eleven rural, two urban, and one other (women, landowners). The remaining Sikh seats were divided : ten rural went to the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal and four rural and one other to their allies, the Congress Socialists, three rural to Independents, and one rural to Socialists. The newly elected Khālsā Nationalist members of the Legislative Assembly, in conjunction with the group led by Rājā Narendra Nāth of the Hindu Electoral Board, then co-operated with the Unionist Party, a predominantly rural and Muslim coalition which held ninety-five out of 175 seats in the new Assembly, to form the provincial government.
When the new ministry was formed on l April 1937, Sir Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā took the oath of office as Minister of Revenue. In 1938, he introduced one of a series of four major agrarian bills, the Restitution of Mortgaged Lands Bill, and the debate over its probable effect on the balance between rural and urban economic interests divided the party's legislative delegation even though the Bill's terms were generally consistent with the government's and the party's rural emphasis and programme. The agrarian bills were passed, but the outbreak of World War II, Muslim demand for partition, and prolonged litigation greatly limited their effects.
The more significant division in Sikh politics towards the end of the 1930's was the one which set the temporarily combined forces of the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal and the Indian National Congress in opposition to the Unionist coalition government which included the Khālsā Nationalists. During the 1936-37 election campaign, the Akālīs characterized the Khālsā National Party as primarily a political instrument of conservative elements such as the Chief Khālsā Dīwān and big landed interests. Yet the two Sikh parties shared certain basic concerns, e.g. opposition to the terms of the Communal Award that maintained the statutory majority for Punjab Muslims first given by the 1919 Montford Act and support for the recruitment of Sikhs to the military services, which became a crucial question with the outbreak of World War II and contributed to the Akālī decision. The death in 1941 of Sir Sundar Singh Majīṭhīā considerably weakened the party even though he was succeeded in the cabinet by another Khālsā Nationalist, Dasaundhā Siṅgh. This interim situation came to an end in March 1942 when the Akālī leader Baldev Siṅgh forged a new Akālī-Unionist pact and replaced Dasaundhā Siṅgh in the cabinet. Khālsā Nationalist members shifted to the new governing alliance, which eventually broke down owing to a split in the Unionist Party that followed the rise of the Muslim League. By the time the second provincial elections were held in January 1946, the Khālsā National Party was gone from the Punjab.
G. R. Thursby