PAÑJĀB RIYĀSTĪ PRAJĀ MAṆḌAL (riyāstī=of the princely states; prajā subject, people; maṇḍal = society, party), an organization of the people of the Punjab princely states established in 1928 to work for securing to them civil liberties and political rights. In what was then known as British India, the Indian National Congress had been the spokesman of its people and it had, through constant protest and agitation, wrested from the government certain appurtenances of popular authority. Administrative and constitutional reforms of considerable significance had, for instance, been introduced in the Punjab as in other parts of British India, and a number of socio-religious reform movements had brought about much awakening among the people. The struggle for freedom in the Punjab had taken the form of a vigorous agitation against the severely repressive Rowlatt Acts which had culminated in the Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh massacre (13 April 1919), followed by the Gurdwārā Reform movement for the liberation of the Sikh shrines from the control of the corrupt priests supported by the British government, and the violent activities of the Babar Akālīs. The people in the neighbouring Indian states were by comparison wholly voiceless under the arbitrary and despotic reign of the princely rulers. The subjects of the states enjoyed no freedom of speech or expression and there were no popular institutions such as legislative councils and assemblies. The rulers squandered the revenue on personal luxury. To remedy the situation a public platform emerged with the formation of the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal. An year earlier; on 17 September 1927, All India States People's Conference had been founded to fight for the rights of the people of the 600-odd states in the country.
The initiative for the establishment of the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal came from the Akālī workers belonging to the Punjab states. They had been freshly affranchised by their participation in the long-drawn struggle for the reformation of the management of Sikh places of worship in which they had suffered imprisonment and bodily injury. The formation of the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal was formally announced at a public conference called by such workers at Mānsā, in Paṭiālā state, one of the larger princely enclaves, on 17 July 1928. Sevā Siṅgh Ṭhīkrīvālā, of Paṭiālā state, an Akālī leader still in jail, was elected president, and Bhagvān Siṅgh Lauṅgovālīā, also an Akālī, general secretary. In the constitution adopted soon afterwards the Prajā Maṇḍal membership was thrown open to all adult inhabitants of the Punjab states without distinctions of caste, class or religion. A general council of 200 members was to be elected every two years by its members. The council was to elect an executive committee of 15 members. The scope of the Prajā Maṇḍal's activities was extended to include all princely states in the Punjab, Kashmīr and Shimlā-hill regions. The central organization, the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal, itself affiliated to the All-India States People's Conference, was to co-ordinate and direct the activities of the local units. The main objectives of the Prajā Maṇḍal were the protection of the rights and liberties of the people, the setting up of representative institutions in the states and the amelioration of the condition of the peasants.
The rulers of the princely states were intolerant of any criticism of or opposition to their administration. Moreover, they enjoyed the full protection and support of the British government. The launching of a popular movement against them was thus not an easy task. At first the activities of the Prajā Maṇḍal remained confined to four of the Sikh states of Paṭiālā, Nābhā, Jīnd and Farīdkoṭ, in particular against Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh of Paṭiālā. The Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal resolved to hold a series of meetings in the Paṭiālā state to secure the release of Sevā Siṅgh Ṭhīkrīvālā. Khaṛak Siṅgh, the charismatic Akālī leader, undertook a tour of the state. He strongly denounced the administration of Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh. The state authority adopted stern measures to counteract the agitation and arrested a large number of Akālī workers. At this time Master Tārā Siṅgh, another Akālī leader of note, opened a relentless campaign against the Paṭiālā ruler. The Prajā Maṇḍal intensified its own agitation. Faced with this two-fold challenge, the Mahārājā relented and made a conciliatory gesture, ordering the release of Sevā Siṅgh Ṭhīkrīvālā along with other Akālī prisoners. After his release, Sevā Siṅgh threw himself zealously into the Prajā Maṇḍal movement. On 27 December 1929, the first regular session of the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal was convened at Lahore. It adopted a resolution strongly condemning the maladministration of Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh. So far Paṭiālā had been the main focus; the activities of the Prajā Maṇḍal now extended to other states as well. It started a morchā in Jind state to protest against the enhancement of land revenue and against begār (forced free labour). In Mālerkoṭlā a document entitled Mālerkoṭlā Indictment was prepared faulting the ruler as well as the state administration. In Kapūrthalā state, the Prajā Maṇḍal demanded the abolition of oppressive taxes and the establishment of responsible government. In the spring of 1929, a memorandum, Indictment of Paṭiālā , was addressed to the Viceroy of India enumerating instances of misrule in Paṭiālā and of the misconduct of its ruler. The All India States People's Conference conducted an enquiry and found the Mahārājā guilty of most of the charges. In November 1930, Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh, as chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, was nominated as the sole representative of the princes of India at the first Round Table Conference in London. The Prajā Maṇḍal stepped up its campaign against him and, at a conference held at Ludhiāṇā on 11 October 1930, Sevā Siṅgh Ṭhīkrīvālā castigated him for his misrule and demanded his deposition. Sevā Siṅgh was arrested and sentenced to ten years' rigorous imprisonment, but was released after a few months. In July 1931, the third annual conference of the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal took place at Shimlā. Its main demand was the deposition of Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh. During 1932-33, the Prajā Maṇḍal brought out a second memorandum against Paṭiālā and staged demonstrations in its support at Amritsar and Delhi. Meanwhile, to counteract the Prajā Maṇḍal the Paṭiālā government issued the Hidāyat (instruction) of 1988 Bk (1931), which banned all political activity in the state. Under the provisions of the Hidāyat, Sevā Siṅgh was rearrested in January 1933, and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. He resorted to hunger strike in protest against the harsh treatment meted out to him. In solitary confinement in the Paṭiālā jail, he died on 20 January 1935.
The death of Sevā Siṅgh Ṭhīkrīvālā marked the end of an important phase in the history of the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal. After him the movement against the princely states lost much of its thrust. Early in 1936, the Patiālā government signed an agreement with the Akālī leader, Master Tārā Siṅgh, resulting in the release of all Akālī prisoners. The withdrawal of the Akālīs considerably weakened the Prajā Maṇḍal. Several of its leaders, including Bhagvān Siṅgh Lauṅgovālīā and Jagīr Siṅgh Jogā, came under Marxian influence. With the Akālī Dal playing a minimal role in the Sikh states and dissensions erupting between the ruralite Communists and the urbanite Congress group within the Prajā Maṇḍal itself, the movement further waned. However, in 1945, the Communists having been expelled from the Indian National Congress, the all-India State People's Conference instituted a regional council for the Punjab states, with Brish Bhān as chairman and Harbaṅs Lāl as general secretary. The leadership of the Prajā Maṇḍal in the Punjab states thus passed into the hands of the urban Hindus. The struggle for constitutional and administrative reforms in the princely states continued. Several of the states witnessed popular agitations, Farīdkoṭ the severest of them in 1946. Jawāharlāl Nehrū's visit on 27 May 1946 marked the culmination of the agitation. A local leader who spearheaded the movement was Giānī Zail Siṅgh, India's future President.
With the formation soon after Independence of PEPSU, a union of Paṭiālā, Nābhā, Jīnd, Mālerkoṭlā, Farīdkoṭ, Kapūrthalā, Nālagaṛh and Kalsīā states on 15 July 1948, the princely regimes ended and the Punjab Riyāstī Prajā Maṇḍal lapsed. It was replaced by the PEPSU Pradesh Congress.
A. C. Aroṛā