Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan: A Man of Peace Who Turned Fighters Into Believers of Non-Violence
128 years A tribute from pages of history by Chandra Bhal Tripathi
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan nicknamed Badshah Khan or Bacha Khan (1890-1988) was a unique leader of the Indian freedom movement. The Frontier Gandhi will be ever remembered as the true inheritor of the Gandhi legacy.
There is no parallel in world history to the miracle achieved by him in converting the dreaded gun-toting Pashtoons into firm believers in the twin principles of non-violence and satyagraha. There may be a solitary case of the dreaded dacoit Angulimaala of Sravasti, so named because he used to chop off fingers of those whom he looted and wore a garland of those fingers, who surrendered before Buddha and became his disciple, or there may be stray cases of such metamorphosis scattered in pages of world history, but the phenomenon of conversion of the Pashtoons into non-violent Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God) in such huge numbers (about one lakh) is indeed nothing short of a miracle.
During the freedom struggle there were several outstanding selfless devotees to the philosophy of satyagraha and non-violence who were popularly known as the Gandhi of a particular Province or even a district including my home district Basti in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
But there were only two national leaders with whose names the title Gandhi was inseparably linked: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Frontier Gandhi and Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai aka Balochi Gandhi (1907-73).
I was privileged to have seen Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the other two Gandhis identified with him.
Badshah Khan was born on February 6, 1890 in village Utnmanzai near Charsadda in NWFP. His father, Bahram Khan, was a local landlord. The erstwhile British Province is now renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan and Charsadda has been made into a district. He died at Peshawar on January 20, 1988 at an unusually ripe age of 98.
A citizen of India for 57 years he was forced to accept the partition of his motherland and decided to live in his homeland as a Pakistani citizen for 41 years, a significant part of which he had to spend in Pakistani jails fighting for democracy and justice.
His elder brother, Abdul Jabbar Khan famously known as Dr. Khan Sahib (1883-1958), nearly eight years older than him and a medical doctor, was a shining star of the freedom movement. He will be remembered as the popular Premier of the NWFP at a time when Muslims were being emotionally blackmailed by the Muslim League with its slogan of 'Islam in danger'. And hence, voted for the Muslim League candidates from seats reserved for the Muslims in the 1946 elections to the Provincial Assemblies-- under the pernicious scheme of separate electorate designed by the British to 'divide and rule'.
In that vicious atmosphere all the Congress Muslim leaders including Rafi Ahmad Kidwai were defeated in UP. The only exception was Bijnor District from where Hafiz Mohammad Ibrahim and two of his Congress colleagues won all the three Muslim seats.
In the entire country the North West Frontier Province stood like a bedrock of nationalism, the Congress winning the majority of the Muslim seats and Dr. Khan Sahib anointed as the Premier of the Province.
After Partition the two brothers decided to stay on in Pakistan among their own Pushtoons. But they were soon imprisoned. However, Dr. Khan Sahib joined the Central Cabinet of Muhammad Ali Bogra as Minister for Communications in 1954.
This led to a split with his brother, Badshah Khan. Dr. Khan Sahib also became the first Chief Minister of West Pakistan in October 1955, later founded the Republican Party, in June 1957 was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan from Quetta and was assassinated on May 9, 1958 in Lahore.
The years 1945-47 were very tumultous in the history of the twentieth century India and in the history of the freedom struggle of our motherland. The Second World War had ended. In the latter half of 1945 the national leaders lodged in Ahmednagar Central Jail were released. These included Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Acharya Narendra Deva, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and others who were all arrested at Bombay on August 9, 1942 when Mahatma Gandhi asked the British rulers to 'Quit India' and gave his countrymen the call 'Do or Die'.
The sad news of the fatal accident of Netaji on August 18, 1945 at Taipei airport was still fresh in the minds of the Indian people who were greatly inspired by the saga of the INA formed by Netaji in order to liberate India from the British rule. There was fervour all around among all sections of the people-- the peasants, the working class, the students and the youth, the writers and the poets.
The naval ratings revolted against the British officers in Bombay. The war-time hero of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill, had been ousted and the Labour Party led by Clement Attlee saw the writing on the wall and decided to leave India. But the British Government laid out a plan to divide India as if following a scorched earth policy. Till the end Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to the division of the country on the basis of the Two Nation Theory.
At the session of the All India Congress Committee in Bombay on June 3, 1946 the proposal for partition of India was adopted. The only three members who opposed it were Badshah Khan, Babu Purushottamdas Tandon and Sri Jayaprakash Narayan.
When the Congress declared its acceptance of the partition plan without consulting the Khudai Khidmatgar leaders, he felt very sad and told the Congress: "You have thrown us to the wolves." At that juncture great national leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had acquiesced into the British plan of partitioning India into India and Pakistan and setting up an Interim Government.
An uncharitable view of the situation is that both Patel and Nehru were anxious to become the first Prime Minister of India. However, when the occasion arose Gandhi is reported to have preferred Nehru to Patel. The process of formation of the Interim Government was accelerated on account of the 'Direct Action' plan of the then wily Premier of Bengal, Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy, leading to mass killings and cruelties in communal riots triggered by the Muslim League.
In the first flush of the riots Hindus of Calcutta were reported to be the main victims but soon reprisals followed in Calcutta and elsewhere, mainly in Bihar. All kinds of rumours were afloat.
In Allahabad where I was a student, it was rumoured that a well-known Marwari Seth had announced a reward of Rs.500 to anyone who would bring the head of a Muslim and that professional killers were commissioned from Mirzapur in UP. (A rumour similar to the Buddhist story that the Hindu King of Ayodhya, Pushyamitra Shunga, had announced a reward of one gold coin to anyone bringing the head of a Buddhist monk.)
In those disturbed conditions the Interim Government was sworn in on September 2, 1946. The latter part of 1946 witnessed some of the worst communal riots India had ever seen, in Noakhali (now in Bangladesh) and Bihar.
On August 16, 1946 the All India Muslim League proclaimed Direct Action Day in Calcutta as part of their demand for a separate state for Muslims. In the city about 4,000 people were killed. These riots triggered communal violence across the country. Serious and large scale riots occurred in Noakhali District from October 10 to 21, 1946 which provoked violence in Bihar.
Earlier riots over local issues had taken place in Bihar in June and September but the largest riots of the year occurred from October 27 to November 6 during which period a large number of Muslims were killed by Hindus in retaliation for the Noakhali riots. The riots were severe enough that Jawaharlal Nehru, then the head of the Interim Government, threatened to bombard rioters from the air.
On 5 November, Gandhi, who was in Calcutta, visiting riot-stricken areas, stated that he would fast unto death if the violence in Bihar did not stop within 24 hours. His statement was broadcast nationally by Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Gandhi's Noakhali padayatra has historical importance. He started for Noakhali on November 6. On November 9 he embarked on his padayatra for seven weeks, covering 116 miles and 47 villages. He organised prayer meetings, met local Muslim leaders and tried to win their confidence. He discontinued his mission halfway and started for Bihar on March 2,1947.
In his mission to restore peace and stop communal riots Gandhi took with him very few selected companions and the foremost among them was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
I had the privilege of having his darshan at Allahabad Central Station when he and the INA hero Major General Shah Nawaz Khan were accompanying Mahatma Gandhi to Bihar in 1946 to restore peace and provide succour to the riot victims, the Muslims.
It was a memorable occasion for me as I requested Bapu for his autograph. In those days one had to contribute Rs. 5 to the Harijan Fund for getting his autograph. I could not have afforded Rs. 5 in those days. My maternal cousin, the daughter of the Additional District Magistrate of Allahabad,had given me her autograph book and Rs. 5 for the purpose.
Bapu asked me: "Poisha de diya hai?" With folded hands I replied: "Haan, Bapu, paisa de diya hai." Then he signed in Devanagari: Mo. Ka. Gandhi.
I got another opportunity to see Badshah Khan from closer quarters at the Meerut Congress in November 1946 where I was working as a volunteer of the All India Students' Congress and our camp was close to the camp of the Khudai Khidmatgars. His son, Wali Khan (1917-2006), President of the NWFP Students' Congress, also stayed in the same camp.
While all the other members of the Congress Working Committee stayed in well furnished tents near the venue of the Congress session Badshah Khan stayed with his Khudai Khidmatgars in an ordinary tent at a place far from the venue Pyare Lal Sharma Nagar. (Sri Pyare Lal Sharma was a prominent Congress leader of Meerut and was the Education Minister of UP in 1937.)
One cannot believe today how simply Badshah Khan lived. His belongings comprised only three pairs of salwars and long Pathan kurtas of grey colour known as 'militia', he would himself wash his clothes daily and did not bother if the clothes he wore were ironed or not.
A remarkable fact about this important Congress session at Meerut on November 23, 1946 is that except Gandhi all the important national leaders and Ministers of the Interim Government (barring of course the Muslim League Ministers) were present there. It is only Gandhi who attached more importance to his padayatra mission in Noakhali than to this historic Congress session.
The same stoic attitude in Gandhi was discernible when he refused to attend the Independence Day celebrations in Delhi. Only Bapu was capable of doing so.
When Partition became a reality Badshah Khan decided to stay with his people and suffered incarceration by successive Pakistani Governments. When he was invited by India on the occasion of the birth centenary of his mentor, Gandhi, in 1969 he visited many places, condemned the communal riots going on at Ahmedabad and elsewhere, appealed for sanity and peace and criticised those Congress leaders who had accepted the Partition plan. He said at several places: "We fought for the freedom and unity of India but you threw us before wolves."
Badshah Khan's son, Khan Wali Khan, followed the legacy of his father, was imprisoned five times in Pakistani jails and survived several assassination attempts in his 48-year long political career. He nourished the National Awami Party founded by his father in 1956. He valiantly carried on his struggle for autonomy for his Pashtoon people and for restoration of democracy.
Wali Khan's son, Asfandyar Wali Khan, had strayed from the path of non-violence in his younger days but today, at the age of 68, he too is carrying on the torch of his father and grandfather. He is a Member of Parliament and President of the Awami National Party. He got his land renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2010. But he has not forgotten the torture inflicted on him in prison by the ZA Bhutto regime and his conviction for 15 years.
I recall that at the Shahidi Diwas observed by the Society for Communal Harmony and the Khudai Khidmatgar organisation at Sabka Ghar in Okhla, Delhi, on November 18, 2018 I had observed that in my view maximum sacrifices for the country were made by two families, those of Badshah Khan and Sardar Bhagat Singh.
It is gratifying that my friend Faisal Khan and his band of idealistic youth drawn from various corners of India have revived the old spirit of sacrifice and service of the poor by restarting the Khudai Khidmatgar movement since 2011.
One has to visit Sabka Ghar in Okhla area of Delhi to see how these young and idealistic followers of Bapu and Badshah Khan belonging to different faiths lead a commune-like life with perfect understanding and peace and engage themselves in several constructive activities in the service of the poor and the deprived.
I was privileged to attend the inaugural function of Sabka Ghar on January 18, 2017 and the All India meet of Khudai Khidmatgars at Rajendra Bhawan, New Delhi, on November 26, 2017. May its workers prove true to the ideals preached by Bapu and Badshah Khan.