WERE there two Gandhis in India? Yes, there were. And who are they? The one, the original one, of course, was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma. The other was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, otherwise known as the Frontier Gandhi.
But how come that a tribal leader from the troublesome North West Frontier Province (NWFP) came to be associated with the Mahatma? Good question. This book seeks to provide the answer. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a Pathan. And the Pathans were always known for their fierce sense of Independence. Nobody in the past had subdued them, though, in the second half of the 19th Century and for some time still later in the 20th, the British tried hard to do so – and largely failed. The Pathan homeland became a part of the British Empire, but only in name. The Pathans were never fully subjugated. They largely lived in poverty and fear. Badala, the obligation of revenge, ran deep in their blood.
Ghaffar Khan’s father was a big landlord and he sent his son to a British school, despite the protestations of the mullahs. Ghaffar, his second son, was also sent to a missionary school like his elder brother. As he completed his studies, he was offered a commission in the British Army. He refused to accept it. His father wanted to send him to England to study engineering (His elder brother was then studying medicine). His mother opposed the idea. He obliged his mother. Instead, he took to educating children of his fellow Pathans and started a school – a very novel thing for those days. He went round the entire North West Frontier Province and visited every one of the five hundred villages in the settled districts of the Frontier. So, popular did he become that he came to be known as Badshah Khan – King of Khans!
The Pathans of all clans, Afridi, Mohmand, Yusufzai, Mahsud, Waziri, Mohammadzai, Orakzai now had a leader. He wanted to serve his fellow Pathans. He opened more schools. At this point he heard of a man called Gandhi and the latter’s philosophy of satyagraha and non-violence. This appealed to him. When Gandhi called for a hartal when the British passed the notorious Rowlatt Act, Badshah Khan responded wholeheartedly. Frightened, the Frontier Government declared Martial Law, arrested Ghaffar Khan and sentenced him to six months in prison. They kept his feet shakled, cutting the ankles to the bone and scarring them permanently.
This was the beginning of the success of the Non-Violent Movement in the Frontier Province. “It is my inmost conviction,” said Badshah Khan, “that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabat (selfless service, faith and love). To the end he followed this principle. And he joined Gandhi in his movement to free India.
The British would fire on unarmed crowds, beat the Pathans, try to humiliate them. Unarmed Pathans were shot at sight in some instances. Badshah himself twice escaped being killed. With Gandhi’s example before him, Badshah even began to awaken Pathan women. Almost overnight, as it were, they came out of their burqah. All this was frightening the British. From Delhi came the orders to the government authorities in the North West Frontier Province: “Crush the Red Shirts!” (as the Khudai Khidmatgars were known). But the Red Shirts couldn’t care less. They were willing to face any consequence for supporting the national struggle for freedom without fear. They even invited Mahatma Gandhi to visit them. When the Mahatma obliged and travelled to Peshawar, as Easwaran reports, “thousands of Khudai Khidmatgars” were waiting “along the roadsides in their red-shirt uniforms, erect, smiling, free”. Gandhi was thrilled. About that time, the Muslim League, led by MA Jinnah, the arch communalist, asked Badshah Khan and his followers to join it to fight against what the League called “Hindu rule”. Badshah refused. He told the League that the real enemy of the Muslims was not the Hindus, but the British who were ruling them.
This is a detailed and very touching story of the life and times of one of India’s greatest sons. He paid very dearly for his non-violent fight for Independence and never wavered for a moment. He suffered physically and mentally but to the end he stood up for his values. There never was such a Muslim leader in the past and one suspects there never will be again in the future. Badshah Khan is unique in every sense. No one before him had raised a Pathan army of 100,000 non-violent men, though he insisted that he was not preaching a new creed but was only following the Prophet himself who practised it fourteen hundred years earlier. This is a book to adorn one’s bookshelf. It dazzles.
(Jaico Publishing House, A-2, Jash Chambers, 7-A, Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road, Fort, Mumbai-400 001)