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Mainstream, VOL LX No 29, New Delhi, July 9, 2022

Against The Dying of The Light - Bharat Ratna Frontier Gandhi, Badshah Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988) | A Note By Anil Nauriya

Friday 8 July 2022, by Anil Nauriya


[This note is being circulated for the attention of the candidates in the elections for the offices of President and Vice President of India and the respective electoral colleges in these elections. Recently, taking advantage of Covid lockdowns, the Haryana Government renamed Badshah Khan Hospital in Haryana after Atal Behari Vajpayee. This was done although the Frontier Gandhi, Badshah Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), was, apart from other things, a recipient of the Bharat Ratna. He was the only non-citizen apart from Nelson Mandela, to receive the Bharat Ratna. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan went to prison in 1919 in the agitation against the Rowlatt Act in that year as did his 90-year old father Behram Khan in the same 1919 agitation. This was at a time when Atal Behari Vajpayee had not even been born.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was not merely an NWFP figure; he was, as this note shows, an all-India leader and an iconic personality of the entire subcontinent who suffered long years of imprisonment both in British Indian jails and, after 1947, in Pakistan as well.

The troubling development in Faridabad is significant for the contempt that it shows towards our composite culture. It is part of a pattern of attacks in recent decades on India’s freedom movement and its highest values. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have been targeted by majoritarian sectarian elements and the tirade against them has continued relentlessly. At a provincial and district level too there have been attempts to erase the memory of India’s freedom struggle and its leading figures. Sometime back in Uttar Pradesh there was an attempt in Gorakhpur to rename a Park that memorialises Vindhyavasini Prasad Verma, an eminent lawyer who had been associated with Mahatma Gandhi since the days of the Champaran struggle of 1917 and had organised in Gorakhpur the protest against the Rowlatt legislation of 1919. There have been similar attempts even in Bihar to erase the memory of stalwarts like Mazharul Haque and Syed Mahmud as, for instance, in Chhapra, where chowks named after them have been sought to be renamed. It is not difficult to see what is being aimed at by the present dispensation. They seek to erase memories of a struggle for freedom in which their participation was marked mainly by its absence. They thus seek to ensure that these memories are not passed on to the future generations. Such attempts are evidently guided by their desire to impose a sectarian vision on the concept of India. The communal-sectarian vision they seek to advance is contrary to the spirit and experience of India’s freedom struggle and to the values embodied in the Constitution and its Basic Structure.

By this note it is sought to remind Indians of the role of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and to call upon citizens, and especially the electors in the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections, to request the candidates in these elections to clarify their position and in the first instance indicate where they stand on the renaming in Haryana of Badshah Khan Hospital as Vajpayee Hospital : A.N. ]

The towering freedom fighter, Badshah Khan, a Titan of India’s freedom struggle, was born in 1890 and passed away on 20 January 1988. In the struggle for the freedom of India, he was, as Kaka Kalelkar had described him, a "spear-head of the Nationalist Muslims". (Madho Prasad, A Gandhian Patriarch, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1965, p. 120)

A few months ago, taking advantage of Covid lockdowns, the Haryana Government renamed Badshah Khan Hospital in Haryana after Atal Behari Vajpayee who, for all his subsequent eminence, played no role to speak of in the struggle for freedom.

This name-change was made by the Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Haryana even though the Frontier Gandhi, Badshah Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), was, among other things, the recipient of the Bharat Ratna. He was the only non-citizen apart from Nelson Mandela, to receive the Bharat Ratna.

The name-change did not go entirely unprotested:

The Hindustan Times of 17 December 2020 reported as follows:

"The Haryana government’s decision to rename the Badshah Khan Hospital in Faridabad after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has received criticism from the public.

The inauguration plaque at the hospital reads: “Badshah Khan Hospital, the hospital built by the people of Faridabad with their own hands was named after their beloved leader Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan”. It was inaugurated by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on June 5, 1951.

The name change was notified by the Haryana’s director general health services notification on December 3, 2020, following orders from the chief minister."

The late Vajpayee, for all his political affiliations, probably had sensibility enough to have himself have been aghast to learn of such an outrageous idea had it ever been put to him in his lifetime.

The time chosen for making this absurd change was such that, with most political parties and citizens’ groups in Haryana pre-occupied with health issues and kisan struggles, the protest against it would not snowball into a major agitation.

Despite the Frontier Gandhi’s role in relation to the peasant movement in undivided India and within undivided Punjab, which included Haryana, the Kisan movement which has lately been active in Haryana and elsewhere also apparently seemed to remain silent over the name-change.

The troubling development is significant especially for the contempt that it shows towards our composite culture.

There is a possibility also that at least some of those responsible for this change of name, or those who have learnt of it since, lack basic knowledge about the Frontier Gandhi Badshah Khan.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known for his stellar role in the freedom struggle of undivided India, also emphasised and represented our composite culture.

Interestingly, in his Autobiography, the foreword to the English translation of which was written in 1969 by Jayaprakash Narayan, Badshah Khan refers with great pride to the various ancient statues that emblemised this compositeness in his region. [See My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan (as narrated to K B Narang), Translated by Helen H. Bouman; Foreword by Jayaprakash Narayan, Delhi, Hind Pocket Books, 1969] These included statues of the Buddha (some of which would later be destroyed in our time by the Taliban in Bamiyan in Afghanistan).

Arrest during the Protest in 1919 Against Rowlatt Laws

The Frontier Gandhi, as Badshah Khan would come to be known, responded to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for a hartal in protest against the Rowlatt laws on 6 April 1919 and went to prison in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in the agitation against the Rowlatt legislation. [See D G Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1967, pp. 28-30]

As the Socialist Yusuf Meherally has written in an early work published before independence, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s father, Behram Khan, then aged 90, was also arrested and imprisoned during the agitation against the Rowlatt legislation. [Yusuf Meherally, Leaders of India, 6th edn 1946, pp. 51-52; see also Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, p.30 ] Coming out of prison, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was witness to the universally acknowledged phenomenon of the time, after the coming of Gandhi on the political stage, that the sense of fear among the people had evaporated. [My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan , p. 45]

Arrest during the Non-Cooperation Movement of the 1920s: His Mother died asking "Where is Ghaffare?"

After the Nagpur Congress of 1920 where the Indian National Congress ratified the Resolution on Non-cooperation against the British regime, Badshah Khan expanded Constructive actiities in his region, responding to the call to create National educational institutions, and set up a National School, known as the Azad High School in Utmanzai. [ Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan: Faith is a Battle, p.36]

During the Non-cooperation Movement, Badshah Khan was arrested and sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment under the Frontier Crimes Regulation in December 1921. [Ibid, p.38]

Fetters were placed on his feet in Peshawar prison and he was taken to Dera Ismail Khan prison [ Ibid., pp.39-40; see also My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 64] His health was adversely affected by the prison diet. He was taken to Lahore jail for a while. In these jails he came into contact with Lala Lajpat Rai, Baba Kharak Singh and other leading political prisoners [See Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, pp.41-44]

He was released in 1924 shortly before his term was to be over. His mother had died while he was in prison, asking "Where is Ghaffare?" [ Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, pp. 43-45]

Arrests during the Civil Disobedience Movements of the 1930s

The Lahore Congress held at the end of 1929, where the Resolution for Complete Independence was passed, was attended by many from the Frontier Province. "Abdul Ghaffar accompanied by Khudai Khidmatgars, walked from village to village, or rode on horseback, addressing the people in simple effective Pakhtu." [Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, pp. 62-63]

Soon after Gandhi’s defiance of the salt law in the first week of April 1930, the first meeting of the Khudai Khidmatgars founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan took place at Utmanzai on 18 and 19 April 1930. On 23 April Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan addressed a mass meeting asking people to take part in the Civil Disobedience Movement. [ Ibid., p. 65]

The massacre that took place in Peshawar in April 1930 was intended as a blow against the work of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his associates and followers. Many lives were sacrificed in the firing by the British in April 1930. [My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 103; see also Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel : A Life , Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1991, p. 192 ] On 23-24 April 1930 the Frontier Gandhi was arrested in the North West Frontier Province. [See My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 102]. This was also the famous juncture when a platoon of the Garhwal Rifles refused to open fire on unarmed Indians.

 [See Tendulkar, op. cit. p. 70] After this firing was again resorted to on 31 May 1930 and again many lives were lost. [See My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 103] These developments were documented in detail by the Peshawar Enquiry Committee, headed by Vithalbhai Patel, appointed by the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress in 1930. The Committee included Mufti Kifayatulla, Sardar Sardul Singh Caveeshar and Lala Dunichand. R.S. Pandit was the Honorary Secretary of the Committee. Barrister Jivan Lal Kapur represented the people of the Frontier Province before the Committee which examined 70 witnesses in all. [ Report (with evidence) of the Peshawar Enquiry Committee, ]. The report, forwarded to Motilal Nehru, the Acting President of the Congress, on 25 June 1930, was proscribed by the British Government. So sensitive was the Colonial Government to accounts of its repression in 1930 in the NWFP that houses were searched for copies of the Report and, wherever a copy was found, it was seized and destroyed.

 In 1930 Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment under Section 40 of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. He was most reluctantly released by the Colonial authorities under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in March 1931. Jawaharlal Nehru declared on 31 March 1931 at the Karachi session of the Indian National Congress:

 " I live in the interior of India but I do have some experience of the border areas. I can testify as to how very peace-loving the races living in the Frontier are. If they have any complaint or quarrel, it is not with India. They can be at loggerheads only with the British, not with us. When bullets are showered on these people, for how long will they remain without attempting to defend themselves? Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan will corroborate this.  I can confidently declare that under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan the Pathans have become more patriotic. "
 ( Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol 4, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 1973, p. 510)

Mahatma Gandhi met the new Viceroy Willingdon in May 1931 when the administration had braced itself with a charter of complaints against Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Gandhi updated himself on Frontier affairs apparently by inviting Verrier Elwin and Badshah Khan to meet him in Bardoli; they arrived there respectively in the last week of May and the first week of June . [See Tendulkar, op. cit., , pp. 91-92; C B Dalal, Gandhi 1915-1948 : A Detailed Chronology, New Delhi, Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1971, p. 89].

Badshah Khan then toured Bardoli and other villages of Gujarat in June 1931 and was greatly impressed especially by the work done in Vedchhi in Surat district, saying: "I wish that the workers’ and peasants’ parties could take a leaf from Vedchhi". [See Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, p. 94]. Impressive work had been done in the area for the Raniparaj villagers. While there, he addressed a meeting of Hindus and Muslims, presided over by Kasturba Gandhi. He also toured villages in Borsad and in Baroda, addressing meetings wherever he went. [See Ibid., pp. 94-98]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan returned to North West Frontier Province in the third week of June 1931. His speeches perturbed the Frontier Government which then indicated that it would arrest him. Gandhi informed the Viceroy that in that event the truce entered into earlier in the year could terminate. Meanwhile, Gandhi also received reports of official repression in the province. Not permitted to visit the North West Frontier Province himself, in July 1931 Gandhi sent his son Devdas Gandhi to the NWFP to study conditions there. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan recalled that Khurshed Naoroji, the youngest grand daughter of Dadabhai Naoroji, was also with Devdas and him on this tour of NWFP. [ Ibid., pp. 100-109].

In August 1931 Badshah Khan visited rural Punjab and, in particular, Bilga in Jullundur District:

 " A huge political conference addressed by Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan known as Frontier Gandhi was held at Bilga on 24 August 1931. It had attracted over 1 lakh people, mainly the peasantry. The village came to be known as the ’Bardoli of Punjab’ in those days".
 [Master Hari Singh, Punjab Peasant in Freedom Struggle, Volume 2, New Delhi, People’s Publishing House, 1984, p. 187]

After the conference held at Bilga Ghaffar Khan, along with Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, went to Simla. He had a role in persuading Gandhi to go to London for the Round Table Conference despite an unhelpful attitude of the British Government in India and the reluctance of the new Viceroy to allow Dr. M A Ansari to accompany him. [Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel: A Life, Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1991, p. 209; see also Tendulkar, op. cit., pp. 110- 123]

At a time when the Government was targeting Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Gandhi
 sto od up for him, writing to the Viceroy before leaving for England to attend the Round Table Conference in London :

 "I would like you also to trust Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The more I see him the more I love him. He is extremely frank, has no mental reservations and tells me that non-violence with him is not a policy but an article of faith." [Gandhi to Viceroy Willingdon: 27 August 1931, CWMG, Vol 47, pp. 365-366.]

A few months later Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was arrested again in December 1931. His biographer notes :

" The Government authorised action against the Khudai Khidmatgars on the Christmas Day, 1931, when six columns of troops occupied the city of Peshawar and the tactical points in the rural area. On the night of December 24, Abdul Ghaffar, Dr Khan Sahib and all the leaders throughout the district were arrested.
The Khan brothers were arrested under Regulation 3 of 1818" [Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, pp. 133-134]

There was firing on Khudai Khidmatgars. According to Verrier Elwin’s figures "at least 50 had died". " [Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel : A Life , Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1991, p. 212] Verrier Elwin, who was sent by Gandhi to the NWFP "to get a true picture of the state of affairs during the Civil Disobedience Movement" arrived in Peshawar on 11 January 1932. (India’s Struggle for Independence: Visuals and Documents, New Delhi, National Council of Educational Research and Training, 1986, p.96)

Verrier Elwin wrote in his report :

"National activities in this province are largely associated with the name of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. This splendid and heroic figure captured the imagination of the Pathans. Abdul Ghaffar Khan is a great man — great in body, great in heart, great in his possessions, and now truly great in a spiritual outlook on life akin to that of Mahatma Gandhi." [ Cited in Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, p.146]

In his report Verrier Elwin noted :

 " On December 24 (1931), the Chief Commissioner promulgated three Ordinances which gave the widest powers to all officials. They were able, under the Ordinance, to arrest, detain, or control people on suspicion....Officials were given powers to take possession of buildings, to control the supply of certain commodities of general use, to establish special courts and to outlaw any association which they might consider dangerous under the Ordinance; therefore, 4129 arrests were made, including 3531 from the city of Peshawar. "

(India’s Struggle for Independence: Visuals and Documents, New Delhi, National Council of Educational Research and Training, 1986, p.96)

After listing unspeakable atrocities against men and women, Verrier Elwin continues :
" The authorities soon found it impossible to accommodate all those who offered themselves for arrest."


And further:

" There is also an attempt to frighten the villagers by displays of force. Aerial demonstrations are carried out by the Royal Air Force". (Idem)

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his brother Dr Khan Sahib were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and incarcerated in Bihar’s Hazaribagh prison, now in Jharkhand. [Rajendra Prasad, An Autobiography, Delhi, National Book Trust,1994 (first published Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1957), p. 343 and p.345; see also My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 146]. In Hazaribagh, the Badshah Khan was "locked up in a barrack alone"; he was released nearly three years later on 27 August 1934. [See Tendulkar, op. cit.,  pp.162-163] Even after his release he was not permitted to go to Punjab or his home province of NWFP. This is when he toured Bengal’s villages. [See My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, pp. 151-153] The Congress was to meet in Bombay in October 1934.

Frontier Gandhi Tours Bengal’s Villages

It was suggested that the Frontier Gandhi Badshah Khan be elected President of the Congress. Badshah Khan recorded : "Babu Rajendra Prasad insisted that I should accept the presidentship, although he was already selected for the honour. I declined the offer and informed Rajendra Prasad: ’I am a soldier, a Khudai Khidmatgar. I shall only render service.’" [See Tendulkar, op. cit., p. 163; also p. 182].

 The venue of the Bombay Congress was named after Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan as a mark of recognition both of his standing as an all-India leader and of the sacrifices that his home province of the NWFP had made in the struggle for Indian freedom. The Frontier Gandhi made an important speech at the Bombay session, where, recalling his experience in Bengal’s villages, he established the connection between the Constructive Programme and the political movement for India’s freedom.[ Indian National Congress Proceedings, Bombay, 1934, pp. 111-112]  He toured and addressed meetings in the villages around Wardha in the Central Provinces in November 1934.[ Tendulkar, op. cit., pp.193-194] He visited also Mathura and Aligarh in both of which places he addressed large meetings.

The North West Frontier Province was virtually cordoned off with Badshah Khan not being allowed to enter his own home province. When Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy of his own desire to visit the NWFP to assess the situation there, the suggestion was considered in official circles as, according to one relatively recent writer, "provocative".(Kathryn Tidrick, Gandhi : A Political and Spiritual Life, London, I.B. Tauris, 2006, p. 272)  In a statement to the Press on 11 December 1934, Gandhi announced that he was "waiting for the first opportunity to court arrest by proceeding to the Frontier in the teeth of His Excellency’s advice to the contrary" [The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, (CWMG) Vol 59, p. 442]

Re-arrest in 1934: Lest He Visits Bengal Again

Badshah Khan was making plans for yet another trip to Bengal and its villages when he was arrested yet again. He was sitting with Gandhi in Wardha when, on 7 December 1934, the police arrived to arrest Badshah Khan on a charge under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code for a speech he had earlier delivered in Bombay in which he had merely recounted the events that occurred in the NWFP in 1930. He had now entrusted his daughter Mehar Taj to the care of Mirabehn and wanted her admitted in the Kanya Ashram in Wardha. His son Ghani was being educated in Tagore’s Santiniketan, Bengal. [ Tendulkar, op. cit., p.195] The case against him was heard in Bombay where Bhulabhai Desai appeared on behalf of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.:

"On December 13, 1934 Abdul Ghaffar was produced before H.P. Dastur, Chief Presidency Magistrate, Bombay. He was escorted into the court and on his appearance the whole audience stood up and clapped their hands".[ Tendulkar, op. cit., pp.198-199]

 Two days later he was sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment. The Home Member Henry Craik, admitted to Sardar Patel that the sentence on the Frontier Gandhi "was on the severe side". [Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel : A Life , Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1991, p. 251 and p. 566n.] According to Badshah Khan, the real motive of the British Government had been to scuttle his plan to visit Bengal: "It could not tolerate the idea of my work among the Muslims of Bengal". [Tendulkar, op. cit., pp.200-205] The Frontier Gandhi was kept successively in Bombay and Sabarmati prisons. [See My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 155] He was then transferred to Bareilly prison in the United Provinces and finally to Almora.[My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 156] . He would recall that in Almora jail he "was given the gardening work left unfinished by Jawaharlalji, who was also in that jail before me."[Tendulkar, op. cit., p.210]  On release in 1936, he returned to Wardha as he was not allowed until 1937 to return to his home province of NWFP.

He was present with Gandhi at the opening of Bharat Mata Mandir in Banaras and expressed the hope that it "would fulfill the supreme purpose of a common place of worship and prayer."[Tendulkar, op. cit., pp.210-211]

During the 1940s before the Quit India Movement: Presides Over Anti-Communal Conference in Lahore

In 1940 Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan resigned from the Congress Working Committee over a resolution that indicated that the Congress would support Britain in the Second World War if a representative government were set up and if a commitment to post-war freedom for India were made. He saw this as a deviation from ahimsa. [Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel : A Life , Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1991, pp. 293-294.]

In March 1941 Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan presided over the Anti-Communal Conference held at Lahore to re-assert national unity. (Indian Annual Register, 1941, Vol 1, pp. 304-305). Significantly this Conference was called at Lahore, the very city where a year earlier the Muslim League had passed its resolution asking for the partition of India. The Frontier Gandhi said in his Presidential address at the Anti-Communal Conference that it was necessary to extend Congress activities to the villages "for therein lay their salvation". (Indian Annual Register, 1941, Vol 1, p. 305). He reminded the Conference of how the Government had declined to permit him to visit tribal territories in the Frontier area to help bring peace.

In the days of Individual Civil Disobedience that preceded the Quit India Movement, Mahatma Gandhi issued on 9 December 1941 a Statement to the Press from Wardha commending Badshah Khan’s Constructive Work in the North West Frontier Province. Among other things, Gandhi noted also that Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had reached out also to Punjab, Kashmir and Baluchistan. This statement was issued two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii in the United States. Gandhi drew attention to the conflagration and sought to show an alternative path, holding up the Badshah Khan’s example.:

"In the midst of the human conflagration which envelops the
world powers who believe in the strength of their arms, little knowing
what in reality they are fighting for, it is healthy and uplifting to
contemplate what a man like Badshah Khan, the first among the
Khidmatgars, is doing for the cause of peace and for qualifying
himself for taking an effective part by non-violent means in the
freedom movement. He has undying faith in non-violence though he
has not worked out all its implications. For the last few months, he has
been holding little camps for non-violent training of Khudai Khidmatgars.
But during the third week of November he held a biggish
one1, to which he had invited neighbouring workers from the Punjab,
Kashmir and Baluchistan. Charkha was the important activity. Over
three hundred wheels plied daily. Dhanush takli was also introduced
in the camp. Its cheapness and the ease with which it could be manufactured
in every village appealed to everyone. Sanitation work was
done in the surrounding villages and there were speeches explaining
non-violence. "

The Quit India Movement and After 

During the Quit India Movement in 1942 the Frontier Gandhi and his Red Shirt followers were severely beaten by the police. In this assault on 27 October 1942 two ribs of the Badshah Khan were broken. They were then arrested and taken to various jails. ( Tendulkar, op. cit.,p. 355) Badshah Khan was kept in Abottabad Jail and then in Haripur Jail. He and his associates and followers were released after his brother, Dr Khan Sahib came to power as Premier at the head of a Congress Government in the North West Frontier Province in March 1945.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was among those who represented the Congress in talks with the Cabinet Mission in 1946. [Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel : A Life , Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1991, p. 358] At the talks in Shimla in 1946 Jinnah " turned scornfully away from the proferred hands of Azad and Abdul Gaffar Khan". [Sarvepalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru, : A Biography, Volume one : 1889-1947, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 316]

In May 1946 the Frontier Gandhi carried out at Gandhi’s instance a study of the living conditions of Dalits in Shimla. This is when they were in Shimla for talks with the Cabinet Mission. Mahatma Gandhi referred to this in his journal : "VALMIKIS OF SIMLA :  Readers must know that Valmiki is another word for Bhangi. Their living quarters in Simla are deplorable. No one bothers about them. Rajkumari (Amrit Kaur) has tried her best for them for years but how much can a single person do? I am unable to get as far and see things for myself, but I requested Badshah Khan who is staying with me to go there. He gives me a piteous account of their hovels." (Harijan, 19-5-1946)

In July 1946 in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the " NWFP returned three Muslims, including Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan" as its representatives on the Constituent Assembly of India. [Rajendra Prasad, An Autobiography, p.587].

As Premier of the Interim Government, Jawaharlal Nehru, accompanied by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, made a tour of the North West Frontier Province where both of them were attacked by the communalist element among the Muslims. Rajendra Prasad wrote of this incident:

 "It was stated that the officers of the Political Department there, who were directly under the Viceroy, incited the people to insult and demonstrate against Nehru. At one place Badshah Khan (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) and Nehru were set upon by a violent mob and saved themselves with difficulty. Badshah Khan received injuries on his hand and had to keep it in splints for months." [Rajendra Prasad, An Autobiography, p. 598].

As independence drew near, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan worked for inter-communal amity in Bihar in the same way as Mahatma Gandhi worked for it in East Bengal.


Jawaharlal Nehru’s bigrapher, S Gopal, writes of the British Governor of NWFP Olaf Caroe, relying on Caroe’s correspondence in March and April 1947 with Viceroy Mountbatten :

 " As the League lacked leaders in the province of the calibre of Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his brother Dr Khan Sahib, the Congress Premier, Caroe repeatedly urged the latter to oust the Hindus in his ministry and sever his connection with the Congress — advice which was hardly in keeping with the Governor’s Constitutional position." [ Sarvepalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru, : A Biography, Volume one : 1889-1947, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 348 ]

Peasant Struggles & Constructive Work: Over a Lakh Peasants attended 1931 Bilga Conference he addressed

Apart from his stellar role in India’s freedom struggle, we have referred above also to his great contribution to peasant struggles and how, during the freedom movement, the Frontier Gandhi had been active also in peasant movements across India.

He personally toured the villages of Gujarat, Central Provinces, Punjab and Bengal. He and his family and followers were active also in the Constructive Programme, in establishing schools, working for khadi, welfare of the deprived and depressed classes and for Hindu-Muslim Unity. Very early, from 1910 onwards, he and his associates had established a chain of Schools in Utmanzai in the NWFP.[ Tendulkar, op. cit., p. 22]. He also started journals to propagate the freedom movement and its objectives. These included the Pakhtoon (in 1928) and Das Roza (in 1938)

The Kisan struggle was recently in full swing in India, including in Punjab and Haryana, at the time when the Badshah Khan Hospital in Haryana was sought to be "renamed". Covid restrictions were also in place. It is relevant therefore to conclude with a reminder of the event in August 1931 in Punjab (which then included present-day Haryana) which has been referred to above :

A huge political conference addressed by Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan known as Frontier Gandhi was held at Bilga on 24 August 1931. It had attracted over 1 lakh people, mainly the peasantry. The village came to be known as the ’Bardoli of Punjab’ in those days". [Master Hari Singh, Punjab Peasant in Freedom Struggle, Volume 2, New Delhi, People’s Publishing House, 1984, p. 187]

 Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s role in India’s peasant movement, in the rest of India, apart from in his own home province of NWFP (now in Pakistan), thus needs also to be remembered.

Pakistan Prisons after 1947:

Many of his subsequent years in Pakistan were spent in prison there. Of the first 18 years of the existence of Pakistan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan spent 15 years in prison. [My Life and Struggle, Autobiography of Badshah Khan, p. 207]

In June 1948, in less than a year after the formation of Pakistan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his son Wali Khan were arrested in Kohat , charged with sedition, and sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment. (Rajmohan Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan:

Nonviolent Badshah of the Pakhtuns, Penguin/Viking, 2004, New Delhi, p. 209) Later in the year Dr Khan Sahib and Ghani Khan were also arrested. (Ibid., p. 210) After the expiry of three years’ term in Montgomery prison, Ghaffar Khan was repeatedly detained for successive six month periods under the infamous colonial Regulation of 1818. He was not released till January 1954.( Ibid., pp 211-213). He was re-arrested in June 1956, after a High Court Trial sentenced in Jan 1957 to imprisonment till the rising of the Court and a fine. which was to be realised from his property as he declined to pay it. (Ibid., pp 227-228).

A year later his elder brother Dr Khan Sahib, who had ceased to be Chief Minister of West Pakistan, a position that he had held during 1955-57, was assassinated in Lahore. (Ibid., p. 229). Two months later Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was arrested again in Quetta and released in Peshawar. (Idem). In October 1958 he was arrested again to be released in April 1959 an later barred for 7 years by a tribunal from holding any elective office on account of his "subversive activities". (Rajmohan Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan, pp 230-231). On 12 April 1961, Ghaffar Khan was imprisoned yet again for "anti-state activities’ , the inarceration being eased somewhat on 30 January 1964, when the confinement was converted into ’house arrest’; later in the year he was permitted to go to England for treatment. (Ibid., pp 232-233). At the end of the year he went to Egypt and then to Afghanistan where he received a hero’s welcome, being described as ’Fakhr-e-Afghan’. (Ibid., p.234)

A song, Ay zama watana’ written by Ghani, the son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, became Afghanistan’s national anthem. (Ibid., p. 240)

In 1972 Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan returned to the Frontier Province in Pakistan at the age of 82. (Ibid., p. 251). But three years later he and his son were arrested again. (Ibid., p. 252). The Frontier Gandhi was released later on grounds of age but subsequently re-arrested and prevented from leaving his village. In 1980 Badshah Khan medical issues brought him to Delhi and took him also Moscow, returning to Delhi in 1981 by which time he had become critical of the Soviet intervention.( Ibid., pp. 254-5). On this visit he also went to Patna, the streets of which he remembered well. (Ibid., pp. 255). He then returned to Jalalabad where he had hip fracture and thence to the Kabul military hospital. (Ibid., pp. 255-6). In 1983 while in the Frontier Province he, at the age of 93, and his son Wali Khan were arrested again by the Pakistan authorities. (Ibid., p. 261). The following year he was back in Kabul, returning to Peshawar in 1984 and then back again in Kabul, going on to Prague for treatment. (Ibid., p. 262). He had the stamina, in 1985, to return to India and participate in the centenary of the founding of the Indian National Congress. (Idem). He came again to India in 1987 when the Bharat Ratna was given to him. (Idem). Later in the year he had a stroke; he passed away on 20 January 1988 and was buried in Jalalabad, the warring parties having declared a ceasefire for this occasion. ( Rajmohan Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan, p. 263).

Visit to post 1947 India:

The Frontier Gandhi visited this side of the subcontinent in 1969 for the Gandhi Centenary. During this visit he stressed Hindu-Muslim unity and recommended the establishment of an organisation based on principles similar to the Khudai Khidmatgars which would "include non-Muslims and work for communal harmony, freedom and mutual respect". (Sajal Basu, In Quest of Freedom : Sibnath Banerjee and his Times, Calcutta, Minerva Associates, 1990, p. 121) When communal riots occurred in 1969, Ghaffar Khan fasted in Delhi for peace for three days, toured the country and addressed the Houses of Parliament . (Rajmohan Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan, p. 247). During this visit he received the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding.


Our political parties might appear so far to have taken this matter of the so-called "renaming" of Badshah Khan Hospital lying down. But the people may not remain silent for long. The matter goes to the root of our conception of India.

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