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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 50-51, December 3, December 10 2022 [Double issue]

Gandhi in Gujarat meeting Bacha Khan fate in his homeland | Faraz Ahmad

Friday 2 December 2022, by Faraz Ahmad

“Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley
ab tak kahan chhupe the bhai
voh moorkhta, voh ghaamarpan
jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai
aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey
arre badhai bohot badhai
—Pakistani poet Fehmida Riyaz after Babri Masjid demolition.

Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the symbol of non-violence, secularism and religious tolerance in what was then known as North West Frontier Province (NWFP) died in the era of General Ziaul Haq’s Islamised and Jehadised Wahabi Pakistan, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, a few months before Zia was bombed out along with his mentor the US Ambassador to Pakistan by his own Army officers.

Badshah Khan also pronounced as Bacha Khan by his admirers and followers who had opposed the carving out of separate Muslim state by partitioning India, died a despondent man, for failing to realise his dream of a secular, welfare state, which by the time of his demise, had swerved so much to the right that even in Jalalabad where he spent his last days and was buried, the Jihadists attacked his funeral procession, killing 15 people and injuring many more, of the thousands who walked along side to pay homage to the greatest Pushtun leader of our times.

But Ziaul Haq, the father of Jihadi terror in this part of the world, transformed the same NWFP, (much later named Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by the PPP led government in 2010 despite opposition of Muslim League (Nawaz) because it appeared realising Bacha Khan’s dream), into such a violent venom spewing terror haven that Bacha Khan became an object of hate and abhorrence in his motherland. Zia with Saudi money and US patronage sponsored Jihadi madrasas everywhere in Pakistan, more so where there was resistance to him and this Northern region was his biggest target. Zia created so called Islamic courts and enforced Hudood Ordinances and Blasphemy law which pushed Pakistan back to medieval ages and transformed the Wahabis into lynch mobs. For five years, Bacha Khan’s grandson Asfandyar Wali Khan heading his Awami National Party (ANP) ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in alliance with the PPP, but he could barely move out publicly knowing how the Islami jehadists were just waiting to kill him at the first opportunity..

All this is worth recalling because the seeds that Zia sowed in his 11 years rule 1977-88, have grown into a vast jungle of intolerance and bigotry, never mind that even today there are a large section of people in all four states of Pakistan who detest all this. For decades progressive elements from Pakistan like Faiz, Ahmad Faraz, Habib Jalib and Fehmida Riaz, to name only a few, yearned to see Pakistan also emulate secular India. Thankfully neither of them is alive today, though Fehmida last started noting India under the BJP emulating Zia’s Pakistan.

The comparison is not dissimilar because Modi bhakts and members of the Sangh Parivar of New India, following Modi’s 2002 Gujarat model, are disdainful of the non-violent Gandhi as much as the neo-Islamists of northern Pakistan despise Bacha Khan. For public consumption Modi offers floral tributes at Gandhi Samadhi every October 2, the Gandhi Jayanti. But that’s where his token respect of the apostle of peace ends. As for Nehru, he does not deserve even this tokenism in Modi’s view.

Gerry Shih wrote in the Washington Post for India’s 75th Independence Day last August how as India celebrated its first 75 years of independence, Gandhi is downplayed, even derided. Instead a more muscular, chauvinistic India is casting aside the ‘father of the nation’ for other heroes.

“Today, at rallies of Hindu nationalist hard-liners, Gandhi is routinely vilified as feeble in his tactics against the British and overly conciliatory to India’s Muslims, who broke off and formed their own state, Pakistan, on Aug. 14, 1947. On social media and online forums, exaggerations and falsehoods abound about Gandhi’s alleged betrayal of Hindus,” The Washington Post reported .

Notwithstanding all the hype about Gujarat elections, Film maker and journalist Revathi Laul hinted before the polling, how Gandhi’s Gujarat had become so intolerant and segregated that “When I moved to Gujarat the year after the anti-Muslim pogrom that Shah referenced (as teaching a lesson) I found it strange that every middle-class Hindu, by which I mean most Hindus, would say, ‘You won’t understand why we supported the mobs.’ They were still a bit defensive as they spoke in those days, because the rest of the country described that event as Gujarat’s great shame. By 2022, however, the pretence is gone and so is the uncertainty “

The heroes of Modi’s New India are Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Nathuram Godse, both involved in the assassination of the Mahatma, one in the conspiracy, as per the Jiwan Lal Kapoor Commission and Godse was anyway the actual killer. Pooja Shakun Pandey one of the speakers at the Dharam Sansad where the vituperative saffron clad Yati Narsinghanand poured venom against Muslims and openly called for their physical annihilation, told the BBC recently that she believed Modi privately shared their disdain for Gandhi. “He is bound by the circumstances of his secular chair, but I believe in his heart of hearts, he has the same feelings,” adding, “his upbringing was in the RSS, and the RSS teaches in its classrooms: ‘Who is the real hero, Godse or Gandhi?’”

Pandey first shot into limelight when on Gandhiji’s death on January 30, 2019, she fired three shots into an effigy of him, spurting fake blood. This is worth mentioning because the recent Gujarat assembly elections which BJP swept proved only one thing that over 50 per cent voters of Gujarat cared a damn for the death of hundreds in the collapse of Morbi bridge or the escape abroad of its main contractor who built that sure recipe for a catastrophe, pointing to huge corruption. All the BJP candidates in that vicinity won handsomely in these elections. During the first BJP/NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, analysts and commentators often stated that Vajpayee had a Teflon coating over him. Nothing stuck to him, meaning whatever corruption or misgovernance took place in Vajpayee era, no one ever held Vajpayee responsible for that. If anything went wrong mostly it was his Deputy PM L.K. Advani who had to face the flak or some other minister of his cabinet, be it the petrol pump and gas agencies scam or the Coffingate. But the Teflon coating on Modi is far thicker and impenetrable, be it Morbi, or the lacklustre performance of Gujarat ministers because of which the BJP had to replace the chief minister midstream. Vijay Rupani, under whose stewardship BJP returned to power in 2017 though with reduced majority had some political and administrative work to his credit as well as a LLB degree. But there was so much anti-incumbency against his government that the BJP had to replace him a little over a year prior to the assembly polls. His successor the incumbent chief minister Bhupendra Patel is a builder with a diploma in civil engineering. So the buck for fall of the Morbi should have stopped at his doorstep. He entered the Gujarat assembly for the first time in 2017 and with no past ministerial experience he directly graduated to become the chief minister and the media is going gaga over Bhupendrabhai’s leadership which resulted in the BJP breaking all previous records of sweeping the Gujarat assembly polls announced on December 8.

That is farthest from truth. Gujarat was a do or die battle for Modi-Amit Shah duo. In 2017 the BJP came down to a double digit and this election is close to the 2024 general elections so had Modi lost Gujarat it would have affected his prospects in 2024. BJP would have won Gujarat anyway, more so with AAP, Owaisi et al support. Perhaps that is why the Congress had completely surrendered and made no serious effort. The latest reports also indicate the generous help from the Election Commission to ensure Modi making an unbeatable record in Gandhi’s homeland. Now his future in 2024 is secure, After all this birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi has transformed so much that if Gandhi were to come alive today, not only that he may find it difficult to recognise his Matrabhoomi (mother land) but perhaps the Gujaratis may shoot him down yet again or worse perhaps letting loose a lynch mob upon him. That’s where the comparison to Pakistan under Zia and India under Modi comes in. If Bacha Khan would be a stranger in Charsadda where he was born and again perhaps torn from limb to limb by so called Islamic jihadists, more simply terrorists, then the same fate awaits a Gandhi if he were to come alive today.

Is it scary? Sure. For there appears to be no prospect of Pakistan returning to the pre Zia state when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s minister Ghulam Mustafa Khar dragged the mullas by their beards out of Lahore’s famous Badshahi Masjid. Zia transformed Pakistan so much that in 2011 in a PPP government its Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his body guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri and when Qadri appeared in court the young lawyers welcomed him with open arms and garlanded him because in their perception Taseer had committed a blasphemy by criticising the atrocious blasphemy law and the death sentence on a poor Christian woman Asia Bibi.

In Gujarat the Bhupendra Patel government in collusion with Union Home ministry of Amit Shah, released before time the gang rapists of Bilkis Bano and murderers of her three—year-old daughter as well as other family members in her presence. These convicts were garlanded in public and their close relatives and admirers were rewarded with party tickets. These BJP nominees recorded thundering victory, something unimaginable in Gandhi’s India. That is why a comparison between Bacha Khan’s new NWFP and Modi’s Gujarat is so apt.

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