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Abdul Ghaffar Khan biography

Abdul Ghaffar Khan

(1890-1988)

biography

Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Abdul Ghaffar Khan
        Abdul Ghaffar was born in 1890 (exact date not known) in the village Utmanzai in Peshawar district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in an aristocratic family.
He belonged to the Pathan tribe of Mohamadzai. His father, Khan Sahib Bahram Khan, was the headman of the village and commanded respect among his tribe, and surrounding villages.
At the age of five, Ghaffar Khan was sent by his parents to a maktab (school) attached to a mosque. There the sole teacher was a mullah (priest) who made the students learn by heart the Holy Quran. He continued his education at the Municipal Board High School in Peshawar and later went to the Edward Memorial Mission High School. It is difficult to explain why he changed so many schools: from Peshawar to Campbellpur, to Quadian and finally to Aligarh. However, he could .not pass the Matriculation examination and returned home. That was the end of his formal education. Obviously Khan was not a good student and even Jin later life he could not communicate in the English language. This was somewhat a handicap during his political career. That made some British officials like Lord Wavell passes snide remarks about him. It is believed that he had been selected as a commissioned officer in the army while still in school but did not join after he saw' an Indian officer being insulted by a British officer who was his junior.
       During his school days, Ghaffar Khan was influenced by one Haji of Turangzai, who was a pioneer educationist in NWFP. On his return from Aligarh in 1911, he associated with Haji of Turangzai in opening several schools, both for boys and girls in NWFP. He believed that the emancipation of the Pathans lay in getting educated. During this period, he began to subscribe to Urdu papers like AI Hilal (1912-14), edited by Maulana Azad and Zamindar edited by Zafar Ali Khan. That was his initiation into political thinking.
In 1912, at the age of twenty-two, he was married to a Pathan girl. The following year his son, Abdul Ghani Khan, was born.
Ghaffar Khan was soon drawn into active politics. When the Khilafat movement, in support of the Khalifa of Turkey, was started in 1919-20, he attended a big political meeting at his village Utmanzai and was arrested along with his father, but both were soon released. He met Gandhi for the first time at the Khilafat Conference in Delhi in early 1920 and was drawn to him and his philosophy of non-violence. He also attended the Nagpur session of the Congress in which the resolution of non-cooperation was passed. Then on, he took active part in the activities of the Congress. To begin with, he organized the Khilafat movement in the North West Frontier Province which was spearheaded by the Congress. He was arrested and sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment and was transferred to various prisons in Punjab where he came into Contact with Hindu and Sikh prisoners and found that there was so much common in Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. He studied the Gita and the Granth Sahib with them and taught them the essence of the Quran. He was released in 1924 and started doing social and constructive work among his people as advised by Gandhi after the Khilafat movement had failed. Later, he took part in Bardoli Satyagraha (1928) and gave impressive speeches. But his main area of work remained NWFP. To organize the work he was doing, he started a movement called Khudai Khitmatgars (God’s Servants). It was not just a political movement. It taught the Pathans love and brotherhood that inspired them with a sense of unity. It also inculcated in them the virtues of non-violence, ‘thus harnessing the martial spirit of the Frontiersmen in constructive channels’. “The Khudai Khitmatgars (also known as Red Shirts, because of the colour of their uniform) became shock brigade of every non-cooperation movement and were proving a bogy to successive Governments." The British had a tough time during the nineteenth century in the NWFP and were very much concerned about the potential danger of Pathans getting organized. The government, therefore, unleashed a reign of terror of the worse kind, imprisoning and torturing thousands of Khudai Khitmatgars including Abdul Ghaffar Khan, under the Frontier Crimes Regulation Act. But he and his followers remained disciplined and bore all the punishments and atrocities stoically, something rare for the warlike Pathans. In spite of the government’s reprisal, the number of Red Shirts went on increasing and at one time the number had crossed one hundred thousand. His followers started calling him Badshah Khan. Badshah Khan attended the Karachi session of the Congress in 1931, and brought with him thousands of Khudai Khitmatgars in their red uniforms. Badshah Khans presence at the Karachi session gave the entire Congress leadership a greater dimension, proving that it was not a party of the Hindus only. After this, Badshah Khan emerged as a national leader. He was a member of the Congress Working Committee between 1930 and 1946. He was arrested in 1930 and was in prison for one year. Again he was arrested in 1934 for taking part in the Congress Satyagraha. In fact he was in and out of British jails for about fourteen years between 1920 to 1947. At one time his entry into NWFP and Punjab was banned and he used to spend months with Gandhi in his Sabarmati Ashram or Wardha Ashram when Sabarmati Ashram was abandoned in 1933. During Gandhi’s prayer meetings, he used to recite verses from Quran.
To spread his message to larger number of Pakhtuns, Badshah Khan started a Pashtu monthly Pakhtun, the first issue of which appeared in May 1930. Unfortunately, it had to be closed down in 1930 after Badshah Khans arrest. It was revived the following year but had to be closed down again. After a few years it was again brought out as Das Roza in April 1938 but was closed down in 1941. It was revived in 1945 as a weekly but was closed down finally after the partition of the country in 1947.
Elections to the provincial assemblies were held in 1937 under the 1935 Act. The Congress party, led by Ghaffar Khan and his elder brother Dr Khan Sahib, won a majority of seats in the NWFP Assembly and formed the ministry with Dr. Khan Sahib as chief minister. The Muslim League did not win a single seat. Badshah Khan never held any office throughout his life. Even when in 1934 he was offered presidentship of the Congress, he declined saying that he would rather be an ordinary worker. Of course, his brother Khan Sahib was certainly better suited for a highly important job of chief minister. He was a qualified doctor and had studied in India as well as in England, and was an able administrator.
In October-November 1938, Gandhi toured the NWFP accompanied by Badshah Khan starting from Utmanzai and ending at Taxila. They ran into an embarrassing situation when Hindus of Bannu complained that their life and property were not safe in the NWFP because tribes like the Waziris raided their houses regularly, looting and burning their homes and property. After hearing them Gandhi remarked, “After studying all the facts I have gained the impression that the situation in respect of border raids has grown worse since the inauguration of the Congress Government. I therefore feel that unless Dr. Khan Sahib can cope with the question of the raids it might be better for him to tender his resignation.” It was a great embarrassment for the host Badshah Khan, but he kept quiet. It was evident that the Khan Brothers did not hold influence on all the Pathan tribes. However, Dr. Khan Sahib did not resign, ignoring Gandhi’s advice.
Badshah Khan took part in the Quit India Movement of 1942 and was imprisoned along with other Congress leaders. He was released in 1945. By that time the British had made up their mind to leave India. Partition was in the air and the Congress leadership was yielding to the unreasonable demands of the Muslim League. In this atmosphere, elections were held in December 1945. While the Muslim League won all the Muslim seats in the Central Assembly, it could not win majority in any of the Muslim-majority provinces. In the NWFP, the Congress-Khudai Khitmatgars ministry was formed, headed by Dr. Khan Sahib. Badshah Khan and Abdul Kalam Azad were elected members of the Constituent Assembly in 1946 from NWFP, which also served as the Indian Parliament.
A bolt from the blue carne for Badshah Khan when the Congress party accepted the partition of the country in the Working Committee meeting on 3 June 1947, without consulting NWFP leaders. Badshah Khan was present in the meeting and “he was completely stunned and for several minutes could not utter a word”. His fate and that of the NWFP was sealed.
As per agreement, a plebiscite was to be held, giving the electorate the option of joining India or Pakistan. The Khudai Khidmatgars wanted another option an independent Pakhtunastan. The demand was rejected even by India. Khudai Khidmatgars boycotted the plebiscite. Consequently, the Muslim League won by an overwhelming majority. NWFP became part of Pakistan. “They (the Congress) have thrown us to the wolves,” Badshah Khan lamented. Undaunted, he started an agitation for the creation of Pakhtunastan. He was pitted against a powerful and remorseless enemy. He was put in jail by the Pakistan authorities while his brother Dr. Khan Sahib had reconciled to his fate and accepted Pakistan. He was made a minister for some time. But his younger brother Badshah Khan rotted in Pakistan prisons for sixteen long years. In 1969, Badshah Khan came to India at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to attend the Gandhi Centenary celebrations. To the correspondents who wanted him to say something, he repeated what he had said in 1947 ‘Aap ne to hamen bhedion ke samne phaink diya.’ (You had thrown us to the wolves). He went back to Jalalabad in Afghanistan where he had settled to live a peaceful life, taking with him his shattered dreams. He could come back to his village only in 1972. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna by the Indian government in 1987 to atone for their sins. He died on 21 January 1988 at Jalalabad, at the ripe age of ninety-eight. This ended the long journey of a man who was honest, fearless, a devout Muslim and a great nationalist.

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