The Pashtun freedom fighter and Congress leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Bacha Khan was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi who together suffered the most severe repression of Indian independence movement. Bacha Khan strongly opposed Muslim League’s demand for partition of India. However, when Congress leadership accepted the partition plan, he felt very disillusioned and told the Congress “you have thrown us to the wolves.”
The oppression of the British, the repression of the mullahs, and a primitive culture of violence and vendetta prompted Bacha Khan to serve and uplift his fellow men and women by means of education. At 20 years of age, Bacha Khan opened his first school in Utmanzai. It was an instant success and he was soon invited into a larger circle of progressively minded reformers. A champion of women rights, between 1915 and 1918 he visited 500 villages in all part of the settled districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It was in this frenzied activity that he had come to be known as Badshah (Bacha) Khan (King of Chiefs).
Ghaffar Khan set up the Darul-uloom in 1910 in Uthmanzai and Mardan to give primary education to the villagers. Having witnessed the repeated failure of revolts against the British Raj, Khan decided that social activism and reform would be more beneficial for the Pashtuns. So in 1921, he set up the ‘Society for the Reformation of the Afghans’, to again rid the Pakhtuns of illiteracy and social evils. He also followed the obvious nationalist cause with the main objective of the formulation of a united, independent, secular India. He, therefore, established the Khudai Khidmatgars, ‘Servants of God’ movement in November 1929. Ghaffar Khan was called the ‘Frontier Gandhi’ for his faithfulness to the principle of non-violence.
He told his followers “I am going to give you such a weapon that no power on earth can stand against it. And that weapon is patience and righteousness.” Khudai Khitmatgars recruited 100,000 volunteers and began their struggle through strikes and non-violent opposition.
On April 23, 1930 during a protest demonstration at Peshawar’s Kissa Khawani bazar, the British army opened fire killing around 250 unarmed protestors. However, two platoons of The Garhwal Rifles under Chandra Singh Garhwali refused to fire on the non-violent crowd. They were later court-martialed with heavy punishment, including life imprisonment.
Khudai Khidmatgar (servants of god) agitated and worked cohesively with the Indian National Congress, the leading national organization fighting for independence, of which Bacha Khan was a senior and respected member. On several occasions when the Congress seemed to disagree with Gandhi on policy, Bacha Khan remained his staunchest ally. In 1931 the Congress offered him the presidency of the party, but he refused saying, “I am a simple soldier and Khudai Khidmatgar, and I only want to serve. A highly controversial referendum over accession to Pakistan was boycotted by Bacha Khan, his followers and the Indian National Congress. The Congress refusal to accept Cabinet Mission Plan averting partition disillusioned him.
After its creation, Bacha Khan took the oath of allegiance to the new nation of Pakistan on February, 23, 1948 at the first session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. He pledged full support to the government and attempted to reconcile with Jinnah. A meeting did take place between Jinnah and Ghaffar Khan but then relations deteriorated when Chief Minister, Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan conspiratorially warned Jinnah that Bacha Khan was plotting his assassination.
Bacha Khan’s bother Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan who had been Chief Minister of the province since 1920 was dismissed on Aug,22,1947 by Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah through horse trading.
The following remark by Bacha Khan gives a true picture of what the new state had in store for genuine freedom fighters: “I had to go to prison many a time in the days of the Britishers. Although we were at loggerheads with them, yet their treatment was to some extent tolerant and polite. But the treatment which was meted out to me in this Islamic state of ours was such that I would not even like to mention it to you.”
Bacha Khan remained under house arrest without charge from 1948 till 1954. Again arrested in 1958 he remained in jail till 1964 only to be rearrested in 1973 by Z.A Bhutto.
Bacha Khan is no more but the proceeds from his property still continue to be deposited in the bank account of Islamia College Peshawar, Quaid e Azam College of Commerce, Jinnah College for Women – all part of Peshawar University, Jinnah Koruna (residential quarters for Islamia College Employees) and the newly constructed teaching block named Takbeer in Islamia College have been built with this money.
In 1987, Bacha Khan was awarded Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. Bacha Khan died in Peshawar in 1988 under house arrest and was buried in his house at Jalalabad, Afghanistan. 200,000 mourners attended the funeral, including the Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah. This was a symbolic move by Bacha Khan, as this would allow his dream of Pashtun unification to live even after his death. The then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soniya Gandhi came all the way from Delhi to Peshawar, to pay tributes in spite of the fact that General Zia ul-Haq had tried to stall his attendance citing security reasons.
The Indian government declared a five-day period of mourning in honor of the great freedom fighter while he died a traitor in his own country.
By Waseem Altaf
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