In the Mohamadzai clan of the village of Utmanzai in Peshawar district there lived a kind and humble well-to-do landowner Baharam Khan. Abdul Ghaffar or Badshah Khan as he came to be known in later years was his fourth child.
When Abdul Ghaffar was five or six years old, he was admitted to a mosque to take lessons from a Mullah. In due course the young lad had finished reading the Holy Koran. He was, then, sent to the Municipal Board High School and later to Edwardes Memorial Mission High School at Peshawar, where the Rev. E F E Wigram was his headmaster. He was a person who greatly impressed Abdul Ghaffar and instilled in him the spirit of service to all creatures created by God.
In November 1906, while Abdul Ghaffar was in his sixth class, a servant named Barani Kaka tried to persuade him to get into military profession. The persuasion bore fruit and Abdul Ghaffar applied for a Commission in the army. But an incident at the army camp touched his sensibility and turned him against the coveted profession. He saw an English officer insulting an Indian senior in age. The insolent behaviour of the officer upset him so much that he ultimately decided not to enter the military career.
The young Khan was left with no alternative except to sit for the Matriculation examination. He was told that the quietness of Campbellpur afforded good facilities to work. So he went there only to find the place tiresome. Then in his desire to learn Arabic he went to Qadian and joined a Madrassah. At Qadian he had a dream, strange but instructive. Taking clue from the dream he went to study at Aligarh.
While at Aligarh, he received a message from his father asking him to return home and be prepared to go abroad to qualify himself for engineering. On reaching home Abdul Ghaffar found that his mother was not willing to see both her sons away from her. Ghaffar Khan respected his mother’s wish and that became a turning point in his life.
In the year 1912 began Abdul Ghaffar Khan's involvement with his people. Under the influence of Haji Abdul Wahid Sahib, he embarked upon his work as an educationist. They established their centre at Gaddar, in Peshawar district and opened schools all over Peshawar and Mardan districts. This work made them popular among the people. Fearing the influence of the Haji the authorities thought of separating these two pioneers. Haji was shrewd enough to sense their evil designs and escaped into the tribal territory. The Government, then, arrested most of the teachers of the schools run by the Haji and Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
Baharam Khan, in the circumstances, naturally felt uneasy about his son's activities. So the anxious father gave him a village to manage, married him off and hoped that with the new responsibi1ities the son would give up his strange notions and settle down. He did settle down and the following year a son was born to the young couple. The boy was named Ghani.
In 1913, he heard an announcement about an annual session of the Muslim League to be presided over by Sir Ibrahim Rahimtullah and addressed by Maulana Azad and others. So he went to Agra with a few friends and from there to Delhi for a short stay. He then returned to his village to continue his educational activities.
In December 1915, soon after the birth of Wali, his second son, his first son Ghani took ill. On the spur of the moment Ghani's mother came near him, walked around the Charpai and prayed in supplication to Allah to transfer her son's affliction and disease to her and spare the life of the child. Miraculously the son began to recover but unfortunately the mother fell ill and soon passed away.
After the death of his wife Ghaffar Khan's restlessness increased. He left the two children in the care of his mother and drowned his sorrow in work and service of his people. He now wanted Pakhtoons to unite, to be educated, reformed and organised. Rather than to follow anyone blindly, he asked them to think and act. He succeeded largely in his mission and his grateful people gathered in a mosque and declared him their Badshah, an uncrowned king.
The events that were to follow hereafter were not to be some isolated occurring. The war of 1914, the Montague-Chelmsford Report in July 1918, the Rowlatt Bills in February 1919, the nation-wide hartal on 6 April, the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar on 13 April and the declaring of Martial law in Punjab were the events so stirring that Badshah Khan plunged deeply into the current which was to engulf the country in the years to come. In the upheaval Abdul Ghaffar Khan was arrested and sent to prison. After his release from the jail Ghaffar Khan married again, as was desired by his old parents and soon involved himself in Hijarat movement, which was an off-shoot of Khilafat Movement. This work did not last long because the movement itself failed to gain momentum. In 1920 he attended the Congress session at Nagpur and was attracted to Gandhi and his programme. Coming back from Nagpur, Abdul Ghaffar Khan started Azad High School in his home-village Utmanzai. After some time he was made the president of Khilafat Committee. This led him to renew his contact with the people and they in turn prompted him to restart the defunct schools. Such activities were bound to alarm the authorities. Objection was raised to his touring the district and he was arrested. During this imprisonment he read theGita for the first time along with the Granth Saheb and the Bible.
In 1924, when Ghaffar Khan came out of jail, he was a frail and worn out man. His mother had died during his imprisonment. At the request of his sister Ghaffar Khan decided to go on Haj. In the same year Gandhi went on fast for communal amity. Ghaffar Khan volunteered to preach Hindu-Muslim unity.
In May 1928, he started the Pakhtun, a monthly journal in Pushtu, and organised the movement of Khudai Khidmatgar-the Servants of God. Both these efforts were aimed at teaching the Pakhtoons industry, economy and self reliance by inculcating in them self respect and fear of God that banished all other fears. When the Congress met on the banks of the Ravi, Ghaffar Khan attended it with a large number of people from the North West Frontier Province.
In April 1930, Abdul Ghaffar Khan was arrested for organising the Civil Disobedience movement following which a reign of repression was let loose in the land of the gallant Khudai Khidmatgar.
The main resolution at the Karachi session of the Congress in 1931, dealt with the truce-terms and the Round Table Conference proposed to be held in London. Ghaffar Khan was among those who supported the resolution. He informed the gathering that he was ill but was asked by Mahatma Gandhi to express his views on the subject. Being a soldier he knew only to obey his commander. That was the reason why he stood in front of them. This was the essential quality of Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Later in 1934 when Khan brothers went to Wardha as guests of Jamnalal Bajaj, to spend some time with Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan saw that there was a move in Bombay to have him elected to the presidential chair at the Congress session to be held that year. Abdul Ghaffar Khan issued a statement in which he said: 'Let me declare, as I have done over and over again, that I am only a humble soldier and it is my ambition to end my days not as a general but as a soldier.'
In October 1934, when Ghaffar Khan went to Calcutta, the students of Bengal welcomed him in the midst of J C Sengupta, Satish Chandra Dasgupta, Prof. Abdur Rehman and others. Addressing the gathering he requested not to call him Frontier Gandhi for he believed that there should be only one Gandhi. He said, 'Mahatma Gandhi is our general and there should be one general only. So do not add the name of Gandhi to my name. I am not fit for the praise you have showered on me. From Calcutta he went to Bombay to attend the annual session of the Congress. Here a resolution on the formation of the All India Village Industries Association was adopted. Gandhi included Badshah Khan on the Executive Committee of the AIVIA.
Those years were the period of exile from his home province. Therefore, Badshah Khan and his brother stayed at Wardha. They felt perfectly at home with Mahatma Gandhi and took active part in the Ashram activities. Ghaffar Khan's 12 year old son Abdul Ali and his 14 year old daughter Mehartaj stayed with their loving father and in absence of their father stayed under the loving care of Mahatma Gandhi, Jamnalalal Bajaj and Mirabehn.
For a couple of years Abdul Ghaffar Khan was wholly absorbed with Gandhi in village reconstruction programme and after the formation of Congress Ministries in some provinces, including the NWFP, he entered his homeland after six years of exile. The Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru paid a flying visit to the Frontier Province. It was followed by a visit from Gandhi between 1 and 8 of May 1938.
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, in his own right had evolved himself as an esteemed leader of the resurgent nation. He was seen taking a leading part in the various movements launched by Mahatma Gandhi, which included the Individual Civil Disobedience movement and the momentous "Quit India" movement in 1942.
From 1942, onwards the years that followed were immensely important for India. There were talks and discussions on the future of India which saw their culmination in its partition. Abdul Ghaffar felt very sad and heavy at heart. He and his Khudai Khidmatgars had cast their lot with the Congress. And now it seemed as if they would no more belong to India. Nor, owing to their ideological differences with the Muslim League, would they have any place in Pakistan. 'We shall be outcasts in the eyes of both' he sadly remarked, 'but I do not worry so long as Mahatma is there.'
It was the last day of Gandhi's stay in New Delhi, Badshah Khan who was suffering from fever refused to take any medicine. He insisted upon pressing Gandhi's limbs at night as before. Gandhi tried to dissuade him but he insisted and said, ‘It is last day. So let me. It will make me well.' He kept himself awake till 10-30 that night. When asked not to overstrain himself he remarked: 'Before long we shall become aliens in Hindustan. The end of our long fight will be to pass under the domination of Pakistan - away from Bapu, away from India, away from all of you. Who knows what the future holds for us?'
The future held hordes of woes for him. It held referendum for the NWFP, an imprisonment for Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the new-born Pakistan and destined to be a lone crusader for Pakhtoonistan, as well as for the federal structure of Pakistan. It was the most trying period of his life. He was solely left to himself in the midst of wolves. Even a sane advice from him was taken with a pinch of salt. The newly won freedom had brought subjugation for him and for the innocent people of the NWFP. He and his people had no future in the set-up envisaged and designed by the new rulers of Pakistan. He had to spend 15 years of his life in prisons of Pakistan. Over and above this he was maligned as a stooge of Hindus. In his struggle to attain Justice, he had to sacrifice his health. At one point of time even Jawaharlal Nehru was worried for his failing health and regretted that he could see no light as how to help his old comrade. On 27 May Nehru passed away. Ghaffar Khan in a telegram to Indira Gandhi said: 'Deeply grieved to learn of the passing away of one of the greatest sons of the soil, a noble freedom fighter, who put into practice Gandhi's ideals of love and peace on, earth. Pray Almighty his noble ideals will continue to inspire the people of India. I wish that I could be with you by your side in this national bereavement.'
In September 1964, the Pakistani authorities allowed him to go to Britain for treatment. During his two months' stay there, Sir Olaf Caroe, the former Governor of the Frontier Province, visited him and took him home for rest. Sir Olaf treated him with great courtesy and admiration. During winter his doctor advised him to go to America. The U S Embassy was reluctant to give him visa. The Pakistan Embassy in London opposed his going to Afghanistan or India for treatment. The Pakistan Government requested the Afghan Embassy to refuse him but it was too late as the Afghanistan Government had already given a green signal to his stay in their country.
In a letter from Kabul, Badshah Khan expressed his agony:
Nothing worse can befall us than what we have already suffered and continue to suffer. Considerations of personal harm have never weighed with me. What saddens me is that while we shrank from no sacrifice for the sake of India’s independence, the Congress on attaining it forsook us….We were left to suffer alone.
On 5 April 1965, Vinoba Bhave wrote to console him saying:
I am distressed beyond words to have to admit that in our freedom fight a great injustice had been done to you and you have been practically let down by our friends. But you have borne it all with great patience and fortitude. Your example has been a source of inspiration to all of us.... These days a conviction has been growing within me that in this age of nuclear weapons, politics so called are quite out dated, and problems, national and. international can only be solved by resort to spirituality – “ruhaniat", and I know that you are essentially a man of God with deep spiritual convictions, rather than a man of politics. You have always been a staunch believer in non-violence and self-suffering, may be, after putting you to so much trial, God intends to use you as an instrument in solving world problems! Bashshiris sabireen! - give good tidings to the steadfast.
In the last week of July 1965, Pyarelal went to Kabul the behest of Vinoba to meet Badshah Khan and convey to him personally, sympathy and affectionate regards. In a revealing account of Badshah Khan's thinking and doing Pyarelal in his concluding note said:
'As I took leave of Badshah Khan the feeling uppermost in my mind was one of wonder and amazement at the unconquerable spirit of this man of God, who, having watched from behind the prison-bars with a bleeding heart that the things he had given his life to, broken, had now in the evening of his life, set about undeterred by the overwhelming odds arrayed against him, to build them up with outworn tools.'1
In India, the national struggle for independence had drawn remarkable persons in almost all fields of activity and each one of them had played his or her best part in building up the nation. Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of them. He grew independent of Mahatma Gandhi and although they were poles apart in their background and upbringing, both of them spoke the same language and responded in the same way to similar situations. Badshah Khan was loved by people as was Gandhi. In the eyes of people both became the symbols of courage and sacrifice.
The late C F Andrews described Ghaffar Khan as 'a king among men by stature and dignity of bearing'. He was a magnificent specimen of humanity, almost royal in his appearance and character. He was calm and resolute, truthful and clean, sincere and upright. His manners were simple and charming, his heart considerate and hospitable. Fakhr-I-Afghan was the title bestowed by his people on this unassuming person. Like all great men he depended on a few simple and homemade ideas. He lived, battled and suffered for them.
He was not a politician in the technical sense of the word and he detested the fuss and vanity surrounding the politicians. But he knew his job well and was always clear about his stand in the political chess-board of this vast subcontinent.
And yet he was essentially a man of God. Like all true reformers he was against slavery including the subjugation of women. On 15 December 1941, speaking at a gathering of women at Togh in the Kohat district he said: 'Let me assure you that when freedom has been won, you will have an equal share and place with your brothers in this country.'
Badshah Khan's simplicity was phenomenal as was his fearlessness. He had imbibed in him the spirit of Abhaya, and had developed an astonishing capacity to face cheerfully all the difficulties that came in his way. He was born to be a leader and every inch a man.
Think of a Muslim without bigotry, a fighter without cruelty, a foe without venom and a friend without an iota of treachery. You will surely find these virtues incarnated in Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He was the man of the masses who never stooped to win, a citizen without malice, a neighbour as decent as one could be. He was brave without being reckless, a leader without any desire of aggrandisement and above all the only man in India whom the nation thrice proffered the honour of the Presidentship of the Indian National Congress and which he thrice declined. Perhaps he believed in what Confucius had said: 'By gaining people, the kingdom is gained, by losing the people, the kingdom is lost.' Badshah Khan never lost his kingdom.