Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, India's "Frontier Gandhi",
Talks to Kavita Chhibber
I had the pleasure of interviewing Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan while visiting Kashmir on vacation. Badhshah Khan or Frontier Gandhi as he was fondly known, was in Kashmir for medical treatment, and was gracious enough to tolerate my feeble attempts at urdu as well as my youth. His deep voice still resonates in my ears, his sweetness and warmth, still fresh in my mind. This interview was the only one he gave to the media as his visit had been kept confidential for security reasons. Here are some excerpts.
Freedom fighter and friend of India, Badshah Khan belongs to the dying breed of patriots. For him, all the decades of the country’s freedom have achieved nothing. Politicians still lust after power while the masses remain steeped in misery. I sit next to Badshah Khan’s specially built seven-foot bed listening, in a neat hospital room with tight security arrangements. He looks every inch a pathan, still very alert for a man past 90, full of sincerity and affection.
How has your trip been so far?
Your President is a very impressive man—one of the most sincere men that I have come across. Recently when I met him, he said to me, ‘Baba, when you recover, you must come and stay with me.’ I laughed and said, ‘I’m just a faqir’ Do you know what he said in reply? In all humility, he said, ‘Even I’m a poor farmer, Baba.’ I was deeply touched by that because he really meant it. It was a wonderful thing to see the President of a country so full of humility; that is a rare quality in someone who is in such a high position.
What is wrong with Indian politics?
Remove the poverty here—poverty is the worst thing that could happen to anyone; aur is desh mein aurton ki izzat mehfooz nahin hain (the woman are not safe in this country)—you must do something in that direction. But then I was told by people that it is some of the Parliament members and political big-wigs who were the lawbreakers. And if they are thrown out, the strength of the party will diminish.
Politics has become such a dirty game. Unless you give birth to a tribe of self-less, self-sacrificing people, things are not going to change. Take me—Jinnah mere piche bhagtha rahta tha, ‘Baba, what do you want? Join us. Take power in your hands.’ But I refused-I have no desire for power or money or status.
As for the political climate in the country, I have no hope at all, nor do I see a ray of light as far as men or political set-up goes. Now it is the women and the young people I have turned to for emancipation. The biggest problem with today’s politicians is that apart from their obsession with power and money, they are busy poking their nose in the affair of others. I say stop worrying about philosophies and military regime—worry about your country.
Another thing that hurt me deeply is the religious fanaticism of the people for their own advantage. If you read the holy book of any religion you will see that not a single religion advocates violence or religious fanaticism. It is something that has not been erased by any of the political leaders of India so far. Come to the NWFP and see how we have succeeded in erasing all the vices that are prevalent here. Some years ago Nehru had come there to us and he was greatly impressed when he saw a Sikh saying Allah-o-Akbar and a Muslim saying Sat-Sri-Akal in a procession taken out in his honor. The people of NWFP have been able to imbibe the essence of religion, to understand that God is one.”
Do you see any difference in the India of Nehru and the India of Indira Gandhi?
None whatsoever. Tell me, it has been years since India gained independence; what have you achieved? China got independence after you and see where it is now.
I had begged Gandhi to take the reigns of power in his hands, for sometime, stabilize the conditions and then relinquish it in the hands of a worthy successor. But he did not listen to me. Both Nehru and Gandhi were greatly influenced by Patel. I think the greatest mistake Nehru made was to take Patel in his cabinet. And what is the consequence? Nehru was a socialist but it is Patel’s capitalism that is deeply rooted in India at present.
As to the India of Indira, the Congress alleges that whatever had been achieved was undone by the Janata Party. It is very easy to criticize. However I only have this to say,Congress is not Janata; therefore it should not make the same mistakes that the Janata Party made. Indira was always a very able woman, a very courageous woman. I have seen her growing up before my eyes and I don’t think anyone can judge her better than I can. I wonder if the people around were equally efficient.
Among the leaders of the subcontinent you stood head and shoulders above the rest and not just literally. But you served the cause of humanity by self-sacrifice. If you had become the head of state of a country don’t you think you could have influenced people more both by your personal example as well as a stable way of thinking?
Did they give me a chance? I was betrayed. I wanted the NWFP to be an independent province but when I asserted my wish, they put me in jail and while I was in jail, they passed a referendum asking the NWFP people if they wanted to be in Pakistan or India. They opted for the former but as far as I was concerned, I just didn’t matter. They forgot all that I had done. That callousness was unforgivable. Where was the desire then to take power in my hands? Besides I was happy serving the people in my own humble way.
What political future do you see for Pakistan?
What is there to see? We are not allowed to take out processions or give our views openly, as you know. I was asked to edit a newspaper but the government wouldn’t allow me.
What is the future of the Pahktoons in Pakistan?
I have no news whatsoever, no letters, nothing. All I know is that there is still a lot of fighting going on. They haven’t been able to contact me.
Finally, your message to the masses?
Make love your religion—it is your primary duty to erase violence and religious fanaticism. Solve the Kashmir issue. I’m sad to see the friction in Kashmir. And as long as I am alive, I’m there to serve humanity. I am and always will be your humble khidmatgar.
All Material © Copyright Kavita Chhibber
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