Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a man of tall stature, bright face and a broad smile that contrasted with the deep lines on his face- remnants of bitter times in captivity, derived his strength from his philosophy of non-violence. This is how Bacha Khan is etched in the memory of Professor Rajmohan Gandhi- Khan’s biographer.
As many as 1,000 students from the Lahore College of Women University, the Government College University, Kinnaird College and the University of Engineering and Technology welcomed Dr Gandhi as he walked up to the podium to deliver a lecture on the life of Bacha Khan at Sinclair Hall at the Forman Christian College on Thursday.
“Speaking to the students here about Bacha Khan is going to be one of the greatest privileges of my life,” said Dr Gandhi.
Khan enjoyed global reverence and interest, he said. Khan was a member of the constituent assembly of India and later Pakistan.
He was offered the presidency of the Indian National Congress, which he declined. “His motivation was not political…Khan was deeply dedicated to his people – the Pakhtuns,” said Dr Gandhi.
Dr Gandhi, author of Ghaffar Khan: Non violent Badshah of Pakhtuns, discussed Khan’s years in prison and his political philosophy. Khan had spent as many as 27 years in imprisonment… 12 years under British rule and 15 in Pakistan, said Dr Gandhi. “There were times he went in fetters for six months, the marks of which remained on his feet till he died at the age of 98,” he said.
Dr Gandhi narrated some anecdotes that highlighted the time Khan got to spend with his family. “That was a price Khan had to pay,” he said. For both Khan and Mohandas Gandhi, the love for people took precedence even over their own family, he said.
Though there were several elements to his political philosophy, Dr Gandhi said, Khan’s love for Pakhtuns was the foundation of that philosophy. “His love and pride in his people were the driving force for him,” he said.
Khan saw the residents of Pakhtun territory as Pakhtuns, he said. That reflected Khan’s broad vision for the Pakhtuns. “He was aware of their weaknesses and divisions,” he said.
He said Khan derived the origins of his philosophy from Islam and put it into practice with patience.
Khan believed that violence resulted in suffering for people.
“They had nothing to fear when they were non-violent,” he said, “That was what Khan told the Pakhtuns.”
In the 1920s, Khan founded the Khudai Khitmatgaar movement – also known as the Red Shirts- who struggled against the British through non-violent means. He told his people that they must be willing to lay down their lives but never take one. “What a remarkable thing to say to these courageous people [Khudai Khidmatgars],” he said.
Dr Gandhi said he was 10-years-old when he met Bacha Khan for the first time. Khan was visiting his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. “Khan was always a tough, strong man but his warmth was reflected in his smile and laughter,” he said. At his last meeting with Khan, a few years before his death in 1988, Dr Gandhi said he was still gentle.
Dr Gandhi narrated some incidents that reflected Khan’s views regarding the need for dialogue and addressing the oppression Pakhtun women underwent. “Bacha Khan was a leader and also a king without a throne,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2013.