Special Reports

Spoken with Conviction, not out of necessity: Frontier Gandhi on Sheikh Abdullah


Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Frontier Gandhi (1890-1988) visited Kashmir in June 1980. I, an eight year old child at the time, had the honor of meeting him. I remember being taken to a public rally at which Badshah Khan sahib made a speech in his heavily accented and delightful Urdu, and I was made to patiently sit through his speech. Such people were stalwarts and idealists, a rare breed in today’s world.

I have grown to have great respect for his commitment to the Pakhtun people.

During that visit, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was interviewed by Rajindar Singh Raina, Basheer Ahmed Masoodi, Jagmohan Singh, and the interview was reproduced in the Women's College magazine, "Pamposh," on September 8, 1983.

My friend, Lubna Mirza, has translated some excerpts into English, which I edited. My hope is that serious research scholars/ students of history and politics will find this material useful.

Excerpts related to Kashmir from the Interview of revolutionary leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan during his visit to Kashmir on June 6th of 1980. Badshah Khan expressed his views about Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and discussed international and subcontinental events during this interview.  Today is Sheikh Sahib birthday, 5 December [1905].

Credits: Rajindar Singh Raina, Basheer Ahmed Masoodi, Jagmohan Singh

Translation from Urdu to English: Dr. Lubna Mirza, MD

Question #1: Badshah Khan Sahib, when did you first come to Kashmir and where did you first meet Sheikh Sahib?

Answer: I came to Kashmir before the freedom movement started here. Back in those days there were no motor cars here; instead we travelled by horse cart or by foot. I stayed in a houseboat in Chinar Bagh. During this time I observed the social and political lives of Kashmiris. People were living lives of poverty and ignorance. They were wasting their time fighting one another and were ignorant about the conditions or events in their country. The biggest thing I noted was that they had become very timid. They had no courage to even address an ordinary employee in the government. I remember when I stayed at Chinar Bagh, a state worker came to get my signature on some document. He kept saying, “Huzoor! I came to get your signature on this paper.” I interrupted him and told him that I didn’t need him to show subservience as I hated servile timidity. I told him to not call me “huzoor,” but he was so subservient that he once more said, “Ok huzoor, I won’t call you a huzoor.” So that was the condition of the people here in Kashmir. They had accepted their oppressed lives and had become mentally enslaved. The Kashmir freedom movement started soon after the freedom movement started in India. I met Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah during this time.

Question #2: What were the fundamental factors behind the ideological similarities between you and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah during the freedom fight?

Answer: The political relations that we built with Kashmir were only possible because of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Sheikh Sahib diligently wanted the best for his nation with all his heart and soul. He had great ambitions for Kashmir to be free and prosperous. I too had undertaken the task to serve God’s people selflessly through the “Khudai Khidmatgar tanzeem.” Our organization was involved in social welfare and we wanted to help common people. We worked more on developing rural areas as opposed to urban development, because we knew that poverty was rampant in villages. This is why we focused our attention on the rural populace. We counseled people to not waste their energies on internecine conflicts and to gain education. We told them to not waste their resources. I hated the life of slavery and subservience. I told people that this is our country, and the British came from across the ocean to rule over us. We must make the largest sacrifices to gain our freedom. People liked what we had to say and, within a short time, thousands of them joined our movement. The British became restless after seeing the reaction of the people, and they tried to brutally crush our movement. I was incarcerated in prisons in Gujarat, Punjab, and other states, and was later restricted from entering the North- West Frontier Province. We endured tremendous hardships and remained steadfast in our aims.

Question #3: Why did Indian National Congress made political ties with Jammu Kashmir National Conference and when you came to Kashmir in 1941 and 1948, what were your political motives?

Answer: Like I just said, we loved our country and adored our people. We wanted to help the poor and wanted to see the country free. At the time, the Congress was also trying to free the country from the external colonial power and was opposed to monarchy and feudalism. This shared goal became the fundamental factor in our mutual co-operation. We organized the freedom movement against the British, which spread like wild fire. During that time, your condition was worse than ours, and we raised our voice to help the poor.

Question #4: What are your impressions about the role of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in the war of freedom for the country?

Answer: Sheikh Sahib had an important role in the war of freedom. The signs of life that you see in Kashmir today, the new-found courage in Kashmiris to ask for their rights---this is all because of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s tireless efforts. In my view, this is his biggest contribution.

Question #5. Badshah Khan Sahib! Would you like to give a message to the people of Kashmir?

Answer: Yes! I would like to tell the youth here that if they truly want to establish their society on the right lines and they have a desire to help the poor, then they should go to rural areas and inform the populace there about the importance of vote. I have said it in different places in Kashmir, “This government is yours; it is entirely in your hands to give to anyone or take it away.” I told my brethren to put their trust in people who would be sincere in public service. Today, the poverty that you see in the rest of the subcontinent has been created by the poor themselves, because they voted for people who were more interested in their personal gains than public service. Making your people realize the importance and value of their vote would be the right service to your country.

(Picture: Sheikh Abdullah with Nehru and Badshah Khan (centre) at Nishat Garden in 1945, wikipedia)

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma and former professor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and is granddaughter of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.

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