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The IFsof History

Visalakshi Menon

By Rajmohan Gandhi
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2004, pp. 300, Rs. 325.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

This is a fascinating account of one of the most unusual political figures in the Indian subcontinent. Born a year after Jawaharlal Nehru, the Frontier Gandhi, as he was popularly known, outlived him by twenty- two years. He was not particularly close to Nehru – we learn from this book that there was much warmth but not perfect harmony in the relationship between the two. In 1931, Ghaffar Khan had proudly turned down an offer to raise the monthly help to the Peshawar Congress from Rs.500.00 to Rs.1000.00 with the words “Panditji, we don’t need your money.”      We are told in this book that, unlike many other nationalist leaders, Badshah Khan did not write in jail and Rajmohan Gandhi offers two reasons for this. One was his “disdain for intellectuals who wrote at length but failed at crucial moments to act”. The other is that “the reflection that writing entails can add emotional pain to the loneliness of a solitary cell.” The pain was not only caused by British injustices against the Pakhtuns but also on account of the loss of his loved ones and the separation from those who were waiting for him back home. Unlike many of the nationalist figures that we are familiar with, and most of all Gandhi, who came to enjoy and even look forward to their years in prison as a respite from the hustle and bustle of politics, Badshah Khan suffered greatly in jail. This was partly because he was so much a man of the outdoors and partly because jail conditions in the NWFP were much worse than in other parts of the country. And yet he was destined to spend twenty-seven long years of his life in jails both during the pre-Independence and the post-Independence periods.      Despite his faithful adherence to nonviolence, there was in him a curious coexistence of ahimsa with strong anti-British feeling. Gandhiji may have believed that a true satyagrahi must love his enemy even as his friend, but the Frontier Gandhi was not able to overcome his hostility towards British officials. His strong reluctance to meet them contrasted with Gandhiji’s willingness to do so on most occasions, even if it was only to tell them what was wrong with British rule in India. Yet, as Rajmohan Gandhi tells us, when Badshah Khan visited England for the first time in 1964, for medical treatment, he was surprised at the ...

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