Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan: Muslims for Composite Indian Nationalism

Ram Puniyani
January 20, 2021

As per the recent communiqué from Chief Minister of Haryana M.L. Khattar’s, the Government of Haryana has decided to change the name of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan Hospital in Faridabad to Atal Bihari Vajpayee Hospital. So far we have witnessed the name changes by present ruling dispensation aplenty. Most of these changes involved the changing of names of roads/cities, which had names of Muslim rulers. Aurangzeb Road was changed to APJ Abdul Kalam, Allahabad to Prayagraj, Mughal Sarai to Pundit Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Faizabad to Ayodhya. In recent elections in Hyderabad the UP Chief Minister Adiyanath Yogi said name of Hyderabad should be changed to Bhgyanagar. Shiv Sena, which was a long time ally of BJP, has been calling for name change of Aurangabad, Ahmadnagar, and Pune among others. While Shiv Sena has woken up to electoral advantages of name change from Muslim rulers names to Hindu rulers lately, BJP is adept to this game and playing it to the hilt. Its major propaganda has been against Muslim Kings (Temple destruction, forcible conversion, oppression of Hindu women etc.) and reflected on the present Muslim community.

What is different this time in Haryana Governments’ move is that it is not the Muslim King whose name is being changed. It is the name of one of the great Indian Nationalists, one who stood rock solid against British rule, one who opposed the partition in the name of religion and one who was the devout follower of Father of the Nation: Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. He is also addressed as Badshah Khan or Bacha Khan with love and affection. He is also known as Frontier Gandhi.

He was a major leader from NWFP, who due to his anti British stance had to be in British prison and later was jailed by Pakistan authorities for his standing for plural, democratic values. Khan had founded Khudai Khidmatgar, which pledged to work for the nation, oppose British rule and follow the path of non-violence and amity. Khudai Khidmatgar’s agitation and resistance to British rule was best reflected in Kissa Khwani Bazar. This incident happened in Peshawar in 1930 when British armored vehicles trampled and shot the protestors, who were peacefully demonstrating.

Khan was the one who was totally against the concept of partition and when Congress leadership had to reluctantly accept the partition and NWFP was to be part of Pakistan, Khan said to Congress leadership, ‘you have thrown us to the wolves’. After partition many of his followers who migrated to Faridabad, built this hospital in the memory of their leader. Some of these followers of his who are still alive do say that they have no problems with the name of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but probably a new hospital can be built in his name sparing the cherished memory of one of the great freedom fighters, one who stood for his principles to the end.

The present ruling dispensation, which was not the part of freedom movement, wants to erase the imprint of Islam and Muslim’s contribution to the building of Indian nation. While medieval Muslims kings have been demonized to the hilt, now BJP seems to be turning its attention to the Muslims who were inseparable part of freedom movement. The understanding being spread is that Muslims had been separatists and so the Pakistan was demanded by them. This is a totally superficial understanding of the history of Independence movement. The Muslim League which had its roots in the nawabs and landlords did not represent the majority of Indian Muslims. Surely Muslim League did succeed in attracting some middle class elements but the large majority of Muslims never supported it. Only elite, property owners and degree holders had the right to vote some of who stood with Muslim League while the average Muslims were with the freedom movement.

Muslim League did succeed in forming ministries in Sindh and Bengal in collaboration with Hindu Mahasabha but average Muslims kept aloof from its separatist politics. The point is that while Jinnah is known as the Muslim leader, it is not generally known that there were other Muslim leaders who were either part of national movements or through their organizations they supported the politics of freedom movement in opposition to the separatist politics of the communalists who believed in ‘two nation theory’, nation based on religion. Shamsul Islam in his book ‘Muslims against India’s partition’ brilliantly brings forth the politics of ‘Nation loving Muslims’ (as he calls those Muslims who stood with the values of Composite nationalism).

In response to Jinnah’s Pakistan resolution, Allahbaksh who was twice the premier of Sindh Province not only returned his titles to support the 1942 Quit India movement. He had earlier formed ‘Azad Muslim Conference’ to oppose the demand of partition of India. He organized this Conference to oppose the demand of partition with huge response from the average sections of Muslim community. Allah Baksh in his speech stressed that our religions may be different but we have to live as a joint family respecting the different opinions of our family members. There are many other significant leaders who had substantial following among Muslims and were for Hindu Muslim unity. Shibli Nomani, Hasrat Mohani, Ashfaqulla Khan, Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Shaukutllah Ansari, Syed Abdullah Barelvi, Abdul Maziz Khwaja are some of these.

Similarly Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a tall leader who led the Congress number of times and it was under his President-ship of Congress in 1942 that the call of Quit India movement, the greatest anti- British campaign, was given. Many a Muslim organization like Jamiat-E-Ulema Hind, Momin Conference, Majlis-E-Ahrare Islam, Ahle Hadis, Maualans of Barelvi and Deoband and many others stood unflinchingly to support national movement. Muslim League was totally against these Nationalist Muslims. 

Changing the name of the hospital in the memory of Bacha Khan symbolizes the further growth of sectarianism where ruling party wants to undermine and erase the contribution of Muslim freedom fighters, who contributed immensely in the making of modern India. 

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Ram Puniyani
February 20,2021

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India began as a plural democracy; respect for diversity was the core value. The provisions of safeguards for minorities were in built. These safeguards were formulated by the Constituent Assembly’s committee on Minorities headed by Sardar Patel. Seven decades down the lines where do we stand in matters of security and economic welfare of the religious minorities. Most of the inquiry commission reports related to communal violence, the scholarly works on communal violence by the likes of Paul Brass, Asghar Ali Engineer and recently from Yale University give a very painful picture of the communal violence, showing that the Muslims minorities in particular and lately Christian Minorities have suffered adversely. Sachar Committee Report (2006) showed the economic marginalization of Muslim minorities.

The events of last few decades and more so of last six years show the rising intimidation, marginalization and increasing fear among this community. The lynchings in the name of cow-beef and the harassment around love jihad have brought to fore the type of problems our country is facing on the scale of democratic freedoms. This was most clearly demonstrated when the large section of media with full support of the ruling dispensation coined the terms  like ‘Corona bomb’ and ‘Corona Jihad’ in the wake  of rise of Covid. To add salt to the wound, the present Government initiated NRC in Assam on the grounds that over 50 Lakh Bangladeshi’s have infiltrated into India particularly in Assam. When the final count came only 19 odd lakh people were found without proper citizenship papers out of which 12.5 Lakhs were Hindus!

Undeterred by this the ruling Government brought in Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in which the persecuted communities in neighboring countries are entitled for citizenship barring the Muslims. The trap was clear that those people who were without papers and were Hindus will get the citizenship through the back door while millions of Muslims without proper papers will be disenfranchised from citizenship to be shunted to detention centers.

It was in this background that our ex-Vice President Hamdi Ansari wrote his memoirs “By a Many Happy Accident: Recollections of a Life”. In discussions and interviews by different channels around the release of the book he voiced some of the concerns. He tried to emphasize that our citizenship is not based on religion. As most of the comments on his book and also on his life revolved around his being a Muslim, he underlined the fact that in his diplomatic and political life Muslim ness did not matter, what mattered was professional competence. As such this sums up his career which spanned over four decades and served the country in a very honorable way.

That apart the communal elements constantly targeted him for his being Muslim. In one of the republic day parade (2015), when army saluted as Jan Gan Man, national anthem was sung. A picture was circulated to create misconception that Ansari did not salute when the anthem was being sung. In this picture President is seen saluting along with him Prime Minster Narendra Modi and defense Minster are also saluting. Ansari stands still and picture highlights his not saluting. The criticism of his not saluting tricolor was propagated. At such an occasion only President, who is Commander-in-Chief of army salutes. No one is supposed to salute at that time. What Ansari did was as per the protocol, while those who saluted with President did not follow the guidelines laid down!

When Ansari retired in his farewell speech the Prime Minster took a dig. “. “A big part of your working life was in West Asia... in the same atmosphere and debate... after retirement, it was minority’s commission or AMU... that was your circumference,”

In the response to release of his book the communal forces again are uttering that India gave you so many top positions and your are disgruntled! You can very well leave the country and stay in the one where you feel at home. These types of comments show the mindset of the sectarian nationalists who see the citizens only in their religion’s identity. Ansari is not talking of his personal unhappiness. Being a thorough democrat and Indian nationalist, he is trying to draw our attention to declining ethos of our country. Since the identity issues, the emotive issues like Ram Temple, Cow-beef, Ghar Wapasi and Love jihad have taken the front stage our democratic foundations are being eroded to no end.

Similarly he points that with current Government the word secularism has gone into eclipse, it has disappeared from Governments dictionary. One can argue that even earlier the practice of secularism was on a weak wicket, e.g. the responses to Shah Bano Judgment did go contra to the values of secularism. Numerous reasons can be attributed to the weakness in practice of secularism. Still at most levels it had honorable place. What was missing was the astute sense of implementing it in the complex scenario where intense propaganda against protective clauses for minorities was projected as ‘minority appeasement’. Now there is not even an iota of consideration that as a secular state Prime Minster should not inaugurate a religious place of worship or issues like violence in the name Cow-Beef should not enjoy impunity. There is not even smallest consideration that in CAA how we can bar granting of citizenship to people of particular religion.

Ansari points out, “Overall, the very fact that Indian-ness of any citizen being questioned is a disturbing thought,’ and “enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians” and the “illiberal form of nationalism that promotes intolerance”.

The critics of pluralism and diversity assert that what is prevailing is the genuine secularism as it has balanced the earlier tilt towards minorities. They also try to equate few other killings as lynching’s, to show that there no insecurity for dalits and minorities as such. Ansari’s observations need to be taken seriously and course correction of our democracy needs to be undertaken.

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