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Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan: Muslims for composite Indian nationalism

Changing names of places without understanding historical context is a sign of ignorance, not patriotism

Ram Puniyani 20 Jan 2021

Image Courtesy:thereports.in

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 that the 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 North West Frontier Province (NWFP), who due to his anti-British stance was jailed by the British and later also 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 protesters, 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 demonised to the hilt, now BJP seems to be turning its attention to the Muslims who were an inseparable part of the freedom movement. The understanding being spread is that Muslims had been separatists, and so Pakistan was demanded by them. This is a totally superficial understanding of the history of the 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 organisations 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 organised 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 organisation 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 symbolises 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. 

* The writer is a human rights defender and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay). 

Other pieces by Dr. Puniyani:

Bid Curb Inter-faith marriages: Ruse to Restrict Women’s Freedom

Charlie Hebdo Cartoons and Blasphemy Laws in Contemporary Times

Was Mughal Rule the period of India’s Slavery?

Kashi- Mathura: Will temple politics be revived?

Scapegoats and Holy Cows

Freedom of Religion: Indian Scenario

Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan: Muslims for composite Indian nationalism

Changing names of places without understanding historical context is a sign of ignorance, not patriotism

Image Courtesy:thereports.in

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 that the 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 North West Frontier Province (NWFP), who due to his anti-British stance was jailed by the British and later also 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 protesters, 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 demonised to the hilt, now BJP seems to be turning its attention to the Muslims who were an inseparable part of the freedom movement. The understanding being spread is that Muslims had been separatists, and so Pakistan was demanded by them. This is a totally superficial understanding of the history of the 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 organisations 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 organised 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 organisation 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 symbolises 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. 

* The writer is a human rights defender and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay). 

Other pieces by Dr. Puniyani:

Bid Curb Inter-faith marriages: Ruse to Restrict Women’s Freedom

Charlie Hebdo Cartoons and Blasphemy Laws in Contemporary Times

Was Mughal Rule the period of India’s Slavery?

Kashi- Mathura: Will temple politics be revived?

Scapegoats and Holy Cows

Freedom of Religion: Indian Scenario

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