The study starts with a brief
outline of the classical elements of Pakhtun culture and
social structure and the impact of British colonial rule in
deforming, if not destroying it. The Raj’s stereotypes of
the Pakhtuns made them introduce a mode of governance that did
no end of violence to the true Pakhtun ethos. It was Badshah
Khan’s dogged determination that led him to the Khudai
Khidmatgars, (KK) movemsent, a civilised response to the
draconian, if also inhuman, system of British rule.
gives a good deal of space to the organisational structure as
well as the social and political activities of the movement.
And the innumerable ways in which the Pathans were trained to
lodge nonviolent protest. In turn, the latter brought about
some significant changes in the traditional features of Pathan
life, most notably through the widespread resolution of
internecine tribal feuds. Understandably, British response to
the movement relied both on sophisticated counter-propaganda
and a measure of sustained brutality, unprecedented in the Raj.
instance cited by the author bears repetition. When the
provincial Governor visited Mouza Gardi to take tea, a certain
Abdul Ali and three KKs handed him a copy of their grievances
and cases of oppression. For their pains, all the four were
arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment and a fine
of Rs 250. Nor was that exceptional. The "watershed
event", as the author calls it, was the Kissa Khani
Bazaar massacre of April 23, 1930. It was part of the Mahatma’s
civil disobedience movement when troops opened fire on an
unarmed crowd that had assembled to protest the arrest earlier
in the day of BK. The toll: 200 killed in the very heart of
leadership of the KKs was a unique combination of charismatic
and bureaucratic elements which together helped sustain the
movement’s activism for over 17 years. The organisational
structure respected, and also to a degree modified,
traditional social status. And reconciled both the
hierarchical and egalitarian elements in Pakhtun culture. For
the ideology of nonviolence BK did not, as is commonly
believed, rely on Gandhian thought but on elements of Islam
and Pakhtunwali so as to persuade his followers of the
correctness of his creed. It needs to be added that the KKs
did, by and large, refrain from violence and communalism even
when religious tension had mounted in the mid-1940s. What
unnerved them no end, as it did Badshah Khan , was the
decision that the Frontier would be part of Pakistan.
relies heavily on oral data gathered from such rank and file
KKs as the author was able to locate. There were some 70 of
them (listed in Appendix I), their ages ranging from 70 to
120/130 years. The oral data has been supplemented by archival
sources, especially where events, dates and facts were
involved. The author offers an elaborate justification for her
extensive use of oral history for "my primary
interest" was the "opinions and practice" of
the ordinary members. She implicitly believes her informants,
one and all, for they were able to summarise
"pithily" both their own opinions and the movement’s
ideas. Most had indeed been to jail for their beliefs and
bore, on their person, the scars to prove it. In the course of
their narratives, most of them were aroused to "displays
of emotion and enthusiasm."
history has an important role to play in reconstructing the
past may be accepted without much ado; yet the reasoning the
author spells out, especially in terms of the "displays
of emotion and enthusiasm" leaves one somewhat sceptical.
These are attributes of a warm heart, not a cool head.
criticism may be in order. The study refers to Nehru’s
fateful visit to the Frontier in October, 1946, and its tragic
aftermath in a gradual erosion of the popular base of the
incumbent Khan Sahib Ministry. And a considerable boost to the
fortunes of the rival Muslim League. Yet the future of the
Frontier and the Pathans remained an open question down to the
last few weeks prior to the transfer of power. Oddly though,
the author would have us believe that Nehru, who was
"both notoriously vain and in possession of a
considerable temper", had "convinced" himself
that there would never be peace in the Frontier until it
entered Pakistan. In October, 1946, he "returned to Delhi
having given up on the Frontier.
this does not tally with the known facts. Until the June 3
Plan, Nehru had striven hard, as did his colleagues in the
Congress, that the Governor Olaf Caroe’s stratagem of
ordering fresh elections to the Provincial Assembly — on the
specious plea that the government had forefeited its popular
mandate — did not get the Governor-General’s nod. More,
that the referendum, in lieu of elections, was held only after
the Governor had demited office.
Nehru was convinced, as were the Governor and the
Governor-General, that despite the vitriol poured and the
violence unleashed by its political rivals, the Congress had a
sporting chance to win. Oddly, it was BK and his KKs who for
very valid reasons of their own to avoid a possible bloodbath
and unending civil strife in the wake of a narrow Congress win
decided on a boycott. This was in July, 1947. In the event, to
suggest that Nehru had given up on the Frontier as early as
October, 1946, does not really wash. Or, does it?
looking bibliography lists some titles that are not directly
relevant while managing to omit not a few that are. The
glossary too needs a thorough recheck: fakir for
"landless peasant"; tehsil for "district";
mujahideen (which is a plural) for "warrior in a
religious war", are misleading.
however small irritants and one hates to cavil. Nor do they
detract in any way from the merits of an excellent study. The
author was lucky to be "adopted" by Wali Khan, BK’s
son and thus enjoyed a premier Pakhtun family’s protection
and patronage. All the same, her effort in building up an
extensive clientele of old, and now fast-fading, breed of
Khudai Khidmatgars was impressive.
This is more
relevant in that successive governments in the Frontier —
and Islamabad — were hell-bent on erasing from the national
historiography of post-partition Pakistan all traces of a
movement that had made such a signal contribution to bringing
the Pathans and Pakistan their independence from the Raj.
Mukulika Bannerjee who earned
her doctorate from Oxford now teaches anthropology at the
University College, London.