Modern History

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Facts about Frontier Gandhi (UPSC Modern Indian History) l


Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan, was a Pashtun independence activist who campaigned to end the rule of the British Raj in India. For his adherence to pacifism and close association with Mahatma Gandhi, he earned the nickname “Frontier Gandhi”,

He founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (“Servants of God”) movement in 1929. The success of the movement earned him and his supporters a harsh crackdown from the British Raj, suffering some of the worst repression of the Indian Independence Struggle.

This article will provide the relevant facts about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan useful for GS-I.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – UPSC Notes:- Download PDF Here

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Early Years

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born on 6 February 1890 into a prosperous landowning Pashtun family from Utmanzai in the Peshawar Valley of British India.

At the age of 20 in 1910 Khan opened a mosque school in his home town. But the British authorities forcefully closed down his school in 1915, because they believed that it was a centre of anti-British activities. Their accusation was on the basis that Khan had joined the Pashtun independence movement of activist Haji Sahib of Turangazi, who himself was responsible for fomenting many anti-establishment activities against the British

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Khudai Khidmatgar

Initially, Bacha Khan’s goal was to wok towards the social upliftment of the Pashtuns as he had realised that they will remain backwards due to the lack of education and centuries of blood feuds between various Pashtun families. In time, he worked towards the formation of a united, independent, secular India. To achieve this end, he founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (“Servants of God”), commonly known as the “Red Shirts” (Surkh Pōsh), during the 1920s.

The Khudai Khidmatgar recruited over 100,000 members who became renowned in opposing and dying at the hands of the British authorities. Through strikes, political activities and non-violent protests, the organisation was able to achieve much political leverage and came to dominate the political landscape of the Northwest Frontier Province.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan & The Partition

Khan strongly opposed the partition of India.  He was assaulted for his liberal stance by some politicians as they believed he was anti-muslim. It resulted in him being hospitalized in Peshawar in 1946.

On June 21, 1947, in Bannu, a loya jirga (grand assembly in the Pashtun language) was held consisting of Bacha Khan, the Khudai Khidmatgars, members of the Provincial Assembly, and other tribal chiefs, just seven weeks before the partition. In this jirga, the Bannu Resolution was declared where it was stated that the Pashtun People be given a choice having an independent state of Pasthunistan composing all Pashtun territories of British India The British refused to even consider this request as it would seriously jeopardise the portion plan if areas were conceded based on ethnicity

The Indian National Congress party refused last-ditch attempts to avoid partition, like the Cabinet Mission plan and Gandhi’s suggestion to offer the position of Prime Minister to Jinnah. Because of this Bacha Khan felt a great sense of betrayal at the hands of both Pakistan and India. He cryptically stated to Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress party that “you have thrown us to the wolves”.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Arrest and Exile

Abdul Ghaffar Khan took his oat of allegiance to the nation of Pakistan on February 23rd, 1948 at the first session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly.

He promised to fully support the new government and he attempted to reconcile with his political rival, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, with who he had many disputes with in the past. The initial face-to-face meeting with Jinnah in Karachi went well but a second meeting never materialised, due to alleged insistence of the Chief Minister of Kyber Phaktunwa, Abdul Qayyum Khan Kashmiri. Abdul Qayyum insisted that Bacha Khan had the intention of assassinating Jinnah if given the chance. Most likely this was a charge based upon hearsay as Abdul Qayyum was resentful about the popularity of Bacha Khan amongst the Pashtun and sought to undermine it.

Bacha Khan formed Pakistan’s first national opposition party on 8 May 1948 – The Pakistan Azad Party. The opposition would be constructive in nature and non-communal in its ideology.

But suspicion of his allegiance continued to persist and he was placed under house arrest without any charge from 1948 to 1954

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan died in Peshawar while under house arrest in 1988. He was buried in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. His funeral was attended by 200,000 people and even included Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah. It was symbolic as it implied that the dream of Pashtun unification would outlive him

Such was his reputation among the Pashtuns that a cease-fire was announced in the Afghan Civil War to allow the funeral to take place.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Political Legacy

Bacha Khan’s political legacy is renowned amongst Pashtuns and those in the modern Republic of India as a leader who propagated the message of brotherhood and living on the principles of non-violence. Within Pakistan, however, the vast majority of society has questioned his true allegiance due to his association with the All India Congress over the Muslim League as well as his opposition to Jinnah. In particular, people have questioned where Bacha Khan’s patriotism rests following his insistence that he be buried in Afghanistan after his death and not Pakistan.

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Multiple Choice Question

Consider the following statements

  1. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan, was a Pashtun independence activist who campaigned to end the rule of the British Raj in India. He was nicknamed as Frontier Gandhi.
  2. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan worked towards the formation of a united, independent, secular India. To achieve this end, he founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (“Servants of God”), commonly known as the “Red Shirts” (Surkh Pōsh), during the 1920s.
  3. The Banu Resolution stated that the Pashtuns should be given a choice to have an independent state of Pashtunistan composing all Pashtun territories of British India, instead of being made to join either India or Pakistan.
  4. India’s response to the First World War was seen in the Home Rule Movement. It was an effective way to show discontent in British rule. There were two Indian Home Rule Leagues that were organised on the lines of the Irish Home Rule Leagues. 
  5. In India’s struggle for Independence, the Non-Cooperation movement is one of the important movements. On August 31, 1920,  the Khilafat Committee started a campaign of non-cooperation and the movement was formally launched. The aim was to boycott major social programmes, events, offices and schools to resonate with India’s struggle for independence.

Choose the correct answer from the below given-options

A) Only statements 1, 2, and 3 are true.

B) Only statements 2, 3 and 5 are true.

C) None of the above given statements are true.

D) All the above given statements are true.

Answer: D

FAQ about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan


When did Ghaffar Khan entered politics?

Ghaffar Khan met Gandhi and entered politics in 1919 during agitation over the Rowlatt Acts.


What is the name of the movement started by Ghaffar Khan?

Soon after attending an Indian National Congress (Congress Party) gathering in 1929, Ghaffar Khan founded the Red Shirt movement among the Pashtuns. The movement sought to awaken the Pashtuns’ political consciousness.

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