Mandela and Badshah Khan were two apostles of non-violence
who carried forward Gandhi’s legacy
By Ajit Ranade
Both Mandela (L) and Khan displayed a remarkable forgiving nature, especially to their adversaries;
a gentleness perhaps borne of their unwavering conviction in the path of non-violence
Only two non-Indians have been awarded the Bharat Ratna. One of them was Nelson Mandela who passed away at the age of 95. The other was Badshah Khan, also known as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who died on January 20, 1988 at the age of 98.
There are many parallels in the lives of these two long-lived giants of the twentieth century. The most important one is that both were deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the principle of non-violence. They both struggled ceaselessly for freedom for their homeland, for which they had to suffer untold hardship. But they never swayed from non-violence.
They both spent long years in prison. Mandela was in prison for 27 long years from 1962 till 1990, of which many years were in harsh solitary confinement. Badshah Khan spent an even longer 35 years in prison, also many in solitary cells. Surprisingly, and sadly, Khan had to face prison life even after the British had left. He spent 12 years in prison in independent Pakistan facing worse treatment than even the British prisons. He had become a citizen of Pakistan, not entirely by choice, and wanted to lead a constructive Opposition party.
At the advent of India’s independence, he had wanted a referendum for an independent Pakhtun home land which was never granted. His second choice was to join and be a part of India, which was impractical due to geography. But he chose to live and die on his land, rather than live in exile in India.
Both Mandela and Khan displayed a remarkable forgiving nature, especially to their adversaries; a gentleness perhaps borne of their unwavering conviction in the path of non-violence. For instance, much after apartheid was dismantled, when Mandela was asked, how come despite facing grave injustice, torture and even murder of his comrades, he did not hate the former white rulers of South Africa? He said, “Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.” Such magnanimity is common to both Mandela and Khan. Khan never bore any ill will toward the British or to his Pakistani captors.
These parallel in their life stories are not superficial. Just as Mandela was able to prevail over his more militant and violent fellow freedom fighters, so also Khan formed the brigade of Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God) who were committed to non-violence and satyagraha. The weapons of the Khidmatgars were patience and righteousness, which Khan said, no power in the world could stand against. The Khidmatgars could court arrest, face lathis but would not resort to violence. It is indeed astonishing, that Badshah Khan was an apostle of peace and non-violence, even though he came from the Pakhtun region defined by ethnic conflict and violence. Such was his conviction, that he said “The most important word for a Pakhtun is honour. I will harness this honour, and show that real honour lies in the power of non-violence.”
In 1931 when offered the presidency of the Indian National Congress, he declined saying that he was an ordinary soldier, a khidmatgar. And his goal was simply freedom for India.
Of course there were differences in these two life stories. Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, whereas Badshah Khan was denied, despite being nominated twice for the prize. Unlike Mandela, who lived to see his dream of a multiracial democracy come true, Badshah Khan met only heartbreaking disappointment. He was against partition and against a theocratic state. Even at his burial attended by thousands, bombs were set off to kill mourners. Afghanistanis today bloodied by war and violence.
While Khan is virtually unknown and unsung, Mandela leaves a rich and unshakeable legacy of a multiracial and largely peaceful society. Yet we cannot but marvel at these two great warriors of peace of, who used only moral force, and who were living embodiment of Gandhi’s message of non-violence.