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New book traces story of India's 'tactically important' frontier that reluctantly went to Pakistan

A new book on the history of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, earlier known as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), chronicles how the Congress leadership in 1947 surrendered India's claim on the "tactically important" province despite the resistance of Mahatma Gandhi and some influential political leaders of the region.

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New Delhi Updated on: September 01, 2019 15:14 IST
New book traces story of India's 'tactically important'

New book traces story of India's 'tactically important' frontier that reluctantly went to Pakistan

A new book on the history of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, earlier known as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), chronicles how the Congress leadership in 1947 surrendered India's claim on the "tactically important" province despite the resistance of Mahatma Gandhi and some influential political leaders of the region.

The book, "India's Lost Frontier – the Story of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan", has been penned by veteran civil servant Raghvendra Singh, who was the Director General of the National Archives of India which undertook the major task of conservation and digitisation during his tenure.

In this exhaustive study of NWFP and its adjoining areas of Afghanistan, Singh, who has held various positions in several departments ranging from internal affairs and foreign affairs to finance and agriculture, argues that with an increasingly powerful China knocking on India's door, it is imperative to recognise that the docile acceptance of NWFP's loss in 1947 may have serious consequences for India's security in times to come.

The book, which comes up with a rich collection of 27 rare pictures of India's freedom fighters including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru along with other key political leaders, has been published by Rupa Publications, New Delhi. 

It documents several untold stories of the frontier including as to how the Congress leadership in 1947 allowed NWFP, created in 1901, to be lost to India.

The NWFP has always been "tactically important". In the years leading up to India's partition and Independence, it significantly engaged the attention of British and Indian political figures, the writer says.

"This province negated Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah's 'two-nation' theory. The NWFP was overwhelmingly Muslim and yet elected a Congress government in 1946.

"Later, a referendum was ordered and the elected Congress government dismissed within a week of India's partition," Singh says in the book. 

Only Mahatma Gandhi and the Khan brothers – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was also known as the 'Frontier Gandhi' and his elder brother Dr Khan

Saheb, the Chief Minister of NWFP, had resisted surrendering India's claim on the frontier, the writer claims.

"A disheartened Ghaffar Khan -- a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi and a key political figure of NWFP -- once said that "neither the issue of partition nor of referendum in NWFP was discussed with us...we were stunned to find out that the decision on both the issues had already been taken by the Congress High Command," Singh writes. 

"After the Working Committee's meeting on June 3, 1947, I said to Gandhiji, -- ‘you have thrown us to the wolves’,” the book quotes Ghaffar Khan as saying.

Ghaffar Khan, who founded the 'Khudai Khidmatgar' (servants of god) movement in 1929 against the British rule in India and associated with the Congress, felt grievously let down by the Congress leaders who had assured him that they would never accept partition, Singh says.

"The 'Khudai Khidmatgars' were not even given any advance notice; instead they were asked to fend for themselves, leaving them completely in the lurch. I was in Delhi at that time yet nobody whispered a word to me,” the book quotes Ghaffar Khan as saying. 

The British knew and so did the Congress, of the strategic importance of the NWFP. They realised how crucial it was to sustain its ministry during those years. Recognising the significance, Mahatma Gandhi toured the frontier twice with the sole purpose of resolving factional disputes in the provincial Congress, according to the book. 

The book by Singh notes how Jawaharlal Nehru's visit to the province in October 1946 had disastrous consequences. 

At the start of his visit, Nehru was greeted with a large unfriendly crowd at Peshawar airport after which he had to be whisked away. His convey was heckled, his aircraft sniped at and his car stoned.

He needed constant escorting by the army and uniformed personnel. Nehru even had to leave without meeting the tribesmen.

A bullet fired by an NWFP tribesman came very close to Nehru while he was sitting in the car.

According to the book, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India, had maintained till April 1947 that elections would be held in the NWFP and the newly elected representatives would also have the option of declaring themselves as an independent Constituent Assembly.

But on May 1, he introduced a new proposal of holding a referendum in the NWFP. 

"The reason for Mountbatten's changed stance was Nehru. It was Nehru who had earlier agreed to the possibility of holding elections in the NWFP and then shown a preference for a referendum," the writer claims and wonders if Nehru consulted the NWFP government or more importantly, Ghaffar Khan, before suggesting such momentous changes? 

The results of the referendum, boycotted by the Khan brothers and Pathans who believed in a free Pathan state, were overwhelmingly in favour of Pakistan, Singh says. 

The blame game on who lost the frontier for India has long since gone on. "On August 14, 1947, the day when the NWFP formally became an integral part of Pakistan, it still had a Congress ministry. The first undemocratic act of the Pakistan government was to dismiss it on August 22," the book says. 

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