Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Last Nizam - John Zubrzycki

This is a fascinating book (334 p, Rs. 365, Picador India) on the Nizam's of Hyderabad, their fabulous riches of jewels, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, the abrupt termination of their rights when Hyderabad was taken over by force by the Indian government IN 1948 and mostly of the reluctant last Nizam who turned away from his state. For someone who has lived in Hyderabad for 30 odd years I am glad to have its history in place now and am utterly fascinated at the roots and past of this city. John Zubryzycki's detailed research, interviews and storytelling make this book come alive and it is a must read for all who have lived in Hyderabad surely and for anyone else interested in this story.

Though Zubryzcki starts with the Nizam's directly one must delve into history a few years before the Nizam's came into power. From 733 A.D. to 966 A.D. the Chalukyas ruled the region. When the Chalukyas were divided into four empires the Warangal-based Kakatiyas took control of the region from 1000 A.D. to 1310 A.D. Sultan Alauddin Khilji, the Turkic Afghan ruler took over the region from 1310 and it remained with that dynasty till 1321 after which it was ruled by the Tughluqs till 1347. In 1347 the Bahmani Kings who ruled the region from Gulbarga, took over control of the region until 1518.

In 1518 the Governor of Golconda Quli rebelled and established the Qutb Shahi dynasty at Golconda. It was in 1591 that Quli Qutub Shah the fifth Sultan of the Quli dynasty established Hyderabad on the banks of the Musi, moving away from the Golconda fort. Market places were set up, the historic Charminar was built (as a commemoration of the eradication of plague) the Mecca Masjid and the famous Purana Pul were built in his reign.

Golconda's diamonds are known to be the finest and were much sought after. They also were the only known source of diamond in the world until 1730 when the Brazil diamonds were discovered. The Kollur region in Guntur district had some of the most rich diamond mines which gave many of these fine jewels to the Golconda kings. A bustling diamond, pearl and jewel market operated in Golconda for which traders came from far and wide. The famed Kohinoor diamond was also mined from Kollur mines and was reportedly with the then rulers of the region, the Kakatiyas.

Naturally Golconda was desired by the Mughals. In 1687 Aurangazeb, the Mughal emperor, attacked Hyderabad and laid siege to Golconda where the rulers fled and took refuge. The siege lasted a year and ended only because on the Quli generals betrayed the kings and opened a gate for the Mughal emperor's army. Ever since, Golconda and Hyderabad were vice regalities of the Mughal emperor and continued for almost as long as 1948, despite the fact that the Mughal empire had ceased to exist.

The story of the Nizam's starts from sometime then with the appointment of a Mughal general Quamruddin as the Viceroy of Deccan with the title of Nizam-ul-mulk in 1743. The Nizam-ul-mulk was a personal favorite of Aurangazeb and the grandson of his general Khwaja Abid who died fighting for Golconda (his grave is near Himayatsagar to date). The Nizam's claim to being the Viceroy was challenged by the then Governor Mubariz Khan who was promptly beheaded and his head sent to Delhi. The accession to the throne of Golconda gave rise to the Asah Jah dynasty, or the lineage of Nizams of Hyderabad. The first Nizam-ul-Mulk ruled over from 1743-48 and laid down certain principles of how to rule the land before he died.

The British and the French were active in those days trying to gain the support of as many princely states as possible. There is a period between 1747 and 1762 that there was no Nizam recognised by the Mughal empire which was the sovereign power to which Deccan's Viceroy reported. The Nizam-ul-Mulk's oldest son Nasir Jung claimed the throne by siding with the British while Muzaffar Jung, the Nizam-ul-Mulk's grandson sided with the French. In what turns out to be straight out of a potboiler, Nasir Jung is killed by a rebel Nawab and the French claim Muzaffar Jung as the Nizam. Not long after Muzaffar is killed by the same Nawab of Kurnool, Himmat Khan, in battle. In an incredible story, though Muzaffar Jung dies early in the battle, a Hindu king who is with him on the elephant, pulls the arrow of the dead king's eye, and sitting behind him makes the body move as if the King was alive and urges the soldiers on. The battle is won by the dead king's men. In further intrigue the other heirs, the dead Muzaffar Jung's brother Salabat Jung throws two other brothers of his, Basalat Jah and Nizam Ali Khan into jail. Meanwhile Nizam-ul-Mulk's  eldest son Ghazi Uddin who was in the Mughal court in Delhi returns to claim the Deccan throne with the help of Maratha armies. He is poisoned at Daulatabad by his aunt, the mother of Nizam Ali Khan. Salabat Jung ruled Deccan for eleven years without being recognised by the Mughals and his own incompetence finally leads to his being thrown into jail. The second Nizam is then recognised by the Mughals in 1962 as Nizam Ali Khan, the fourth son of Nizam-ul-Mulk.

Nizam Ali ruled for a long period (1762- 1803) and was a politician more than a fighter and played one against the other. But the British had firmly gained control over the Nizam and drove out the French who at one time had considerable influence in Hyderabad. Upon his demise the third Nizam was Nizam Ali Khan's oldest son Sikandar Jah who was not considered a great administrator. It was in his time that a Hindu money lender Chandu Lal was appointed as the de facto Diwan and he brought the finances crashing with his corruption and intrigue. So absolute was the British control that the Nizam's could not appoint anyone without their approval. Sikandar Jah ruled from 1803-1829.

The fourth Nizam was Nasir Ud Daula one of the nine sons of Sikandar Jah, though illegetimate, still the eldest. Nasir was illiterate and had a hands off approach to administration. Hyderabad's finances were at its lowest at that time as the state paid for the British army to protect it. Nasir wanted to sell the fabled Nizam diamond during that period. It was during Nasir's rule that Salar Jung, considered one of the most able administrators in India of that time became the Prime Minister. Despite all that Nasir was considered a good Nizam who was kind hearted and he ruled from 1829-1857, the year of the Mutiny. On his death Afzal Ud Daula, his son, was made the fifth Nizam. This was the period of the Sepoy Mutiny against the British, a delicate period for Hyderabad which through the offices of Salar Jung, supported the British and gained its confidence. The small Mutiny in Hyderabad was quelled. Afzal Ud Daula apparently did not like Salar Jung and wanted to dispose of him but the British supported him totally. It was Salar Jung who brought fiscal discipline and made the first steps to bring the state out of its debt.

When Afzal Ud Daula died (1857-1869) his only son Mahboob Ali Khan was two years old. Three years before Mahboob turned 18, Salar Jung died suddenly, probably poisoned. Mahboob Ali was fond of the good things in life but he was also a beloved of the masses as he went incognito to find out the troubles of the common man at night. His reign was to be known as the 'Days of the Beloved'. Mahboob would die of his excesses with the bottle but he brought communal harmony to the region and was known as a reformer. However he was guilty of signing away Berar, one of the prized possessions of the Deccan. Mahboob ruled for a long period - 1869-1911.

His son Osman Ali Khan (1911-1948) would become the seventh Nizam and the richest man in the world during his reign. Known for his long tenure, good administration, fabulous wealth, extreme stinginess Osman Ali Khan would take Hyderabad to its greatest glory until the state was merged with India in 1948 after Independence. Osman Ali Khan was the one who started the Osmania University, the High Court, the Osmania General Hospital, built schools, dams, roads, railways, collieries, power stations and many more developmental works. He also put forth many reforms including banning the practice of devdasis and made primary education compulsory. In the World War I the Nizam sided with the British though the Ottoman empire sided with Germany, thereby becoming the most faithful ally of the British and the leader of Muslims in India. However the richest man in the world was also eccentric and wore cheap cotton pyjamas, smoked and used local brands including Charminar cigarettes and bargained for trifles. His penchant to eat salt biscuits every morning with his tea probably had much to do with the famous Osmania biscuits we eat in Irani cafes. He had two sons Azam Jah and Moazzam Jah. Osman Ali Khan who had provided for the last Caliph of turkey, the heir to the Ottoman Empire, Mejid, then got the two daughters of the ex-Caliph as wives for his sons making one of the strongest alliances in the Muslim world. The two Turkish Princesses,  Durreshehwar and Niloufer were well educated, highly polished and strong women. Durreshehwar would have two sons Mukarram Jah and Muffakam Jah while Niloufer would be childless and would divorce her husband.

The Nizam lost his power after India took over the dominion by force during Operation Polo. Though called Police Action, the Indian army is said to have stormed the capital of Hyderabad causing deaths that ranged from 2000 to 20,000 by estimates. The Nizam capitulated easily in two days and the Indian flag flew. The seventh Nizam had almost no powers in the new set up and built a make believe kingdom in his King Kothi palace where he adopted many children. Disgusted with his son Azam Jah's constant state of being in debt, his extravagances and extreme debauchery, Osman Ali Khan proclaimed Mukarram Jah, his grandson as his successor, a decision which irked Azam Jah no end. After Osman Ali Khan's death in 1967, after a long and glorious rule, the wealth of what is roughly estimated to be 218 billion USD (USD 2 billion in 1940, 2% of the US economy then, a time when the treasury of the Indian government had a revenue of 1 billion), its 100 million pounds of gold and silver bullion, 400 million pounds of jewels, including the Jacob's diamond, and its many complications with heirs, thieves, contestants, government regulations, tax matters and much more fell upon Mukarram Jah who was far more interested as they say, in diesel cars and mechanics.

Mukarram Jah was crowned the eighth Nizam of a kingdom that had ceased to exist, in 1968. He married five times, four Turks and one Australian. He always escaped the responsibility that awaited him at Hyderabad, one of the largest Indian princely states, the richest certainly. Thought Pandit Nehru the then Prime Minister tried to get him into diplomacy, Mukarram Jah, never took the opportunity to become a leader, a diplomat of perhaps the President even as many feel, and instead escaped to Australia where he bought himself a large ranch and sank a lot of money there, finally escaping from there as well, as his debts began to catch up with him. In India his own relatives, his son and daughter, his friends and advisors, cheated the Nizam in exile and much of the fabled wealth disappeared. Despite all this the Nizam's jewels, in vaults in banks, still are some of the most coveted and are involved in some of the largest legal imbroglios. The last Nizam meanwhile lives incognito in Turkey in a small flat, happy that he spent some fine years in Australia. In Hyderabad his properties, his palaces are slowly occupied by land grabbers and little is left of the glory of the Nizams.

It is an amazing story and there are so many more details that are so interesting about the rulers, good and bad, their foibles and failures. The description of the jewels, the 100s and 1000s of women that the Nizam's had in their zenanas, their excesses with the money, women, wine, hunting, their hundreds of progeny legitimate and illegtimate, their penchant to take what they fancied be it a palace, a car or a woman by merely expressing their liking (the Falaknuma Palace belonged to the Paigah nobles which Mahboob Ali Khan 'liked' and was gifted) is like a fairy tale. The Nizams finally felt betrayed by the British when they were left to fend for themselves after the Indian government took over but in the end it was justice finally. This was the land they took by force and ruled over the people who lived hard lives mostly, while the Nizam's lived in extreme comfort. The common peasants were squeezed by their landlords, to death sometimes, and this region is known for its extreme cases of feudalism, of landlords and its natural off shoot, naxalism from the oppressed masses. It is ironical today that not less than half a century later the city is crowded with common folk who elect their leaders, who walk through the same palaces as individuals with rights and who probably do not know of the story behind Hyderabad and its Nizams, who do not bow before anyone be it of the royal lineage of the noble lineage. Muslims, Hindus, Parsees, Sikhs and so many more people live together in harmony in an equal, democratic state where everyone has the same rights. The wheels of power have finally turned a full circle.

However much of the wealth of the Nizams will be in dispute. Raised from the people through extraordinarily high taxation, giving away of jagirs, it in many ways belongs to the people as well and should be used for their welfare. The people who built the roads, palaces, dams, tilled the lands deserve their share. Questions will be asked certainly. But for now the beleaguered Nizam and his family fights one another for the fabulous wealth that was once owned by the Princely state of Hyderabad. A must read for all Hyderabadis. And John Zubrzycki, thank you for such a fascinating book and for acquainting me with a Hyderabad I never knew.


Rajendra said...

Fascinating stuff!

Harimohan said...

Raja, There's so much more and its mind boggling. I read and reread some parts and am still trying to figure some of the things out. Really fascinating. Undoubtedly my favorite Nizam is Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam who was an amazing character. Apparently he was a poet who would write up to a dozen poems a day sometimes.

G said...

Great write up, a true homage to the author of the book.

Harimohan said...

Thanks G.