Remembering A Muslim Ruler Who Cared about His People
February 24, 2016 marks the 50th death anniversary of Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, the 7thNizam (ruler) of Hyderabad State. He died in Hyderabad 20 years after his dethronement by India. 200,000 people attended his funeral. Such was the legacy of a just and kind ruler.
This beloved king (r.911- 1948) remains alive in the hearts of many Hyderabadis and others living all over the world due to his passion for education, socioeconomic reforms, philanthropy and scholarly achievements. Every year, the state’s people pay their respect by visiting his grave and praying for him.Irrespective of the religion, or ethnicity, the Nizam treated his subjects as equals and considered Hindus and Muslims as his two eyes.
The Birth of Two Nations
To appreciate the Nizam’s multidimensional personality, it is important to look at events leading to the fall of Asif Jahi State of Hyderabad.
A very chaotic political situation immediately followed the end of the British Raj on August 15, 1947, the same day that India declared independence. Of the traditional 622 princely states, Hyderabad was by far the most prosperous state. Ruled by the world’s richest man—the Nizam was worth $2 billion in the 1940s---the state had its own army, airline, telecommunication system, railways, postal system, radio broadcasting service, and currency. Alongside its Hindu majority lived an approximately 10 percent Muslim minority and scattered pockets of Sikhs, Christians and Zoroastrians.
The Annexation of Hyderabad
The Independence Act of 1947 offered the states the choice of accession to either India or Pakistan or independence. Almost all of them chose India; Hyderabad---like Kashmir---was invaded and conquered. The Nizam faced strong internal strife and mounting pressure from the Razakars, a private militia organized by Syed Qasim Rizvi (1902-1970), for independence. Not seeing any alternative the Nizam succumbed to insurmountable pressure. Unfortunately, his advisors did not consider that India would break its 1947 pledge, had no appreciation of India’s military might and did not consider Hyderabad’s landlocked position. His decision to forgo his army chief’s advice, and his nobles, prime minister and other advisors remained blind to what might happen as a result. This caused great concern among India’s leaders who considered independent Hyderabad as a growing cancer wart. Rizvi maintained that while India was a geographic notion, Hyderabad was a political reality. Therefore, why should they sacrifice a reality for an idea?
Hyderabad’s decision not to merge within the India irked SardarVallabbhai Patel (1875-1950), the [first] Indian home (interior) minister, who wanted to obliterate the new country’s Muslim past. He discussed Hyderabad with the Viceroy of India, who proposed a Stand Still Agreement that allowed Hyderabad autonomy in exchange for India taking care of its foreign affairs. While the agreement was being signed, communal riots broke out and the Nizam desperately sought military aid from Pakistan and Portugal for the state’s defense. Pandemonium broke out in the city and the people worried about an impending Indian invasion. Evading the 1947 Act Patel, in collaboration with the right-wing Hindu Arya Samaj and the communists, decided to annex Hyderabad.
An Undying Issue
The Nizam took the dispute to the UN Security Council (UNSC), which initially generated activity; however, news of the state’s surrender caused it to fade. Argentina stated that India’s proclamation on martial law rendered its pronouncements unacceptable and the Nizam must appear in the UNSC. Consequently, representatives of both India and Hyderabad, took seats at the Council table. The latter presented Hyderabad’s case.
The August 21, 1948, cable addressed to the President of the Security Council read: “The Government of Hyderabad, in reliance on article 35, paragraph 2, of the Charter of the United Nations, request you to bring to the attention of the Security Council the grave dispute which has arisen between Hyderabad and India, and which, unless settled in accordance with international law and justice, is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Ironically the UNSC agreed with India’s claim that it was using its military and air force to maintain law and order. The case has remained on the UNSC’s agenda since 1948.
When 26 people died during the riots that broke out in 1969 over the question of not granting statehood to Telengana, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi argued the Hyderabad case was still pending at the UNSC. Operation Polo, India’s self-proclaimed “Police Action”, which began on September 13, 1948, was in fact a full-scale military operation, supported by air power that slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent Hyderabadis.
The state’s general surrendered to the Indian army’s general four days later. Hyderabad thus became a part of India. The deposed Nizam was given the title Rajpramukh. After the surrender, mayhem broke out in and around Hyderabad city. Local Hindus and Indian soldiers raped and plundered, destroyed Muslim properties, and mosques. Embarrassed by these large scale atrocities, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and MaulanaAbulKalam Azad set up the Sunderlal Committee to investigate them. Its report, which was only released reluctantly, in 2013, stated that 27,000 to 40,000 people had died during and after this “police action.” Others place the number as high as 200,000 deaths during this period (see A. J. Noorani, “Destruction of Hyderabad”, Hurst Publication, 2014). The Sunderlal report, although unknown to many, is available at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi.
A Legendary King
Mir Osman Ali Khan the eldest son of Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, was born in Hyderabad on April 16, 1886. He received his early education in Islam, Urdu and Persian from renowned scholars. Learned Englishmen taught him English and other European languages and trained him to be a future monarch. Crowned Nizam on August 28, 1911, he devoted his entire life to his people’s welfare and transformed Hyderabad into a progressive and secular state, as befits a kind, benevolent, and just ruler. His political philosophy birthed a state where people of different culture, social status, linguistic preference and religious heritage lived together.
Public Service and Charities
Fifty years after his death, Hyderabadis still regard the Nizam as a benevolent saint-like ruler and an icon of mercy. His memory is rekindled because he embraced his belief that he was destined to be the light of Islam and the guardian of his people. Despite his royal status, he lived simply and became famous for his benevolence and philanthropy. He developed infrastructures and constructed the Osmania General Hospital, the High Court Building, the Bagh-e-Aam (public gardens), and water reservoirs (e.g., Osman Sagar, and Husain Sagar, Tungabhadra and NizamSagar). In 1903, he started the building of a dam on Krishna River to irrigate Telengana’s land. When this mammoth NagarjunaSagar Dam project was completed in 1955, Nehru inaugurated it. It is truly a glowing tribute to Nizam’s vision and concern for his people’s welfare.
The Nizam also made every effort to impart free modern education to his people. His monumental and landmark contribution in 1918, Osmania University, provided bachelor’s and master’s degrees in arts and major scientific disciplines. A dedicated translation house made the world’s books on science and other subjects available to everyone, and the Nizam Charitable Trust provided financial assistance to qualified students at the state schools and college level. Gifted and talented students were awarded scholarships to seek higher education overseas. Many Hyderabadis now living abroad are beneficiaries to Nizam’s largesse.
The devout Nizam donated large sums of money to Muslim and non-Muslim educational and religious institutions. His charity extended beyond Hyderabad to the Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, and Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan in West Bengal. He awarded tax-free land grants to Nanded’s Sikh gurudwaraand a hefty annual sum to maintain Bhadrachelum’s Temple of Lord Rama.
The iconic Islamic Center of Washington, DC---the largest mosque in the Western hemisphere when it was dedicated by President Dwight Eisenhower on June 28, 1957--- received a large donation for initial startup. The Nizam also donated millions of rupees to renovate Delhi’s Jamia Masjid and Lahore’s Badshahi Masjid, in addition to establishing several cost-free pilgrim guest-houses in Makkah and Madinah that were open all year to accommodate those making umrah and hajj.
The British unsurprisingly violated their own agreements in order to deprive Pakistan of its rightful borders. “Secular” India, intent on stifling Pakistan at birth, refused to hand over its share of the Subcontinent’s common assets. The Nizam, sensing the situation, helped Pakistan with funds. And in Sept. 1948, as a belligerent India locked eyes with him, he arranged a one million Pound transfer of funds, which was affected on Sept. 20 1948---two days after India occupied the state---to the Pakistan embassy in London. India has continued to wage a legal battle for the money, which has now grown to 35 million Pounds ($446.15 million), on the ground that evidence supported Pakistan’s claim, which needed to be fully considered at a trial.
It is ironic that Pakistan never dedicated any major street or erected any memorial to acknowledge this largesse. Similarly, when Abdul Majeed II, the last Ottoman Caliph, was in exile, the Nizam afforded him financial and moral support, and eventually married his son to the deposed caliph’s daughter.
A Scholar King
An accomplished poet both in Urdu and Persian, the Nizam published his ghazals and nazamsextensively in Urdu journals. Meri do A’nkheiN (My Two Eyes) signifies his love for Hindu and Muslim subjects. His Persian poem, written on the first Republic Day celebration in 1950, expressed his genuine feelings of joy and pride that speak of his secular noble disposition.
Hyderabad, India’s main cultural center, had become the place to be for scholars, poets, and architects from all across India and Europe. Iqbal (1877-1938) was invited to give a series of lectures on Islam that resulted in his famous treatise, “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.” In 1927, the BritishMuslim scholar Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall took over as editor of the Islamic Culture, and The Islamic Review quarterly journals published under the Nizam’s patronage. During his stay in Hyderabad, Pickthall completed The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, published in 1930.
The AsafJahi kings (r. 1724-1948) of Hyderabad were exemplary in their religious tolerance; adopted every measure to promote peace and communal harmony; and were staunch supporters of art, literature, architecture and culture. Osman Ali Khan, who considered Hindus and Muslims as his two eyes, expressed these feelings in several of his poems. He appointed non-Muslim nobles as prime minister, police commissioners, ministers, and high-ranking administrators. Sarojini Naidu---later an independence activist and the Indian National Congress’s second female president---received a scholarship for higher studies in England while her father served as a school teacher in Hyderabad. The Nizam bestowed her the title of Bulbul-e-Hind (The Nightingale of India). Naidu’s poem “Ode to H.H. The Nizam of Hyderabad” praised him for his love of humanity and generosity:
The peoples whom your laws embrace,
In brotherhood of diverse creed,
And harmony of diverse race:
The poem is included in her famous book, The Golden Threshold.
Legacies are part of the histories of nations and provide lessons for future generations. There are numerous stories about the Nizam’s magnanimity and justice for all his subjects. The political facts about the annexation of the state are buried in public libraries, books, handwritten documents and newspapers. The Nizam has left a rich legacy of peace, racial equality, prosperity, free education, access to medical care and freedom to worship.He provided support for the upkeep and maintenance of Hindu, Jain and Sikh temples as well as mosques. A poet and the author of My Two Eyes, he made Hindu-Muslim unity his life’s goal. It is unjust to label him a prejudiced Muslim ruler. His legacy is multi-faceted and covers many dimensions. The financial rescue of India at the time of its 1962 war with China and Pakistan bailout in 1947 are historical facts. His glorious legacy will remain forever in the pages of the Subcontinent’s independence from the British Raj.
(DrZaheerParvez is a retired Health Science Officer of the Veterans Administration Medical Research Service in Washington, DC. He is a former President of the Hyderabad Association of Greater Washington DC Metropolitan Area - HAWMA).