Nizam of Hyderabad

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NIZAM OF HYDERABAD The first nizam, Qamaruddin, of Hyderabad traced his ancestry to Central Asia, while serving the Mughal emperor in southern India as the viceroy of the Deccan in 1724. He commanded the six Deccan provinces of Bidar, Berar, Bijapur, Adilabad, Golkonda, and Hyderabad. With later annexations of Khuldapur and Burhanpur and with access to the Bay of Bengal through Masulipatam, Hyderabad became the largest and wealthiest part of Mughal India. In subsequent times, though a process of reversal occurred with gradual reductions of its territory, the state survived.

The first nizam exemplified the virtues of common sense, pragmatism, balance, and restraint in his personal conduct—qualities that the last nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, sought to practice, not always with success. Indeed, the last nizam was frequently bizarre in his behavior, yet also able to solemnly direct the daily affairs of his court, remaining an enigma. He had the means to buy several banks, but he kept in his personal quarters a huge collection of dust-covered cartons containing hard cash and a fabulous range of jewels and precious metals, never cataloged during his lifetime.

A similar anomaly marked Hyderabad state. With a preponderantly Hindu population, its rulers were Muslim. Medieval, feudal patterns coexisted with some progressive modernist trends. Relations between Hyderabad and the new nation of Pakistan ranged from the explicit to the covert, from great expectations to reversed fortunes. There was empathy and understanding at the nizam's court and among the Muslim population of Hyderabad for the Pakistan movement. At the same time, the sheer distance between both wings of Pakistan and Hyderabad precluded any possibility of major cooperation without India's permission, which was not forthcoming.

Through his delegation, which met the founding father of Pakistan, M. A. Jinnah, on 4 August 1947, the nizam had inquired about the extent to which Pakistan—to be established ten days later—could provide economic, military, and political support to Hyderabad. Jinnah politely declined to make any precise commitments. Just six months later, on 10 January 1948, it was the nizam who extended emergency financial support to Pakistan.

The most crucial support by the last nizam remained the least acknowledged. Both giver and recipient had vital reasons to maintain secrecy and, indeed, to deny its occurrence. Soon after Pakistan became independent on 14 August 1947, its due share from the resource pool of the undivided British assets of India was not remitted to Karachi on schedule. A similar delay marked the transfer of military equipment. Mahatma Gandhi launched his last "fast unto death" in January 1948 to persuade the Indian government to release the frozen assets.

The new Pakistani state experienced formidable difficulties, rushed into premature birth at ten weeks' notice by Lord Mountbatten's arbitrary deadline for South Asia's partition, given on 2 June 1947. Resources were urgently required to manage an unprecedented structure, comprising two wings separated by a thousand miles of unfriendly Indian territory. Cash was desperately needed to pay salaries to Pakistan's government staff and to meet basic expenses. Hundreds of thousands of refugees had begun to migrate across newly drawn borders of Punjab and Bengal to towns without adequate infrastructure.

At this critical time, the nizam provided lifesaving support. One part of the aid was official and publicly announced: a transfer of securities valued at about 1 million pounds (200 million rupees, or 20 crores). Announcing the country's first budget on 28 February 1948, Pakistan's finance minister included this amount in his calculations, ensuring a minor surplus, even in those extraordinary conditions. However, that loan could not be encashed because the Indian government immediately termed it a violation of the Standstill Agreement: New Delhi's prior consent had not been obtained. The securities were thus frozen and eventually returned unused to Hyderabad.

But, according to several reliable sources, substantial sums of hard cash and gold bullion were secretly transferred by the nizam to Pakistan between August 1947 and September 1948. This secret and substantial aid was never openly announced or formally documented. One method of transfer used the exploits of a daring Australian entrepreneur-aviator named Sydney Cotton, who assembled a small fleet of Royal Lancaster planes and plucky pilots in Karachi to help break the Indian blockade of Hyderabad. Cotton's team flew numerous missions by night between Karachi and Hyderabad, ferrying in vital supplies, including arms and ammunition. They sometimes brought back stacks of cash and gold.

By one account, the last flight by Cotton from a Hyderabad airfield to Karachi was on 17 September 1948, literally minutes before the Indian army took complete control of Hyderabad state. That flight carried a large wooden box stashed with four and a half million pounds sterling in currency notes. The nizam later confirmed to his outgoing prime minister that he had destroyed all "sensitive" documents in his possession: some of these must surely have recorded amounts secretly transferred. Within seven days of that final flight, Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) Jinnah died. Jinnah's steel-like determination had perhaps inspired the last nizam's refusal—over a period of about 400 days—to accede to India despite suffering stiff sanctions.

Less than forty-eight hours after Jinnah's death on 11 September 1948, no longer inhibited by his presence, the Indian government sent its armed forces into Hyderabad state. For a royal realm that had survived for well over two centuries through turbulent change, the collapse was cruelly rapid and complete, taking less than four days.

Thereafter, the paths of Pakistan, of Hyderabad state, and of Nizam Osman Ali Khan diverged completely. Pakistan explored its turbulent future. Though the last nizam retained his title, all his powers of governance were surrendered, as he became a loyal, royal citizen of India. On Republic Day, 26 January 1950, the nizam read the proclamation declaring India to be a "sovereign democratic republic" while being sworn in to his new office of rajpramuk (president) of Hyderabad state, a purely ceremonial position. Hyderabad state and the Asaf Jah dynasty thus reached a cul-de-sac, formed by the convergence of unchanging geography and unfolding history.

Javed Jabbar

See alsoHyderabad ; Jinnah, Mohammad Ali


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