Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Rival of the Seventh Nizam

Legend and anecdotes of Hyderabad - 49

Rival of the Seventh Nizam
By Narendra Luther

If the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan had not died at the comparatively young age of 43 in 1911, the history of Hyderabad would have been entirely different. Instead of Mir Osman Ali Khan, probably his half-brother, Mir Ahmed Mohiuddin, later known as Salabat Jah would have become the seventh Nizam.

The Ninth Son

The prince was born in 907 to Ujjala Begum, the favourite wife of the sixth Nizam. He had eight sons before Mohiuddin, but all of them except Mir Osman Ali Khan had died in their infancy. Mohiudddin also had a sister, Ahmedunissa Begum who was four years junior to him.

Mir Osman Ali Khan was born in 1886 and thus was 21 years older than his half-brother. It was widely held that Mir Osman Ali Khan was not the son of the sixth Nizam. since his mother was already carrying when the sixth Nizam took her into his harem. So when a son was born to the Begum, it was expected that he would be made the heir- apparent. Ujjala Begum demanded that from her husband. He put her off saying where was the hurry. She kept up her demand and one day was so insistent the decision be made without delay that the harassed husband stomped out of the Purani Haveli and drove off to the Falak Numa Palace. There he went into a drinking binge for three days. That resulted in a coma from which he never recovered. His death the age of 43 sealed the issue and the infant prince lost whatever chance he had of inheriting the gaddi.

Controversy about succession

Many nobles of the State also believed that Salabat Jah and not Mir Osman Ali Khan was entitled to succeed Nizam VI. On the latter’s death in 1911, a plea was made to the Viceroy that Salabat Jah was the rightful heir. Some signatures of nobles, including that of Maharaja Kishen Pershad were forged and appended to the petition. It was because of the alleged involvement of Maharaja Kishen Pershad in that ‘conspiracy’ that he lost his prime ministership on the accession of Mir Osman Ali Khan as the seventh Nizam.

Later, however, an inquiry revealed that the Maharaja and some others were not a party to the conspiracy. It was all the mischief of a junior police officer who wanted to curry favour with the new dispensation by vilifying some of the nobles. It took the Maharaja a quarter of a century to reestablish his credentials and regain his old job.

We have earlier seen how Nawab Shahab Jung helped the new Nizam establish his authority over the nobility. In that process the redoubtable Nawab himself became a victim and had to withdraw into a shell till his death.

Nizam’s treatment of the prince

The new Nizam then proceeded to strengthen his position. He was 25 and the pretender was an innocent infant of four. The Nizam ordered his step mother Ujjala Begum and her two children to move to a building in the compound of the King Kothi which was his residence so that he could keep a close watch over them.

The Nizam conferred the title of Salbat Jah on his infant half-brother and made arrangements for his education. The prince grew in a very restricted and ‘protected’ atmosphere. His visitors were screened and his mail was subjected to censor.

Prince’s girl friend

He grew into a handsome young man given to brooding and writing poetry. In his early youth a young Bengali girl, Leila Wellinker, charmed the prince. She was junior to him by eleven years. They were engaged, but the Nizam was opposed to the match and so the marriage had to be called off. The dejected prince then left on a trip to Europe.

Later, Salar Jung III, the founder of the Museum named after him fell in love with her. The chivalrous prince wrote: 'Never mind, I shall compose a sehra on the marriage!' However, that marriage also did not take place and Salar Jung too died a bachelor.

The prince was a dandy, a poet, and a singer with a weakness for the bottle. As a poet he sported the pen name of ‘Nashad’ Asifi- which means ‘the unhappy Asif Jah’.

Friendship with Mirza

The introvert prince found s friend in Aga Hyder Hasan Mirza, a man of regal bearing, and a professor of Urdu. He was descended from the royal Mughal family and could easily pass off as the last Mughal emperor. The prince used to pour out his heart to him in person and in letters. The Nizam did not approve of his meeting many people including the professor. They therefore had to be discreet. In order to be able to meet his friend more frequently and openly, once he had it proposed to the Nizam that the Mirza be appointed his tutor. The Nizam did not approve the proposal and instead advised the prince that he should meet him less often. The prince had therefore to resort to letter writing. Mirza kept those letters in safe custody . After his death, 78 letters were found amongst his papers. Of these, seventy were from the prince and six from Ujjala Begum to Mirza. Eleven of them are in English and the rest in Urdu. Mirza’s daughter, Mehrunissa Hussain has compiled these letters. That makes a good a portrait of the Prince and his times.

Sense of humour

The Prince had a good sense of humour. He derived comfort from the fact that his frustrations were not as great as those of the Nizam at not getting the Berars back from the British or of Mahatma Gandhi in not getting ‘Swaraj’. When he got an attack of piles in Europe, he wrote to Mirza that he had a visit from Nawab Bawaseer Jung. About his neglect by the Nizam, he wrote rather bitterly that, ‘Every dog is the tiger of his lane. If he is the Shah of his palace, this humble being too is the fakir of his hovel.’

The unhappy prince who might have been the Nizam of Hyderabad died at the age of 27 in 1934. His only sister died fifteen days later and that extinguished one line completely.

We are left wondering at the ironies of fate.

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