The Family Heritage Of Sahabzada Yaqub Khan

The Family Heritage Of Sahabzada Yaqub Khan
There were a large number of Pathan Riasaten (kingdoms) in the Indian Subcontinent but only 21 survived the upheaval of 1857 and were recognised as States by the British. While Amb, Dir and Swat were situated in the northwest, the majority were in Punjab and the United Provinces (UP), with a few in Rajasthan and elsewhere. One of those that didn’t survive was the riasat of Najibabad which lay in the northwestern corner of Awad (present UP).

Sahabzada Yaqub Khan traced his Pathan ancestry to Nawab Najib-ud-Daulah a.k.a. Najib Khan who was a Yusufzai Rohilla of the Umar Khel clan. In 1739 he travelled to Rampur from Swabi, near Mardan, and joined his uncle, Bisharat Khan, who was serving Nawab Ali Muhammad Khan, a Rohilla chieftain. In 1743 he was appointed Jamadar and married the daughter of Dundey Khan, another Rohilla chieftain. He served his father-in-law well both politically and militarily and was awarded 14 parganas (in present days, a Pargana is equivalent to a tehsil or group of villages). In 1751, he took a leading role in fighting against the forces of Safdar Jang who had driven the Rohillas into the Kumaon Hills, and was awarded the command of 1,000 soldiers.

Nawab Najib-ud-Daulah, founder of the riasat of Najibabad (died 1770)

Safdar Jang (1708 – 1754), was a major figure at the Mughal court during the declining years of the empire and in 1739 he was appointed the second Nawab Vizier of Awadh. He rebelled against the emperor and with the help of the Jats, besieged Shahjahanabad (as Delhi was renamed). The emperor was anxious to obtain help from the Rohilas, but under a threat from Safdar Jang, their sardars remained neutral. Najib Khan scorned their cautious and timid policy and went to the assistance of the emperor. By this one act, he rose from being a dependent of the Rohilla sardars to a leading political and military figure in northern India. He was received by Emperor Ahmed Khan in June 1753 and was granted the title of Najib-ud-Daulah and the mansab (command) of das hazar (ten thousand) troops. He successfully fought off the besiegers and negotiated an end to the siege, for which he was further honoured by the emperor.

However, while he was away in Saharanpur, where he had been appointed the Nazim (governor), the previous emperor was deposed by the imperial Vizier Imad-al-Mulk, who placed Alamgir II on the throne. When Najib-ud-Daulah came to submit allegiance to the new emperor, a rift was developing between him and the vizier. Imad had incurred the displeasure of Ahmed Shah Durrani by seizing Lahore and the Afghan king marched on to Delhi. The next three years were a complicated episode of wheeling and dealing involving the Marathas, Najib, Abdali, Imad, and Shujaud Daulah the new Nawab of Awadh, that lead up to the final showdown: the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. Shuja vacillated till the last because the Marathas had helped his father on numerous occasions but ultimately sided with Abdali and his lieutenant Najib.

Patthargarh Fort outside Najibabad, built by Najib-ud-Daulah in 1755. The painting is dated 1814-15

The Afghans were supported by four key allies: the Rohillas under the command of Najib, the Baloch Khanate of Kalat, the Awadh State under Shujaud Daulah and troops of the declining Mughal Empire. The battle combined three preliminary skirmishes before the main engagement on 4 January 1761. In the second skirmish, which was fought on 7 December 1760, the Rohillas made a violent but unplanned assault on the Maratha’s camp an hour and a half before sunset. It came close to victory but remained unsupported due to the approaching darkness. Najib lost 3,000 Rohillas and was nearly killed himself.

Nawab Zabita (or Zabit) Khan, who fought alongside his father Najib-ud-Daulah in the third battle of Panipat

The main battle was a clash between the heavy artillery and cavalry of the Marathas against the heavy cavalry and the more mobile mounted artillery (zamburak and jezail) of the Afghans and Rohillas. Fortunes ebbed and flowed and at one stage the Maratha army nearly achieved a breakthrough in the centre and right. However, Najib’s troops on the left held, and Abdali committed his reserves to turn the tide. The Maratha soldiers were too exhausted to resist because their army had been surrounded for days and was starving. Following his victory, Abdali set out for Afghanistan, never to return, but did not appoint Najib as vizier to the emperor because too many powerful chiefs were jealous of him, and Najib could not be manipulated. For the next decade till his death, Najib continued with his diplomatic and military skills to maintain his position in the court of the emperor as well as his governorship of Saharanpur and was bestowed the title of Nawab. He ultimately succeeded Safdar Jung as vizier.

Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II (1759-1806), who was blinded by Qadir Khan Rohilla, the grandson of Nawab Najib-ud-Daulah

In March 1768, Nawab Najib-ud-Daulah retired his leadership over the Rohillas and declared his son Zabita Khan as his successor, who had fought alongside him during the Battle of Panipat. Two of Najib’s high-ranking officers resisted but were crushed by Zabita Khan. The following year, Najib took his son to Delhi, where Zabita Khan was hosted by the Dowager Empress and the Crown Prince. On his death in 1770, he was buried in Najibabad, a town that he founded in Bijnor District. Its site was selected to facilitate the trade with Kashmir since the passage through Punjab had been made unsafe by the inroads of the Sikhs, Marathas, and Afghans.

At the time of his father's death, Zabita Khan was believed to be the second richest person in northern India after the Jat King and was invested as Mir Bakhshi (Head of the Mughal Army) by Shah Alam II. However, he did not have his father’s diplomatic or military skills and after he lead several rebellions by the Rohillas, Shah Alam II began a military campaign against him with the support of the Marathas. During this campaign his son Ghulam Kadir, aged eight was captured in 1777 in Ghausgarh in the Saharanpur District, while his father managed to escape. Kadir was finally sent back to his father, who had regained the imperial favor and was re-established as Mir Bakhshi.
General Azimuddin was a reformer and a good administrator, but the orthodox Rohilla nobles detested him because he restricted their massive loans, many of which were unpaid. As a result of court intrigues, he was murdered in 1891 when he was only 37 years old

Sir Abdus Samad Khan, father of Sababzada Yaqub, in his younger days (Image courtesy his grandson, Arif Khan)

The life of Ghulam Kadir is not a pretty story. It is replete with violence, treachery revenge and cruelty – and it does not deserve to be covered in any detail. In brief, he forced the emperor to give him the same status as his father and grandfather, departed from Delhi when his court intrigues failed, only to return to depose and blind the emperor as revenge for the ill-treatment he received as a boy. Kadir also humiliated the emperor’s family and put to sword 21 princes. He is the subject of a poem by Allama Iqbal titled “Ghulam Qadri Rohilla,” that portrays the cruelty of the Rohilla but the underlying message is about the loss of courage and self-respect by the Mughals. After sacking Delhi, Kadir fled from the advancing Maratha army but was captured and at the request of Shah Alam, was horribly mutilated and died in 1788.

After the death of Kadir, his brother Ghulam Muin-ud-din Khan fled to Punjab. He returned 24 years later in 1812 at the invitation of the East India Company, which by now had occupied Awadh. Muin-ud-din Khan was allowed to settle in Najibabad with the title of Nawab and was granted a pension of Rs. 5,000 per month. He died in 1843, and his title passed onto his son Nawab Mahmud Khan. During the events of 1857, he and his brother rebelled and occupied Bijnor but were defeated in 1858. Mahmud Khan was jailed in Meerut where he died the same year and his brother Nawab Muhammad Jalal ud-din Khan was hanged for complicity. Jalal-ud-din’s first marriage had been to a lady from Rampur and she along with his second wife and the children fled and were given shelter by her kinsmen and rulers of Rampur.

Nawab Jalal-ud-din, who was the great grandfather of Sahabzada Yaqub, had three sons. The eldest was Azim-ud-din Khan who was born in Najibabad, in 1854 and entered the Rampur State Forces. He was a very capable officer who would have been the ruler of Najibabad if the state had survived. He rose to be the Sipha Salar (C-in-C), Vice-President of Rampur Regency Council and was also the Vice Regent to Nawab Hamid Ali Khan who ascended the throne of Rampur at the age of 13. General Azimuddin was a reformer and a good administrator, but the orthodox Rohilla nobles detested him because he restricted their massive loans, many of which were unpaid. As a result of court intrigues, he was murdered in 1891 when he was only 37 years old.

The second son was Sahibzada Hamid-uz-Zafar, who joined the ICS in 1878 as Naib Tahsildar and did as well as his brother. He rose to be Vice-President of the Rampur Administrative Council in 1894, was seconded to the Indian Political Service for two years, and served in senior posts in the Sates of Jodhpur and Alwar. The third son and Sahabzada Yaqub’s grandfather was Nawab Abdus Salam Khan. He was a bibliophile and amassed a large library of books, which at his death were donated to the Aligarh Muslim University. His eldest son and Sahabzada Yaqub’s father was Abdus Samad Khan, who was the same age as the young Nawab of Rampur - and General Azimuddin had the two educated together.

When the 21-year-old nawab was invested with ruling powers, he appointed Abdus Samad as his Private Secretary and in 1900, elevated him to the post of Chief Secretary which he continued to hold for 29 years. Sir Samad was a man of stature and represented the Princely States at the Round Table Conferences in London in 1931 and 1932. He also attended the Imperial Economic Conference in Ottawa in 1932 and the League of Nations in 1933.

Sir Samad was married to the daughter of General Azimuddin but she passed away after bearing a daughter who became the wife of the Nawab. His second wife was Aliya Sultan Begum of Loharu who had links to the family of the famous poet Mirza Ghalib. They had two daughters and three sons and Sahabzada, who was born in Rampur on 23 December 1920, was the youngest. All three brothers had names that began with the letter ‘Y’ – Yunus, Yusuf, and Yaqub. After serving the State of Rampur for over 40 years, in 1937 Sir Samad accepted the appointment of Home Minister of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. He died in 1943 at the relatively young age of 69, while Sahabzada Yaqub was a prisoner of war in Italy.