A gentleman in a time of intrigue - I

Parvez Mahmood tells the story of the seasoned nobleman Nizam-ul-Mulk, who went on to found the enduring Hyderabad state

A gentleman in a time of intrigue - I
From the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 till the occupation of Delhi by the British in 1803, Mughal India saw a time of incompetent emperors and eroding central authority. During this one century, many Mughal emperors were imprisoned, blinded or murdered. Imperial power rested in the hands of mutually antagonistic, predatory and ruthless factions.

There were very few honourable men in the Mughal court during this period. One of them was Mir Qamar-ud-din Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi, the founder of the state of Hyderabad Deccan, who realised early that the Mughals had become morally bankrupt and were incapable of stemming the imminent disintegration of the empire. He deliberately stayed away from palace intrigues and fratricidal wars of succession. His father was also amongst those very rare persons who set up an educational institute in 1692 – at a time when few leaders in India thought of such progressive initiatives.

Asaf Jah I, Nizam of the Deccan

His prudent, calculated and dignified neutrality during court intrigues and wars of succession, was to earn him respect and, more importantly, preserve his life

Qamar-ud-din is commonly remembered by his titles of Chin Qilich Khan (Turkish for ‘Chief of honest sword’) awarded by Emperor Aurangzeb in 1690, Nizam-ul-Mulk (Arabic for ‘Administrator of the Realm’) awarded by Emperor Farrukhsiyyar in 1713 and Asaf Jah (Persian for ‘God’s mercy’) awarded by Emperor Muhammad Shah in 1725. He founded the independent State of Hyderabad in 1724 and, in all ten Nizams ruled the state from its inception till its forced annexation by India in September 1948.

Ever since the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206, people from Central Asia and Afghanistan had been migrating to India in search of greener pastures. Here, they were lavished with high offices and land titles. The Nizam’s grandfather, Khawaja Abid Siddiqi, was such a fortune seeker who found success in Mughal India.

Khawaja Abid was born in Adelabad near the ancient city of Samarkand. His family claimed descent from Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) through the paternal side and from the Prophet (PBUH) through the maternal side. He arrived in India at a critical time when the four sons of Emperor Shah Jahan were locked in a bloody war of succession. Khawaja Abid threw in his lot with Aurangzeb and led an army at the battle of Samugarh, where Prince Dara Shikoh was comprehensively defeated. Aurangzeb honoured him and, thereafter, trusted him with commands of imperial armies. Khawaja Abid died of injuries sustained during the siege of Golconda Fort in 1687.

His son, Ghazi-ud-din Khan Feroz Jang was promoted as the commander of the Deccan army by Aurangzeb and appointed as subedar (governor) of Gujarat during the reign of Bahadur Shah Alam. Contemporary historian Khafi Khan describes his personality in positive terms as “brave, disciplinarian, polite and good natured”. Ghazi-ud-din founded ‘Delhi Madrasa Ghaziuddin Khan’ in the 1690s through a religious endowment. This Madrasa subsequently became the historic and influential Delhi College. Its famous alumni include Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Azad, Deputy Nazir Ahmed, poets Ali Sardar Jafri and Akhtar-ul-Iman, J.N. Dixit and a host of other distinguished names. Ghazi-ud-din lost his eyesight for the last twenty years of his life and died in 1710. He was buried in the premises of his Madrasa.

The courtyard of Ghazi-al-din Khan's Madrasah at Delhi, circa 1814-1815

Ghazi-ud-din was married to the daughter of Saadullah Khan, an important minister of Shah Jahan. The original residence of Saadullah Khan in Lahore was called the Rang Mahal. That palace later became the Mission School during the British era. It is located in an area still known as Rang Mahal at one end of Shah Alam Road. A son was born to the couple on 20 August 1671 at Agra and Emperor Aurangzeb himself named him as Mir Qamar-ud-din Khan Siddiqi.

At the tender age of six, Mir Qamr-ud-din came to the court with his father, where he was awarded a mansab. Emperor Aurangzeb predicted a great future for him. The chief minister of Aurangzeb used to tell Feroz Jang, “The star of destiny shines on the forehead of your son.” All these fortuitous predictions about the child prodigy actually came true.

Qamar-ud-din started accompanying his father on military expeditions to the Deccan at an early age. After such a campaign to Poona, where he distinguished himself, he was awarded the rank of 400 zat and 100 horse at a tender age of thirteen. He was also awarded a sword and a robe of honour.

Khawaja Abid Siddiqi, the ancestor of the Nizam who moved to India from Samarkand

In 1688, Mir Qamar-ud-din took an active part under the command of his father in the investment of the fortress of Adoni, against Siddi Masud. The Emperor raised him to the rank of 2,000 zat, 500 horse, and awarded him a fine steed. In 1691, at the age of twenty, Mir Qamar-ud-din received the title of Chin Qilich Khan. The Emperor seems to have begun to show special consideration to him and the leadership of the Turani (Turkic) element in the Mughal army gradually passed to him. He was also appointed as the first faujdar and then the Subedar of Bijapur.

The story of Qamar-ud-din from here onwards gets complicated because of inter factional rivalry. I will try to keep it as simple as the dictates of authenticity and continuity allow, but the reader is requested to keep track of the names.

Babur’s companions in India from the Ferghana valley had been elevated to high military and administrative offices. They along with later migrants from Central Asia formed the Turani faction. There was also a rival Irani faction in the Mughal court. When Humayun returned from Iran to reclaim the throne, many Iranians found favour in high positions and their faction grew equally strong. With the rise of Nur Jahan and her brother Asaf Khan, the Iranians gained supremacy. Of two of the most powerful successor states to Mughal rule, namely Awadh and Hyderabad, the former belonged to the Irani faction, becoming predominantly Shia, while the latter belonged to the Turani faction, becoming predominantly Sunni. At the time of death of Aurangzeb, the leader of the Irani faction was Zulfiqar Khan, while that of Turani faction was Qamar-ud-din. Zulfiqar Khan was a descendent of Asaf Khan – Empress Nur Jahan’s brother – and married to one of his granddaughters. He and his father Asad Khan had been leading commanders during Aurangzeb’s last years and had rendered admirable services in the Deccan.

Besides these two factions, there were the Syed brothers, namely Syed Hassan Ali Khan and Syed Hussain Ali Khan. The brothers belonged to a prominent martial family from Muzaffarnagar district in Awadh. Their ancestor migrated to the region from Iraq at the end of the 10th century and members of the family served the Mughal empire. Their father fought valiantly with Aurangzeb in the successful siege of Bijapur and was appointed the first Mughal subedar of the captured province. His sons gained high administrative positions and formed a powerful faction as kingmakers in the Mughal court after Aurangzeb. They were finally killed by Qamar-ud-din in the early 1720s when the Syed brothers tried to raid Hyderabad and oust the former from the state.
In protest, he resigned as the Subedar of Awadh and returned the titles bestowed by the new Emperor. He made up his mind to retire from the world altogether and to assume the garb of a faqir

During the war of succession following death of Aurangzeb – and on his wish – Qamar-ud-din decided to remain neutral. His prudent, calculated and dignified neutrality on this occasion, as on future occasions of court intrigues and wars of succession, was to earn him respect and, more importantly, preserve his life. This was, after all, an era of puppet emperors when every court intriguer and partisan invariably met a brutal end at the hands of rival factions.

During this war of succession between three sons of Aurangzeb, the Irani faction of Zulfiqar Khan supported Prince Azam Shah who lost the bid to succession – and his life – at the Battle of Jajau on 8 June 1707. Prince Bahadur Shah emerged victorious with the help of the then governor of Kabul, Mun’im Khan, and assumed the throne.

On the advice of Mun’im Khan, the new emperor reconciled with those nobles who had not supported him in his wars against his brothers. Consequently Qamar-ud-din was appointed as the Subedar of Awadh and faujdar of Lucknow. Asad Kahn became the ‘wakil-e-mutlaq’ and his son Zulfiqar Khan took over as the ‘Mir Bakhshi’. The Syed brothers, who were to become the most powerful faction in the coming years, also gained military and administrative posts.

However, the era of Mughal emperors who wielded effective central authority was now over. Incapable emperors played into the hands of cunning court factions, giving rise to intrigues and anarchy. Contemporary historian Khafi Khan notes that Bahadur Shah was derogatorily known as ‘Shah-i-Bekhabar’ – the ignorant king – for being negligent in managing the affairs of the empire. After the death of Mun’im Khan in 1710, Zulfiqar Khan and his ageing father Asad Khan remained the only real power in the court of Bahadur Shah.

Qamar-ud-din, as the head of the Turani faction, was disgusted and disheartened by the rise of Zulfiqar Khan as the absolute authority. In protest, he resigned as the Subedar of Awadh and returned the titles bestowed by the new Emperor. He made up his mind to retire from the world altogether and to assume the garb of a faqir.

In the bitter Mughal tradition, the four sons of Emperor Bahadur Shah were mutually hostile. The second son Azim-ush-Shan was his father’s favourite. During his retirement from the world, Qamar-ud-din, had been on intimate terms with prince Azim-ush-Shan, who used to come to see him frequently and promised him that if ever he became emperor, he would make him his Chief Minister. The prince wanted to employ Qamar-ud-din’s personality and influence against Zulfiqar Khan, whose highhanded authority was intensely disliked.

Bahadur Shah’s death in 1712 was followed by a four-way struggle for succession at Lahore. Zulfiqar Khan formed an alliance of three brothers against Azim-ush-Shan, who along with his son, were killed on the banks of the Ravi. Azim-ush-Shan’s second son, Farrukhsiyyar, who would become the emperor a year later after another internecine war, watched this tragedy from Allahabad. Zulfiqar Khan then engineered the success of Jahandar by having the other two brothers murdered. Jahandar Shah became the emperor and Zulfiqar Khan, the real power behind the throne, was made the chief minister.

Jahandar was a frivolous ruler. Helpless and incensed, Qamar-ud-din stayed away from the court while living in Delhi. In an era when sycophancy before the Emperor and his concubine Lal Kunwar was valued over talent and ability, the dignified Qamar-ud-din didn’t even visit the Emperor or his chief minister to facilitate them. He had decided that he would have nothing to do with power.

However, better times would come for him.

The influential Syed Brothers, sympathisers of Farrukhsiyyar, stayed away from the court in the eastern provinces of the empire, where the younger Syed was governor of Bihar and the elder was governor of Allahabad. Farrukhsiyyar himself was the acting governor of Bengal and refused to accept Jahandar as the emperor. Together these three raised an army in Allahabad. Jahandar marched against them with an army of his own. The Emperor sought the help of Qamar-ud-din and requested him to support his cause. Qamar-ud-din gathered his Turani soldiers but stayed away from fight. He didn’t participate in the battle of succession at Agra that Farrukhsiyyar won. Having ruled for just over one year, Jahandar was destined to lose his crown as well as his head.

Farrukhsiyyar was crowned the emperor in Agra in January 1713. He avenged the murder of his father and elder brother by executing both Jahandar and Zulfiqar Khan, while the ageing father of the later, Asad Khan, was consigned to prison. The father-and-son duo had served Emperor Aurangzeb admirably well, especially in the wars and administration of Deccan, the Achilles’ Heel of the Empire. The elder of the Syed brothers was appointed as the chief minister while the younger, and the more capable, brother became the Mir Bakhshi – defence minister. The two brothers, between them, ran the empire.

The Syed brothers knew the exceptional abilities of Qamar-ud-din and didn’t want him near the corridors of power in Delhi. They, therefore, used their influence to appoint him the Subedar of all six Deccan provinces and also the faujdar of the Carnatic – essentially the overlord of much of the peninsular Subcontinent. He was given the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk, a name by which he would be known in history for ever.

Before leaving for the Deccan though, the gracious Nizam visited Asad Khan in prison and was dismayed to see him in a sorry condition. He pleaded with the chief minister for kind treatment of the prisoner, who had in the past served the state well. The conditions of imprisonment were immediately improved and Asad Khan was looked after well till his death in 1716.

The Nizam’s appointment as the viceroy of Deccan at 44 years of age was a fortuitous turn of events. Though he was recalled only two years later, the astute Nizam used this opportunity to consolidate his influence in the region. The Mughal empire was falling on hard times. Many courtiers, including Syed brothers, and many emperors, including Farrukhsiyyar, would be blinded or lose their lives in quick succession.

(to be continued)

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at parvezmahmood53@gmail.com

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com