PRODUCTS of an historical cataclysm now being commemorated as the Revolution of 1857, two descendants of the royal House of Oudh are in Delhi on a mission best described in their own words: "To press our claims on the Government for compensation for the jagirs lost in 1857 in defence of India, and restoration of the sum of two and a half lakhs of rupees, in the form of promissory notes, confiscated by the British 100 years ago".
The two descendants are the grandsons of Prince Birjis Quder, the boy who with his mother, Queen Hazrat Mahal, played a notable part in the events of 1857. They are Sahibzada Nayyer Ali Meerza and Sahibzada Anjum Ali Meerza, two romantic figures suddenly thrown into prominence by dramatic claims upon the attention of the Government. Sahibzada Anjum Ali Meerza is a graduate in psychology , Sahibzada Nayyer Ali Meerza a post graduate in political science.
A part of the larger onward march of irrevocable history, now partly legend and partly documented fact, the exile of the House of Oudh and its subsequent chronicles in Calcutta, make up a romantic tale of governmental disfavour, sensational disputations about heritage and titles, and finally a sad, human story of a royal family which now expects legal recompense from a national Government for a dynastic sacrifice made 100 years ago. The young men's father Prince Meher Ali Meerza, lives in Calcutta on an allowance of Rs 500 from the Government. On his death his three sons will receive a pension of Rs 75/- eah per month. "We are requesting the Government to review our case and to increase this pension to something in keeping with the dignity and prestige of the descendants of Prince Birjis Qadar", said Anjum Ali Meerza.
"We do not wish to make comparison with the patriotism of those others who took part in the Revolution of 1857", said Nayyer Ali Meerza. "Other kingdoms and lives were lost in the struggle". But as the descendants of Prince Birjis Qadar, acclaimed King in Lucknow on July 5, 1857, while he was still a boy of fourteen, an Indian prince who had fought "for the cause", they felt that the Government should be ore generous.
"We are making a reasonable and legitimate request", said Sahibzada Anjum Ali Meerza. "We are asking for the compensation which every jagirdar has received from the Government".
Could a Government which had only recently erected in Lucknow a memorial gate dedicated to Queen Hazrat Mahal leave the great-grandsons of the queen with a pension of Rs75/- a month ? That was the point.
What about service to the people ? I asked. Was there no way of earning their livelihood in these democratic days ? "We are trained by nature and by instinct to serve the people", they said. "Actuall, there were bad timeswhen we ran a transport service in Calcutta to bring in some money. Then we lived partly on the pension and partly on the rent from our home in Calcutta. We are of course prepared to work. We are educated. And we would willingly serve the people. But preferably in some post with dignity and recognition from the Government. In the education department, for instance". And Nayyer Ali Meerza is appearing soon in the IAS examination.
The two young men claim descent from two royal families - they are direct descendants of Safdarjung and on the distant side of a granddaughter of Bahadur Shah, the last Moghul emperor, whom Prince Birjis Qadar married in Nepal during his exile.
Intrigue, the Sahibzadas claim, was responsible for the death of Prince Birjis Qadar and members of this family form poisoning administered by a rival. Prince Mehar Ali Meerza, the young men's father, was a posthumous son, born for months after this ugly incident. The family was for some time treated with suspicion, I was told. But the subsistence allowance was raised from Rs 120 in 1910 to Rs 300 in 1921.
The have seen the Deputy Home Minister, and they hope to see Mr. Nehru.
What would these descendants of the unhappy Prince, who lost a throne 100 years ago, do with the two and a half lakhs of rupees if their claim succeeded?
"If you ask us to open up a cotton mill", said Sahibzada Anjum Ali Meerza, "we don't have the experience. And as you know the money wouldn't be sufficient to set us up as capitalists! Perhaps we would sink it in some Government enterprise".