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An Article on Wajid Ali Shah...

Was Wajid Ali Shah Assassinated ?

Yes !

Says Prince Anjum Quder (B.Sc. Hons.)

       I was born on 7 June 1922 in my mother Nawab Mehdi Begum's house at B-68 Iron Gate Road, Matiaburj, in the outskirts of Calcutta very close to Sultan Khana, the palace where Wajid Ali Shah resided. He had died only 35 years earlier in September 1887. Even when I reached the age of majority, there still were thousands of men and women in Garden Reach (Matiaburj) who had seen the late King, and hundreds of them were those who had known him intimately. Scores of palace residents, servants and royal family members attached to Wajid Ali Shah were then alive. I was born and lived amongst them. It was public knowledge those days that the late king was killed by poison, that Munsrimud Daula his chief Vezir in the palace had administered the lethal does, and that the Government of the day was behind this diabolical murder. But the fear and awe of the "feringhee" rulers was so overwhelming that a great cons-piracy of silence prevailed with entire population of Matiaburj. The administrative machinery successfully suppressed the the awful news from traveling further. People did talk of this abominable crime amongst themselves, but in subdued and hushed tones in private. They dared not white about it publicly or speak from a public platform for fear of victimization. Memory of the terrible terror let loose by the east India Company especially on their kinsmen the citizens of Oudh after quelling the uprising of 1857, was lingering in the public mind and no one thought it sensible to cry over spilled milk. Though Wajid Ali Shah was deeply loved by all even in Matiaburj, perhaps the common populace can be excused for not protesting the murder. Because the act had already been done, it would have been a futile protest as the culprits could not possibly be punished. However, the same indulgence cannot be shown to the King's relatives. For the sake of history and for the sake of righteousness and of exposing evil, they should have openly come out regardless of the consequences against the killers of the head of their clan. With the eldest son Birjis Qadr in exile in Nepal after 1857, never having come down to India in his father's lifetime, there were exactly 63 persons in Matiaburj who claimed to be Wajid Ali Shah's progeny and who even got pension as such. Not a single such person ever raised his little finger to point out those who belonged to the killer gang. They aligned themselves instead with the murderers of their putative father for worldly gain. The political pension that the British Governor had given them after the crime, was enough bait to keep their mouths shut. Good conduct and loyalty to the British rule were the only two written conditions on which Government pensions were given to this family. Unfortunately it has come to my lot to publicly expose this historical murder and name the conspirators after a century.

       A small British Military force headed by one Lieut. Col. W.F. Prideaux was permanently stationed in Matiaburj in the 4 three storied buildings at 61-Park that still stand facing Hindustan Lever Factory. This force was a permanent guard and a show of strength, as King Wajid Ali was confined to the area of Matiaburj. The Colonel also performed the duties of "Agent" to the Governor General in Council for the affairs for the affairs of the late king of Oudh." In that capacity he was in direct liaison with the Governor General whose seat was then in Belvedere, Alipore on the outskirts of Calcutta (which now houses the National Library). Prideaux regularly attended the Durbar of Wajid Ali Shah in Matiaburj, and was intimate not only with the king but all his relatives, officers and servants. Among the officers was one known to history now as Munsarimud-daula, after the assassination, the people of Matiaburj derisively called him "Langra Munshi". And they ultimately hounded him and his family out of the town to complete anonymity. No one knows now who where are the present descendants of Munsarimud-daula. He was however only used as an instrument by more powerful conspirators.

       When I was appointed by the West Bengal Government in 1974 as a Trutee of King Wajid Ali's Trust and later became its Chairman, I began to search for old documents, papers etc. stored in the various godowns of the Mausoleum of Wajid Ali Shah. There I chanced upon framed elegies recited by contemporary Urdu and Persian poets in the customary Chehlum ceremony 40 days after the demise of Wajid Ali Shah.

       The Statesman, Calcutta, dated 3.11.1987 in its"100 years ago" column had published a report to the effect that : "through the good officers and friendly advice of the Governor General's Agent Colonel W.F. Prideaux, Prince Kumar Kudr was the person to whom the details of management of the experience connected with the 'Chehlum' or the 40th days ceremony of his late Majesty should be ( and was) entrusted". There is no knowing who put names on the several Qate-e Tarikh, and why then the same did not adorn walls of his Majesty's mausoleum. In these lamentations the story of the manner the king was killed is given in details. These gems in elegy, thrown away with the rubbish by the old Trustees of the King's Trust (then headed by Prince Kumar Kudr) for a hundred years and not without reason, have been published by me in Urdu recently for the first time. Some relevant Urdu and Persian excerpts are being reproduced below in Roman Script for the benefit of all :-

                 ( Urdu )

Khal rahi thi iss asiri mae bhi
jiski zindagi,

Zahr us-e dilwaya mauqa pa ke
Matiaburj mae;

Langrae Munshi ne sipahr-e manzilat
par ki jafa,

Roz-o shab unka namak kha kha ke
Matiaburj mae;

Haa-e us be rahm ne shamm-e Avadh ko
gul kiya/Dum liya ek hashr-o afat
dha ke Matiaburj mae;

Doosri mah-e Mohurrum ka hua jab din

Chhora her ek ko lahoo rulwa ke
Matiaburj mae.

                 ( Persian )

Chun doo guzasht mah-e Mohurrum
raseed shab,

Sum dad aah Munsarimud-daula roo

'Majrooh' saal-e faut ba Hijri
nawisht in,

Dar qaid murd Wajid Ali Shah
Badshah. (1305)

                 ( Urdu )

Doosri mah-e aza ko aah aah
Zulm dhaya zalim-o saffak ne;

Ap-ne aqa ko diya zahr-e daga
Langrae Munshi se laeen chalak ne,

                 ( Urdu )

Iss qaid mae bhi zinda na rahne diya

Dilwaya Zahr yon ke hasad dil mae
tha nihan;

Ikkeeswin quzar ke sitamber ki
shab jab aayee

Zahr unko de diya gaya pani me na

Ek ghul hua ke mar-gaye Sultan-e Kaj

Virah ho gaya ke jo abad tha makan;

Ho kar shaheed shah-e Avadh Jannat
ashian'.  (1887)


Wajid Ali Shah's long life, even in detention, was becoming increasingly intolerable to his incarcerators.?


He was killed as soon as an opportunity came.


He was killed on 2nd day of Mahurrum 1305 (Hijri) after sunset. Which was 21st day of September, 1887 (A.D.)?


He was given poison in water killing him instantly.


Munsarimud-daula, mockingly called Langra Munshi, accomplished the assignment.


Some other power had a design. Note:

                 ( Urdu )

Iss qaid mae bhi zinda na rahne diya

Dilwaya Zahr yon ke hasad dil mae
tha nihan;

Meaning: "He was not allowed to remain alive
even in this confinement;
  Poison was arranged to be given because of
hidden animosity."


"Khal rahi thi iss asiri mae bhi
jis-ki zindagi

Zahr us-e dilwaya mauqa pa ke
Matiaburj mae"';

Meaning: "Whose life was becoming intolerable
even in this confinement,
   was arranged to be given poison
as soon an opportunity came".

        It is a fact recorded in several history books that on his day of death the 2nd of Mohurrum 1305 A.H. Wajid Ali Shah had attended the morning Majlise Husain in his Sibtainabad Imambara in Matiaburj. Same night in his palace at Sultan Khana a hundred yards away, the unfortunate King expired. From the elegies it is clear Wajid Ali Shah was administered by Munsarimud-daula some deadly poison in a glass of water, and he immediately collapsed and expired. That poison could be the sophisticated (and imported) potassium cyanide, or some such thing. King Wajid Ali was ceremoniously buried the next day with great pomp and show and military honour under Government aegis. He was incidently the first of the celebrated 13 rulers of Oudh, who had unfortunately had to build his own tomb rather than as per family tradition leave it to his survivors to do so. Such was the pitiable state of affairs in Matiaburj (and he knew it), with Begum Hazrat Mahal dead and Birjis Qadr in exile. No autopsy or inquiry into this sudden unnatural death was ordered by the then Government, for obvious reasons.

        No conclusive evidence of a murder committed a hundred, years ago can be possible now. All witnesses are dead, and no post mortem can be done. But the contemporary elegies, which from recorded documents, corroborated by universal public belief coming down three generations in the locale along with circumstances is enough to draw the only possible inference. If indictment and conviction are possible under English jurisprudence only on circumstantial evidence, then this is it. There is no reason whatever for the poets to depose in such detail of the murderous acts committed, and for the audience to accept it in hushed silence unless the same were true. There is no contradiction but complete unanimity in the different contemporary versions. The conclusion therefore is irresistible that Wajid Ali Shah did not, die a natural death, but was murdered.

        Two motives are the most striking as to why Wajid Ali Shah should have been done away with. The East India Company had publicly committed itself in writing in Lucknow in 1856, before taking over the kingdom, to pay King Wajid Ali a life pension of rupees twelve lakhs a year. This the Company started paying in Matiaburj, at the rate of one lakh of rupees per month, hoping perhaps that it may not be for too long. Compare this amount of the days when gold was priced at Rs. 5 per tola with the present price of Rs.6,000 per tola. Imagine the huge monthly payment (equivalent of 12 crores per month of today) being paid to a private citizen that Wajid Ali had then become, month after month years after for 31 years till 1887. Even then there was no likelihood for him to die soon. He was only 65 years old, and could well have lived on for another 20 years or even more, especially in view of the best medical help of the day being available to him in Calcutta. So the committed payment was abruptly brought to sudden and inglorious end, saving the commercial company quite a fortune. Although the king had lamented that out of the annual revenue of kingdom, which was 4 crores he was being given only 12 lakhs.

        The other motive for the assassination, perhaps more sinister, was that in the feudal era of nineteenth century India the hearts of the people of Oudh were still with their king Wajid Ali Shah, who they were hoping would return to resume his kingdom by some divine phenomenon. After all, he had not been deprived of his title of "His Majesty the King of 0udh" even in exile up to his death. And the Kingdom of Oudh had not been lawfully taken over by the "paramount power". It could not be over-looked that the king of Oudh had refused to sign the instrument of abdication when it was presented to him in Lucknow by the Resident agent of the British Governor General. That their beloved sovereign was still alive was a great consolation to the feudal mind of the populace of that bygone era. The people of Oudh hated to accept some one else as their king, when their own king was living. This may be difficult to comprehend now by the young socialistic minds of today. But king or no king Wajid Ali's was also a magnetic personality, and his was a magic name. Intelligent and cunning as the "Company Bahadur's" men were, they knew very well that they were ruling Oudh, which was the heart of India only by force of arms and that such a yoke would one day be over-thrown. They knew well that to govern one had to win the hearts of the governed, and that was not possible so long as the people knew their king was alive and living in some nearby part of India. So he was eliminated. And the psychological nucleus in Wajid Ali Shah that was standing in the way of smooth British administration was quietly removed with a swiftness and classic finesse for which they were well known. It's another matter that this crime further alienated the people, and the 'feringhee' had to quit India within only 60 Years of the murder, which had become public knowledge at that time. After the late lamented Wajid Ali Shah was buried, Lieut. Colonel W. F. Prideaux prepared detailed Reports to his Government on the ex-royal family members and on the servants of the late king with a view to fixing life pensions for them. In his memo No. 351 dated Calcutta, the 31st March 1888 addressed to the Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign Department, Prideaux has written at para 4 about his loyal agent Munsarimud-daula, the assassin of Wajid Ali Shah, as follows:

"4. The king' s chief manager and general agent Saiyid Muhammed Hussain, Munsarim-ud-daula Bahadur. This officer belongs to a respectable family of Oudh and his ancestors for some generations were in the service of the State. He is in possession of certificates that were given to his father, Munshi Saiyid Nawazish Ahmed, by order of the Lieutenant - Governor of the North Western Provinces in acknowledgement of good service rendered in the settlement of boundary disputes between the two provinces in 1843. The son, Munshi Saiyid Muhammad Hussain, after being employed as an assistant to his father, was appointed a Kanungo in the Agra Division in 1856 and afterwards officiated as. Serishteder of the Criminal Court at Pertapgarh. When the mutiny broke out, he was employed as manager of the Khan Tehsil estates in the Agra Division and, during the troubles that ensued, he was very active and according to a certificate granted to him .by the Hon' ble Mr. Drummond, behaved exceedingly well. He came to Calcutta about the time His Majesty was released from Fort William, and was appointed Superintendent of the king's police, in which post he did excellent service. After the death of Nawab Amir Ali Khan Bahadur, he was appointed with the approval of Government, the King's general manager, and in that capacity has won the esteem and confidence of every officer with whom he has been brought into contact. Having personally known him for more than seven years, I can testify to the tact and judgement which he has invariably shown in the management of the business, which was often rendered unnecessarily complicated by the capricious temper of the king. When the illness of His Majesty developed serious symptoms, I asked him to furnish me with a complete list of all the persons who in any shape were dependant on the king together with the rates of pay which they received, and the receipt of information some time before the king's deceased enabled me to place a check upon the fraud and personation which would have inevitably resulted if I had not known before hand the details of the king's establishments. During the progress of the administration of the king's Estate, he has acted under me as Superintendent of Affairs at Garden Reach, and I can not speak too highly of the zeal and activity with which he has executed my orders. The difficult task of persuading the ladies of the king's household to vacate as their continued employment became unnecessary, have been carried out by him in a quiet and systematic manner and the general absence of complaint or hostile criticism in relation to those matters is the best proof of his success in dealing with them. During the king's lifetime he was of course in possession of many advantages, such as a rent free house and the gratuitious services of many of the king's employees but his emoluments in cash amounted to Rs.750 per mensem, and I would venture to recommend that in consideration of his long and faithful services and the assistance which in very eminent degree he has rendered since the death of His Majesty, a pension, amounting to two thirds of his former emoluments, or Rs.500/- per mensem, be granted to him for the remainder of his life, to commence from the date on which his services may be no longer required. He is now 68 years of age and is not in possession of any private pecuniary means".

(Oudh Pension Papers, page 19,
a Govt. of India publication, 1913.)

       Before Wajid Ali Shah was ultimately done to death, the problems the Government would in that eventuality have had to face in the palace and with the royal family members and royal servants were fully anticipated, and carefully sorted out with help of the would be assassin. And the death was planned well in advance. To predict the natural 'decease' of a strong healthy and rich Wajid Ali Shah of only 67 years, whose father and grand father lived much longer lives, even the best of astrologers would have hesitated. And Prideaux had no such super human pretensions. Then how come the Colonel and Munsarimud-daula 'the executor of his orders with zeal and activity tact and judgement', 'a seven years old personal acquaintance', 'whose ancestors for generations were in British Civil Service', could have anticipated the 'decease' and made plans for meeting the situation after the king's death before he actually died ? Wajid Ali Shah was so fit hale and hearty even on the day of his death that he travelled, albeit in his horses driven closed coach, half a mile from his palace to the Sibtainahad Imambara, walked a. distance from the coach to his special platform the Shah Nashin, on the 2nd day of Mohurrum and made public appearance in the Majlis-e Husain and went back to his palace the way he came. He expired the same evening. No investigation of this sudden death of a great man was ever ordered by the Government of the day.

        The Agent to the Governor General with the king of Oudh.. Col. W.F. Prideaux recommended a life pension of. Rs.500/- per month for Munsarimud-daula Saiyid Muhammad Hussain, the same amount of pension that was granted to 19 sons of the assassinated king. A close study of the Reports would show that. Prideaux recommended the amounts of (pensions according to the special rank of the pensioner, in deference to strong feelings in this regard prevalent in the feudalistic society of the time. It is significant therefore that Munsarimud-daula a servant was raised to a rank equal to the king's sons in the eyes of the British Government. In this context the following remarks in his report made by the Agent to the Governor General to the Foreign Secretary recommending higher pension for Munsarimud daula assume a sinister significance.

        "……and I can not speak too highly of the zeal and activity with which he executed my orders".

        "………and I would venture to recommend that in consideration of his long and faithfu1 service and the assistance which in a very eminent degree he has rendered since the death of His Majesty, a pension amounting to Rs.500 per mensem be granted to him for life".

        No service "of a very eminent degree" entitling him to such a high pension equal to the king' s sons was or could be possibly rendered after the king's death . The obvious but subtle reference conveyed between the lines in the Report, that was an official record meant for future publication (and, was published), was to the eminent service rendered to the alien rulers before the death of the late king.

        Being aware of all the happenings, this recommendation was readily accepted by a pleased Earl of Dufferin Governor - General of British India, residing in his Vice-Regal Lodge at Belvedere not far from the place where the tragic scenes were being enacted by his minions.

        Imagine a Government pensioner being granted for life a monthly pension equivalent to rupees 6 lakhs of today. This was not paid to Munsarimurl-daula by the 'feringhee' rulers of British India for nothing.

        This treatise is being concluded with the following appendage, being quotations serially from pages 187 to 191 of "King Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh" Volume II by Mirza Ali. Azhar, a retired Judge of Jaipur of 1943, who did extensive research in Calcutta, Lucknow and London to compile his scholarly work in 2 volumes and published it from Karachi in 1982.


        "What is pity that such a distinguished person who had been the ruler of a great and fertile country, for generations, was poisoned to death openly but the Government and its officers, in spite of public agitation, did not care to find out what and how it happened…..We wish to bring to the Government notice, the facts as we know them. The truth or falsehood (of the matter) can be found out after official enquiry only. But it should be kept in mind that the investigating party should not include Col. Pridaux (Agent to the Governor General for the Administration of Awadh Affairs). He was fully responsible for looking after the affairs (of the King), but. In spite of the talk of the town, he avoided investigation and apprehension (of the culprits). What can be expected from him in future?


        "The King was sick for sometime past but since his treatment by Hakim Abdul Ali of Lucknow most of his ailments were cured. He was put on diet but was feeling very weak. For the last few days he was practically restored to health. On 2nd September 1887 at 10.0 p.m. he was reading a book. Hakim Saheb (Abdul Ali) and Zulfiqarud-daulah (Syed Sajjad Ali Khan) were present. Hakim Saheb had prepared a medicine in the form of a Chatni (Sauce). It suited the King. He derived rnuch benefit from it and took it often. After 10.0 Hakim Saheb gave the Chatni to the King and left. Zulfiqar-ud-daulah remained behind but he cannot see anything at night. The King asked for a Lab-e-Mashuq i.e. Huqqa. Fateh Makandar, who was on duty, came out to prepare the Huqqa (for the King). Immediately Munsarim-ud-daulah (Munshi Muhammad Husain Khan Bahadur) the Prime Minister, came in. As if he was on the look out for such an opportunity and submitted "Huzur, Please have Chatni'. The King said "Hakim Saheb has just now given me the ( he Chatni) in his own presence" . But Munsarim-ud-daulah insisted: "If you take it again, Huzur, it will be profitable (help you in recovery"). The King again refused, but the Minister (Munsarim-ud-daulah)' insisted. "Please take it from my hand." Then he gave the Chatni in which he might have mixed up something from his pocket, to the King. There was nobody else to see what was being mixed up. Zulfiqar-ud-daulah was blind and he could not see anything at night but he heard King's repeated refusals (to take the medicine) and the Minister's persistence for taking it.


        "As soon as the King took the medicine (Chatni) cramps set in. Before Fateh brouqht in the Huqqa, the condition became serious and it became worse every moment. When the King realised that his condition was getting hopeless he asked for pen, paper a nd ink-pot. The Minister (Munsarim-ud-daulah) who was sitting nearby did not comply with it. The King again asked for pen, paper etc. again nobody listened to him. For the third time the King lost his temper and said: "Give me pen, paper and ink-pot so that I may make some arrangement for these poor (persons) getting six rupees. I am finished !"


        "The Minister (Munsarim-ud-daulah) said Huzur should rest assured that I will make all arrangements…." The Minister did not give the writing material lest the King should write something about him.

        "The King died at 10-0 p.m. The Minister had made all arrangements... news was carried from Sultan Khana (where the King lived) to the Agent who, it seemed, was waiting for the news. The Agent came at 11-0 p.m. The Commissioner and the Viceroy, at Simla, were informed telegraphically. Twenty constables from each Thana of the city reached Matiaburj by 4-0 a.m. Government sentries were posted at the Royal palaces, departments and incoming and out-going gates.

        "Khas Mahal (Principal consort of the late King) was informed, by the officials, at 8.0 a.m. (next day). She felt aggrieved for being informed so late and therefore, did not come. Mirza Jahan Qadr requested her (Khas Mahal) to come as without her presence nothing could be managed…Khas Mahal came from Suroor Bagh. On her arrival the guards, inside the palaces, were removed. Two sentries were posted at the houses of Atarud-daulah and the Prime Minister (Munsarim-ud-daulah whom the writer wrongly calls the Prime Minister) and the Bakshi Khana to prevent removal of the moveables.

        "All the Princes, princesses and Mutai's (Mumtu'a wives) joined the mourning rites."

        "The whole of Matiaburj was bewailing the death of the King."


        "On the succeeding night at 10.0 p.m. the bier was taken out.. It was preceded by martial music which was followed by two platoons of soldiers. Next came the notables of Matiaburj and Calcutta. The Royal Coffin was followed by, at least, thirty thousand people who were weeping and bewailing at their misfortune (caused by the King's death). At 11.30 p.m. the (King) was buried.


        "A person related that Munsarim-ud-daulah was limping ahead of me at about four paces. He was followed by a crowd of old women who cried aloud. "O ! Langra Munshi, may God turn you a leper! you have killed our protector, may your children and you suffer for it ! May God turn you blind."

        Everyone who knew the secret (of poisoning) was silent, lest the mention of death by poisoning should cause the King's corpse to be subjected to postmortem. The heirs of the King also kept quiet for this very reason. We have heard it that the Kings entire body including his nails became blue.

        "It is said that the Minister (Munsarim-ud-daulah) cannot go out of his house …… It is also said young men at Matiaburj have made an effigy and named it Munsarim-ud-daulah. They take it out in the lanes etc. and at every ten or twenty steps give him a shoe beating and declare, this is the punishment of an ungrateful wretch. If anybody asked them as to whose effigy they had made, they would answer it is the Lame Munshi who is paying for his deserts".

        From the above erudite research of the scholar Judge it established that on the day King Wajid Ali was murdered both the Commissioner of Calcutta and the Viceroy of India (Lord Dufferin) were away at Simla. Col. Prideaux had to inform them by telegram of the King's death. Now, Prideaux was a very small fry to decide alone on the custodial murder committed openly of King Wajid Ali the most popular Indian of his time. He was confined to Garden Reach area under Prideaux ' s charge, who also lived in Garden Reach with a garrison of British soldiers to guard the King. Prideaux had no personal reason to commit the outrage and he could be held criminally liable, if he did it on his own. It was only the British Government of India that stood to gain by Wajid Ali Shah's death. So the presumption is irresistible that the Viceroy, the Commissioner and Prideaux hatched the conspiracy and left it to Prideaux to execute while they kept themselves in Simla far away from their seat in Viceregal Lodge in Belvedere, Calcutta, the then capital of India.

        The disbelief that Government of Britannia could ever stoop, to commit such a base crime as murder is removed at least now after the BBC interview of Joe Haines, the Press Secretary of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson broadcast from London on 22 September 1996. According to Haines, Harold Wilson had asked his Foreign office in mid-70's to arrange for the assassination of Idi Amin the (Muslim) President and dictator of (Christian majority) Uganda. By a strange co-incidence the interview was broadcast on this year's anniversary day of the assassination and funeral of Wajid Ali, King of Oudh. And for the British Rulers to be on oath to uphold law and justice. . . ! ! !

Anjum Quder          
Chairman, Wajid Ali Shah Trust

Dated 22nd September, 1996
King of Oudh's Mausoleum    
Matiaburj, Garden Reach,    

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