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An Article on Birjis Qadr's Death Centenary at Calcutta ...
Reproduced from :
The Asian Age - Calcutta Edition
21st August, 1995 Page - 13
Column : The OP-ED Page - PASTMASTERS


Written by:
                    Prof. Abdus Subhan



When Wajid Ali Shah the deposed ruler of Oudh was healing his wounds in exile at Metiabruz near Calcutta about 150 years ago, a fascinating interlude of the country's freedom struggle, which nearly shook the foundations of the British paramountcy in India was taking shape as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The army had achieved a titillating victory at Chinhut near Lucknow on 30th July 1857. As a result of which the whole of Lucknow, barring the Residency was in the hands of the revolutionary forces who badly needed a rallying point as the deposed king had been exiled to Calcutta. The leadership vacuum was then filled by Begum Hazrat Mahal, the heroic consort of Wajid Ali Shah, whose valorous exploits at the crucial time easily made her the Muslim counterpart of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. She rose to the occasion and acting in the capacity of regent, supplied the much-needed symbol of authority by crowning her 14-year-old son, Birjis Qadr, as the king.

       The British annexation of Oudh was regarded by all and sundry as an act of outrageous betrayal. The zamindars and taluqdars of the erstwhile kingdom joined the common people and mercenaries in organising the revolt which soon assumed a national dimension. Irrespective of religion, caste or creed, the Musim and Hindu populace of Oudh gathered in Lucknow on 5 July 1857 and placed the crown on the young prince's head.

       The nine month-long reign of king Birjis Qadr, which corresponds with India's first armed uprising against the British, had al the paraphernalia of a lawful rule. Coins were issued in his name, revenues and taxes were paid, orders and proclamations were scrupulously obeyed and recognition was received from other potentates such as Nana Rao of the Marathas, Bakht Khan of Rohilkhand and above a from Emperor Bahadur Shah of Delhi.

       The new king's coin bore the following interesting legend:

Nasara pa gahr-e-Khuda hua
Jawan Sal Sultan-e-Lucknow hua


(God's Wrath befall the (colonialist) Christians
as the young man becomes the king of Lucknow)

       The besiegers of the Residency exultingly announced their enemies:

"We have crowned our king.
The rule of the feringhee is over
and we will soon be in your Bailey Guard."

         The news of the coronation of Birjis Qadr had actually been sent to the Delhi emperor whose approval was promptly received. This was followed by a letter from the boy king to Bahadur Shah Zafar:

 

"Revered One,

       This humble self has unremittingly annihilated the wretched unbelievers.

       Few still remain in the Bailey Guard who will soon be exterminated. I expect by your Imperial generosity the same kindness that was accorded to my ancestors.

       Some humble presents, though not befitting enough, are sent along with the petition for the Imperial servants.

       If accepted, it will be great honour. "

         The communication, along with the presents, was carried by the king's confidant Abbas Mirza who reached Delhi on 26th Moharram 1274 AH. Emperor Bahadur Shah gave a private audience to the ambassador, accepted the presents and wrote on the same letter the following message:

 

"Dutiful son,

       Mirza Birjis Qadr Bahadur, King of Oudh,

       Praise be on you that in so young an age you have performed great deeds.

       The seal of the Title will be sent to you later.

        Rest assured that you will be granted greater territories than you have possessed in the past.

          Abbas Mirza was honoured with the title of Safeerud Dowlah and according to Qaisarut Tawarikh, an authentic work on the history of the kingdom of Oudh, His Imperial Majesty added,

 

       "Birjis Qadr is my son. I do grant him the Crown."

         The promised seal of Title was also sent soon after.

         The crown placed on the child king's head was ironically different from the one worn by his father.

          By an act of calculated affront to the Mughal Emperor at Delhi, the British administration, represented by Lord Moria had made Nawab Ghaziuddin Haider the king of Oudh in 1819.

         The so-called kingship continued for 36 years when the fifth king, Wajid Ali Shah, suddenly found himself crownless one morning in 1856 and exiled to Calcutta. In his autobiographical poem, Huzn-e-Akhtar, the deposed ruler bemoans while pleading for the restoration of his confiscated kingdom.

"Rakhoonga main khud peshe Malka ye Taj,
Unhi ka hai baksha hua mujhko raj"


(I will myself place this crown before the Queen of England
as I owed my kingdom to her alone)

         On the contrary, Birjis Qadr's crown, as we have seen, was conferred by the Emperor of Hindustan, to whom even the East India Company owed formal allegiance. The sanctity of this crown was zealously guarded by the queen regent and her faithful comrade-at-arms to the best of their capacity.

         The revolutionary administration of the new dispensation held the city of Lucknow for about six months. Under the rule of the new king Begum Hazrat Mahal issued proclamation to the people in general to unitedly fight the English. Realising the need of national integration, the principal offices of the state were distributed among the Hindus and Muslims alike. Sharafud-dowla was appointed the prime minister, while Maharaja Balkrishan was asked to look after the finances. The post of the Chief Justice was given to Mammu Khan, while Raja Jialal Singh became the war minister. Among the important associates were Raja Beni Madho Baksh of Baiswara, Raja Dig Vijay Singh of Mahona, Khan Ali Khan of Shahjahanpur, Maulavi Ahmadullah Shah of Faizabad.

         The proclamation of the Queen of England, dated 10 November 1858, sought to woo the Begum by offers of royal amnesty and even of a pension. The spirited Begum issued a counter proclamation, asking her subjects in Oudh not to be misled by false promises.

         Birjis Qadr ruled uninterrupted till 18 March 1858 when the British forces under General Havelock and Outram conquered the kingdom of Oudh for the first time. Though vanquished, Birjis Qadr and his undaunted mother were determined not to fall into the hand of the British. They fled Lucknow and took the northern route, wandering in the dense forests of the sub-Himalayan terrai with a handful of faithful soldiers, " half-armed, half-fed and without artillery."

         Eventually they crossed into Nepal and sought and received asylum from Nepalese government along with a small allowance. Begum Hazrat Mahal died in Nepal.

         On the occasion of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887, the British government pardoned Birjis Qadr and he was allowed to return home. He, however arrived in Calcutta sometime in 1893 to find the glory of his colonial masters at its zenith.

         His exiled father had already passed away. According to the contemporary chronicler, Abdul Halim Sharar (1860-1926). Birjis Qadr put in a claim which stated that of all the King's sons, he was the eldest surviving and had the greatest rights. He demanded that he should be given a pension equal to two-thirds of the allowance allotted to the king and should be made responsible for looking after the royal heirs and dependents.

         He was preparing to go to England to further his claim when on the 14th of August 1893 he was invited to dinner by one of the family members. On returning from the dinner to Atabagh Palace in Metiaburj where he was staying, he fell ill with food poisoning, along with two of his children. All of them died the same day. Family records have it that he was poisoned to death by some jealous relative. The last crowned head of India lies interred in the mausoleum of the King of Oudh at Sibtainabad Imambara.


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