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The Royal Insignia

An article on Wajid Ali Shah reproduced from
the Family Souvenir on Prince Meher Quder 1961 ......

Wajid Ali Shah, King of Oudh.

Presented by
By Nayyer Quder, M.A.,LL.B, University College, London.


       Born in 1821, a year after the seventh Nawab Vezeir Ghaziuddin Haidar's coronation as the First King of Oudh, Prince Wajid Ali could not be then dreamed of one day ascending the Throne of Oudh and another day descending into the prison at Fort William. Wajid Ali was the second grandson of Prince Muhammad Ali, the younger brother of King Ghaziuddin Haidar.

        In a short period of 26 years as many as four successive Kings of Oudh died and Prince Wajid Ali succeeded to the Throne in 1847. By then the British hold on the kingdom was unofficially complete, and the king could not even appoint or dismiss a servant without permission of the East India Company's Political Agent, the Resident. Few days after his coronation, King Wajid Ali for better administrative facilities wanted to transfer his daily Court from the old Farah Buksh Palace to where he himself lived.

        But this could not be done as His Excellency the Resident did not approve. ('History of Oudh' by Ghani, v.5, pp,122-3.) In the administration of Justice, the new King started a novelty of placing petition boxes at important public thoroughfares in Lucknow, and his Majesty himself used to deal with the daily complaints from the common man. (Ahsanut-Tawarikh pp. 68-9) Perhaps as it threatened to raise the popularity of the King, the English Paramount Power got this practice discontinued. Similarly the Resident prevailed upon the young King Wajid Ali to abandon recruitment of armed forces, or their re-organization under his personal command. ('Hist. Of Oudh', pp.126.). In short Wajid Ali was a King without power, while the British Resident the real potentate. The plan of annexation of Oudh had been made long before Wajid Ali Shah became King, and the excuse of maladministration would have served just as well if anyone else sat on the Throne. The arrangements of deposition of Wajid Ali Shah were completed soon after his coronation, when Col. Sleeman had prepared his confidential report for the East India Company. ( "Birds-eye View of India" by Sir Erskine ) Those were the days of the mighty, and a kingdom in India could only be retained by the sword. Not only Oudh, but Bhurtpur, Lahore, Poona, Furrukhabad, Jhansi, the very Bengal, and lastly the Moghul Empire itself were taken by the mightiest Power on one excuse or another. It is therefore ignorance to blame Wajid Ali Shah personally with incompetence or love of luxury for the loss of his kingdom.

        King Wajid Ali had less than a dozen wives during the period of reign. By no stretch of imagination could this be called an unusual thing for an eastern and Muslim ruler. Contrary to popular notions, Wajid Ali Shah was a man of the highest moral character. He did never taste alcohol, nor indulge in any other sinful activity. He is not known to have missed a single day's prayer. "In his orthodox Shia faith, a person could not even see a woman's face, outside those within the prohibited degree, unless she was his wife. Therefore all those large numbers of women who were necessarily employed in his Palaces for domestic and menial work were entered into the Harem by being married to the King in the Muta form to cover the religious tenet. But the King was not intimate with all these women." ('Jan-e Alam' p. 36) The underlying idea was to provide future security for his female servants, whom the King knew would be stranded on his demise. It goes to the credit of Wajid Ali Shah's foresight that when the men-servants were without sustenance, their female counterparts received life-pensions from the Government as Muta wives of His late Majesty. ('Oudh Pension Papers' pp. 42-45) Not to speak of the female servants even some children were presented to Wajid Ali Shah, who gladly adopted them as his own sons, and who later got pensions equal to His Majesty's children and whose descendants even today are not in any way differentiated from other members of the ex-royal family. (idem pp. 8 & 17).

        Referring to the practice of Muta in his book "ISLAM", Rev. Fr. Guillome states that even in the Christian West, where monogamy is the law, there is no reason to suppose that men are any less promiscuous in their private lives.

        Ataturk Mustapha Kemal, in spite of his well known life of license, is regarded as the father of modern Turkey. Lloyd George, the famous Prime Minister of Great Britain had an irresistible weakness for the fair sex, published biography. Jean Jacques Rousseau, the celebrated political thinker of France is, in spite of his 'Confessions', not a moral criminal. But poor Wajid Ali Shah, under mighty British propaganda with definite political motives is readily condemned in his own country as a debauch, even though his deeds fell within the bounds of his ethical point to his Majesty's 250 Muta wives, would do well to count also the 1700 men of letters and 500 physicians and scientists under the King's employ. ('Jan-e Alam' p.88). When King Wajid Ali died he left between twenty two to thirty-five thousand men, whom he used to support. ('Guzishta Lukhnau' by Sherar ). Wajid Ali Shah was, and his name still is, a victim of diplomacy that supported and served the ends of an alien Imperial rule. In free republican India it is our national duty to reappraise our famous men in their true perspective. The recent prize-winning book of Dr. Masood Hasan Rizvi "Avadh ka Shahi Stage", has gone a long way in presenting to the public gaze the true personality of Wajid Ali Shah as patron and creative thinker of Hindustani music, dance, drama, and poetry. The fact that Prince Wajid Ali was selected as Heir-apparent by his father Amjad Ali Shah in preference to the eldest son Prince Mustafa Ali, is enough evidence to show that Wajid Ali had every qualification to be and able and fit ruler. And for so long as he did rule, Wajid Ali Shah created for himself such popularity that even to this day, in spite of all foreign inspired century-old propaganda, his name evokes in the inhabitants of Oudh a feeling of love and admiration. The fact that soon after Wajid Ali Shah's deposition the population of Oudh rose in revolt, and place Prince Birjis Qadr on the Throne of his father, belies the theory of those who justify the annexation of Oudh on grounds of unpopularity of the Ruling Family. Queen Regent Hazrat Mahal in her historic Proclamation of 1858, said in reply to Queen Victoria's :

        " . These are old affairs; but recently in defiance of treaties and oaths and notwithstanding that they owed us millions of rupees, without reason and on pretence of misgovernment and discontent of our people they took our country and property worth millions of rupees. If our people were discontented with our Royal predecessor Wajid Ali Shah, how come if they are content with us ? and no ruler ever experienced such loyalty and devotion of life and goods as we have done ! What then is wanting that they do not restore our country. "

        "Further it is written in the Proclamation (Queen Victoria's) that they want no increase of territory, but yet they can not refrain from annexation. If the Queen has assumed the Government, why does Her Majesty not restore our country to us, when our people wish it ? ."

("Eighteen Fifty Seven", S.N. Sen, p.383).

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