50 years of Indo-Pak War: Remembering Nizam Hyderabad as a different kind of hero
By Abdul Rashid Agwan.MM
On 5 August 1965, around 30,000 Pakistani soldiers crossed the Line of Control, triggering what is called as the Indo-Pak War 1965.
Now, it is officially planned to have a month-long celebrations in the honor of those who suffered and sacrificed for the war. The observance will begin on 28 August and the Rajpath parade will be held on 20 September as the final show.
It has been estimated that 3,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives in the war while fighting for the nation and they rightly deserve the posterity’s homage.
India’s first major fight against Pakistan took place just after three years of its humiliating defeat against China. Therefore, it was very crucial for the country to come out triumphant against comparatively a weaker rival.
The then Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was very desperate to win the war. It was even more vital for him as he shared the blame of 1962 defeat being the erstwhile home minister of the Nehru cabinet.
In order to mark success in the fierce defense of the country against its hostile neighbor, Shastri made all out efforts. In spite of India’s initial success on the war front, one thing worried him much at that time and which ultimately became one of the key factors for India’s pliant agreement to ceasefire on 22 September.
It was the diminishing stockpile of arms and ammunition.
Noted war historian Jeremy Black said “India’s chief of army staff urged negotiations on the ground that they were running out ammunition and their number of tanks had become seriously depleted.”
Modern wars cannot be won just by national upsurge and the sprits on the war front but advanced weapons are also strategically important. One can imagine the condition of a statesman like Shahtri whose forces were facing a tough offensive while the supply line was getting depleted. By the end of August, it became evident to the government that fresh supply of arms and ammunition should be ensured from international sources. And, that needed huge fund to be made available, and immediately.
The leader of the nation made a nationwide appeal to people to come out for donations in the National Defence Fund. He also contacted wealthy families and erstwhile kings of the princely states. However, nothing significant could be mobilized. The business community was not happy due to the socialist stance of the ruling party and the royalty was averse as it made them just the pensioners after independence.
In his desperate move to mobilize enough resources for buying weapons, he attempted to win one more heart to help him out in the national cause, although with skepticism.
It was Nizam Hyderabad, the richest person on the earth at that time.
The Prime Minister personally called on Mir Osman Ali Khan the last Nizam of the formerly princely state of Hyderabad on September 11, 1965. Nizam Hyderabad welcomed him on the Begumpet Airport.
Responding to Shastri’s appeal, he generously pledged to donate 5,000 kg of gold to the National Defence Fund. From today’s gold price, this donation may be calculated to a whopping Rs 1,500 to 1,600 crore.
When Lal Bahadur Shastri was heading for Hyderabad, he should not have imagined about such a warm response. Rather, he should have many doubts in the wake of lukewarm feedback of other princely families and billionaires of the time. He should have in the mind that almost two decades back the Nizam was forcefully robbed off by the government from all his powers and prestige as a sovereign ruler and must be still annoyed on that.
However, without a second thought, Mir Osman Ali announced that he would contribute five tones of gold for the National Defence Fund. The news left people in Hyderabad and elsewhere in the country flabbergasted. But, Asif Jah VII created a history and record by making the biggest ever contribution by any individual or organisation in India till today.
It should be noted that during the war against China the whole country was mobilized by no one else but the leader of freedom struggle Nehru himself, to donate in the National Defence Fund. From the preset count total Rs 13,000 could be collected, although thousands of women gave their jewelry in donation including ‘Mangalsutra’. This amount can be compared with the single contribution of the former ruler of Hyderabad three years letter. It is quite more than what the whole nation could bequeath!
With all progress and prosperity and increasing number of Forbes billionaires in the country, the average receipts of the National Defence Fund during the last five years have been Rs 77 crore per annum. It is in spite of attractive tax benefits on public charity. At the time of Kargil war, fought in the summer of 1999, the biggest donation in the NDF was of Rs 51 lakh.
These data make the Nizam’s contribution even more praiseworthy.
Many historians and writers consider this crucial contribution of Mir Osman Ali Khan, who took the title of Asif Jah VII, as something very strange. They think it to be a ‘munificent’ act of a ‘miser’ noble. Perhaps, it is because, many stories do exist which put him in contrasting shades.
There is also one such story often narrated about the logistics of the transport of 5,000 kg of the gold to Delhi.
When the truck load of gold was being sent to Delhi, Mir Osman Ali Khan insisted that the empty iron boxes should be returned to him once the gold coins and bars were offloaded. Out of his wit and frugality, he instructed the officials who came to escort the treasure, “I am donating the gold and not the iron boxes. Do not forget to return them.” It is said that his son-in-law and confidant Ali Pasha carried empty trays of gold coins back from the national capital to the Nazri Bagh Palace.
Such stories may take rounds in media and academic circles to demean his role as genuine nobility but people of Hyderabad can hardly forget his contribution in the establishment of many educational institutions and hospitals and construction of roads, factories and dams.
When India got freedom on 15 August 1947, all 556 princely states were given the choice to decide their own fate and the Nizam resolved to keep his state independent of both India and Pakistan. This led to forceful occupation of Hyderabad by the Government of India, which thought it inexpedient to have a free country within its own territory.
How much pain and desperation Asif Jah VII should have nurtured after the culmination of the so-called “Operation Polo” which took away a whole legacy of two centuries from him. While surrendering his princely state to the Indian force on 23 September 1948, he informed people in his last message on Hyderabad radio, “By methods reminiscent of Hitlerite Germany it (forces) took possession of the State, spread terror … and rendered me completely helpless.”
Yet, he forgot that humiliation, when the country needed his help and generously donated for its defense.
There was a contrary response from other sections.
The erstwhile kings (Rajas) and business groups of the country generally started rallying in 1964 under the banner of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) to oppose policies of the ruling party. Under its influence, Shashtri could not enjoy major support of those having riches in their hand, except that of the Nizam and few others. It may be recalled here that Mewar’s former king Maharana Bhagat Singh and the business tycoon Vishnu Hari Dalmia presided the VHP for several years.
Although disgusted with the stance of most wealthy families of the country during the war and thereafter, Indira Gandhi disentitled kings from their Privy Purse and nationalized the banks owned by capitalists in 1969, however, as a homage to the Nizam’s valuable role in the Indo-Pak war, his princely title was kept intact for some more years and it was abolished by the Indian government only in 1974 due to political opposition.
According to the Forbes All-Time Wealthiest List of 2008, Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan remains the fifth richest man in recorded history, with an estimated worth of US$210.8 billion. He was the richest person of the world from 1937 onwards, for about three decades. However, the obituary described him “as a shambling old man who spent his last days wandering around in old slippers – but his funeral procession was one of the largest in Indian history.”
Seeing his lofty contribution for the integrity of India, Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan Asif Jah VII deserves to be nationally remembered on the occasion when the country is going to celebrate the golden jubilee of a triumphant war in which he crucially participated in his own noble way. His name may even be considered for conferring Bharat Ratna, the top civilian recognition to him posthumously, in tribute to his services to the nation.
[Writer is social activist, analyst and author of many books including the recent one, “Islam in 21st Century: The Dynamics of Change and Future-making”.]