Mir Osman Ali Khan, Nizam of Hyderabad (6 April 1886 – 24 February 1967)

In my quest to learn more about the Khilafat Movement (which made significant contributions to the tottering Ottoman Khilafah), I was, until now, unable to lay my eyes on any detailed essay which mentioned the role played by the last Nizam of Hyderabad in promoting and later proscribing the activities of the hugely popular Khilafat Movement in his domain.

However, just the other day, I chanced to come across an article on the subject. The article is titled, Reaping the Whirlwind: Nizam and the Khilafat Movement, by Margrit Pernau-Reifeld, published in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 38 (Sep. 18-24, 1999), pp. 2745-2751.

I am sharing excerpts from the same, without substantiating or negating the assertions made by the author(s) of the article.

…The first meeting [of the Khilafat Movement] took place on March 16, 1920 at the grounds of the Vivek Vardhini High School…and assembled about 15,000 persons. Khilafat Day was observed by a hartal in Hyderabad city, in which at least the Muslim shops took part. All the communities joined in a meeting the next day, which boasted 25,000 participants. The meetings were presided over in tum by Waman Naik, Keshavrao, Mir Akbar Ali and one Muhammed Asghar. who had qualified in Oxford for the barrister’s calling and to have belonged to the circle round Abdul Basith. At this stage the Nizam seems to have got the idea that this popular agitation, which he had planned to use for his own aims. might outgrow him and become unmanageable. He therefore  issued  a  firman  on  April  4,  1920 requiring prior permission for meetings.[i] Nevertheless, the next three meetings still numbered 10,000 to 12,000 persons each. The terms of the Peace of  Sevres, announced on May 20, reduced the sovereignty of the khalifa to the Turkish heartland of his empire and deprived him of the control of the holy places of the Hijaz. This British had earlier passed this information on to the Nizam together with an invitation to assist them in combating the agitation. Knowing that to decline such an ‘invitation’ would be as dangerous as to refuse their ‘ help’, the Nizam immediately issued an order forbidding all demonstrations without further ado. A few days later the leadership of the British Indian Khilafat movement resolved on a campaign of non-cooperation, to which Gandhi and his followers agreed shortly afterwards. On the face of it the rupture between the Khilafatists and the Nizam had now become inevitable, and for some time it seemed as if both sides were really bent on this rupture.

What provoked Mir Usman Ali’s resistance was not the aims of the movement nor its struggle for the khalifa, not its anti­British impetus, which weakened the colonial power, but its methods—in which he very rightly saw a possible threat to this own government usurping the resident’s prerogative, as it were, the Nizam for once took up the role of adviser and wrote to Lord Chelmsford:

“So long as it [the Khilafat movement] had not passed out of sober reasoning and judicious restraint it was entitled to my sympathy . As a Mussalman ruler it is but natural that I should feel the break-up of a Muhammedan power, but it is impossible for me to countenance proceedings that have avowed intentions of resistance, euphemistically called ‘passive’, to British authority – indeed against all authority. …The position, as it strikes me, calls for action in two directions; one is to putdown lawlessness or incitement to lawlessness with a strong hand, and the other is publicly to champion the appeal to the Allied Powers…for reducing the severity of the Turkish peace terms.”[ii]

The leaders of the Khilafat movement, however, took cognisance primarily of the prohibition of meetings in Hyderabad and the sharp condemnation of these methods. Understandably, they reacted with indignation – some of them, however, trying to keep a back door open by attributing the Nizam’ s move either to British pressure or to the influence of Sir Ali Imam, who in the meantime had been appointed president of the executive council in Hyderabad. When some north Indian newspapers started wondering aloud whether under these circumstances Mir Osman had not forfeited his right to the title of Muhi ul Millat wad Din, Mir Osman answered with an angry firman stating that those who had awarded him the title had not acquired the right to lay down the law for his comportment as the Nizam:

“I am totally at loss to comprehend why others should try to meddle in the affairs of my state, in the best interests of which, both political and general, I deemed it fit to issue prohibitive orders regarding the Khilafat meetings…They must not forget what ‘Hafiz’ says: ‘Politics are best known to the emperors don’t worry yourself about them, being but a beggar”.[iii]

These certainly were strong words. But throughout his political life the Nizam was known for his occasional outbursts of strong words, not always matched by action. Therefore it is not too surprising that in less than two weeks’ time this firman should have been followed by another one expressing heartfelt sympathy for the aims of the Khilafat movement, giving an assurance of help and deploring “the false impression among the Muslims in other parts of India, who thought that I felt no sympathy for the present deplorable condition of the Islamic countries and of the holy places of lslam when for reasons of state and in view of political expediency it became necessary for me recently to issue a series of firmans regarding the Khilafat question”.

[i]Text of the firman in R/1/1/668.

[ii] Nizam to Viceroy, 13.6.1920, printed in Freedom Struggle, Vol IV, pp 33-34.

[iii] Translation of Extraordinary Jarida No 57, dated 13.7.1920, R/1/668.