Dr. Rahul A. Shastri, President, Samvit Kendra
By 1765, the second Nizam had entered into a treaty with the British, agreeing to keep the French away. In spite of this, he received in his service, French trained troops from Adoni and appointed Monseir Raymond as their commanding officer in 1786. From the Indian side Raja Mahipat Ram served as liaision officer and peshkar to Monseir Raymond.
Raymond began casting guns at Gunfoundry and gradually the number of troops under him grew from 300 to 14,000. Raja Mahipat Ram developed good relations with these soldiers, the French officers and over time became a general in Nizam’s army. After Nizam’s loss at Khurda, he assisted Monseir Raymond in suppressing Ali Jah’s rebellion at Bedar. French influence had peaked and pro-British elements were nervous.
In 1797, Arastu Jah who was pro-British, returned from Maratha custody and replaced Raja Rambha Rao as Dewan. Raymond died in 1798 and Arastu Jah connived with Marquis of Wellesley to make the Nizam a vassal of the Company through a subsidiary treaty. The French trained regiment was disbanded. Raja Mahipat Ram was put in charge of the western troops of Nizam’s army. Later developments revealed that he used this position to employ dismissed soldiers of the disbanded French regiment.
SUBVERTING A ‘RELUCTANT’ ALLIANCE
Sikandar Jah who became the Nizam Asaf Jah III in 1803, was a sullen and reluctant ally of the British. When Wellesley’s army invaded Maratha lands after Baji Rao became a vassal, his officers complained that Nizam’s ‘local authorities’ retarded operations by “negligent and in some instances, hostile proceedings,” that some killedars refused asylum to British wounded and in one case even fired on a British detachment [Briggs 1861a: 86].
The ‘local authorities’ who offended the British, presumably included Raja Mahipat Ram, commander of the Hyderabad forces that accompanied the the British in their forays against the Marathas. The British complained that his troops came only “after many vexatious delays,” and were “productive of little or no advantage” [ibid.]. They also suspected that his troops were French trained and anti-British [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam]. It has been reported that instead of assisting the British, Mahipat Ram “and his undisciplined troops actually looted the camp of the Company army” [Hoover quot. Mallampalli 2017: 68n5].
After Devgaon Treaty, Raja Mahipat Ram was made the governor of Berar [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam, Berar under the Nizams] and its jagirdar. It is said that Mahipat Ram was held in “grateful recollection” by Sikandar Jah due to some “acts of kindness” and pecuniary assistance rendered to him before he became Nizam III. Mahipat Ram was also supported by some companions of the Nizam, such as Ismail Yar Jung. Not surprisingly, repeated British complaints against “local authorities” carried no weight with the Nizam, exciting British suspicions about his intentions [Briggs 1861a: 88-9 passim].
PLOTTING AGAINST THE BRITISH
When Arastu Jah died in 1804, Mahipat Ram was favoured for the post of Dewan or Peshkar by the Nizam but opposed by the British Resident Sydenham, who suspected that he might try to severe their alliance [Chaudhuri 2016: 49]. These suspicions may have been well founded. It is reported that with the support of Raja Raghottam Rao, Mahipat Ram advised the Nizam against the British and Mir Alam [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam].
Countering these moves, the East India Company warned the Nizam against equivocal behaviour, rewarded him with some Maratha lands, compelled him to appoint Mir Alam as Dewan and Raja Chandulal as Peshkar. They also forced him to send Mahipat Ram back to Berar and forbade him from any future interaction [Briggs 1861a: 89-90].
Although the Nizam complied reluctantly, it was soon discovered that Mahipat Ram wrote letters from Berar, to goad Nizam into defiance of the British, making the condition of Mir Alam precarious [Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam, Chaudhuri 2016: 50]. He also maintained contact with him through Ismail Yar Jung and was said to be plotting with Holkar and Scindia to subvert the Nizam’s subsidiary alliance with the Company [Briggs 1861a: 89].
The British suspected “tacit connivance” if not “avowed consent” of the Nizam in this plot, though they could find no direct evidence [Briggs 1861a: 89]. Meanwhile reports reached Sydenham that Raja Rao Rambha and Nur ul-Umra were engaged in treasonous discussions with British sepoys in the cantonment [Rao 2017, Mallampalli 2017: 94]. It is possible that the information may have come through Raja Chandu Lal. Chandu Lal, it seems, was an important source for inside information to the British [Mallampalli 2017: 74].
Barlow, the Governor General, warned that this plot would subvert the “very foundation” of British power in India since “the power and resources which we have now a right to command for our support and security would be turned against us” [Chaudhuri 2016: 52]. Swinging to protect their power, the British brought Mir Alam into their Residency and put him in protective custody [Briggs 1861a: 90]. At the same time, the Commander of subsidiary forces was alerted for rapid deployment. This news took the wind out of the local anti-British faction and Ismail Yar Jung pleaded with Mir Alam for mercy [Chaudhuri 2016: 54].
FAILURE OF THE PLOT
On November 28, 1806, Sydenham met the Nizam and demanded a) the dismissal of Mahipatram and Ismail Yar Jung, b) retirement of the latter to his jagir, c) replacement of all followers of Mahipat Ram in districts as well as in command of troops by persons loyal to the Company, d) the conduct of all his communications through Mir Alam, e) the acceptance of all ‘just proposals’ of the company and f) the adjudication by the British Resident on any differences between the Nizam and Mir Alam [Chaudhuri 2016:].
The Nizam surrendered. Raja Rambha Rao was banished, Nur ul Umrah and Raja Mahipat Ram were dismissed [Rao 2017: 54-55]. The Company began to rule Hyderabad through the Dewan. Mir Alam returned to his palace with a permenant guard. All offices of followers of Raja Mahipat Ram were given to the followers of Mir Alam. Govind Baksh, brother of Raja Chandulal, went with British troops as Governor of Berar [Briggs 1861a: 90-1] and Mahipat Ram was banished to Sagar in Shahpur [Chaudhuri 2016: 145].
THE SEEDS OF REVOLT
Although banished, Mahipat Ram remained popular with the troops. Two thousand soldiers under Muhammad Riza Khan Sindhi and Nabi Yar Jung followed Raja Mahipat Ram to Sagar, defied orders from the Dewan to return and were sacked. Maintaining the large number of rebels now became a problem.
To order to pay his loyalists, Mahipat Ram looked to Sholapur, a tributary of Nizam, that was chronically in arrears. Conspiring with a malcontent Inkuppah Naik, he marched on the principality, defeated its army, took its king Pid Naik into custody and installed Inkuppah as its Dewan. In return, Inkuppah paid the troops, while Mahipat Ram assured the Nizam of regular tributes from Sholapur gaining the latter’s approval [Chaudhuri 2016: 145-6].
Since initial British represention on Sholapur developments fell on deaf ears, a complaint by Shums Ul Umrah against raids on Paigah lands by Mahipat Ram’s men was adduced. This forced the Nizam to give his assent to intervention. Mir Alam then dispatched troops under Nizamat Jung and Gordon to Sholapur along with the following terms:
a) Mahipat Ram would be given a monthly allowance of Rs. 2,600; plus 4,500/- for his troops whose strength was to be limited to 500 only; b) All others were to be dismissed; c) Muhammad Riza Khan, Nabi Yar Jung, Inkuppah and their followers were to be abandoned, d) the ruler of Sholapur, his retinue and property were to be released and e) Sholapur was to be left alone [Chaudhuri 2016: 147-8].
When Palmer reached Mahipat Ram with these terms, Riza Khan and Inkuppah were away in Maratha lands, possibly seeking Maratha support. Mahipat Ram engaged the envoy in talks, released the ruler of Sholapur and his retinue, and waited for all his men to gather. It seems that the Maratha help was not forthcoming, because soon after returning, Inkuppah surrendered to Gordon and was sent to Hyderabad [Chaudhuri 2016: 148]. But the other rebels stayed to fight.
THE BATTLE OF SHOLAPUR
On February 10, 1808, Mahipat Ram embraced all his principal officers and they collectively swore to defend one another with their lives. Then they moved out to engage Nizam’s army, attacking with such fury that the whole of Nizam’s cavalry and infantry retreated in confusion and some European generals were killed or wounded. As his forces evaporated, Commander Gordon approached Mahipat Ram with an obeisance, but was met by a sword blow to the neck and killed [Chaudhuri 2016: 149].
At Hyderabad, the British were puzzled at the furious attack by Mahipat Ram who, they had previously thought, did not have the talent or courage for war. They attributed his open rebellion to his dislike and distrust of Mir Alam. But unknown to them, a letter from the Raja’s brother Sripat Ram had reached Mahipat Ram which hinted that the Nizam ‘would not be displeased at any measures which Mahipat Ram might be reduced to adopt for his own security’ [Chaudhuri 2016: 149]. Mahipat Ram’s hands were thus freed from the ‘bond of salt’ and he could strike a blow for liberty or death.
Writing two separate letters to the Nizam, one for his eyes only and the other for the British Resident and Mir Alam, Mahipat Ram protested his innocence in public. What he wrote for the Nizam’s eyes can only be guessed. But the news of a private letter seems to have been carried to the Resident. So when the Nizam argued for negotiation, the British Resident expressed his suspicion of a clandestine correspondence with the rebel and silenced him [Chaudhuri 2016: 149-50].
FAILURE OF THE REVOLT
This time, the British sent their own subsidiary troops to Sholapur while the Berar border was blockaded by Colonel Doveton. Facing better equipped and trained troops, Mahipat Ram retreated. Relentlessly chased by the British force, most of his friends and soldiers deserted leaving him with only Muhammad Riza Khan and his men. Incapable of fighting further, Mahipat Ram left Nizam’s territory and took shelter with Holkar, who received him, his brother Sripat Ram and Muhammad Riza Khan Sindhi with great distinction [Chaudhuri 2016: 151]. He is believed to have joined in the service of Holkar thereafter [Gribble 1896: 146].
The aging Mir Alam died in 1808 and the British proposed Shums Ul Umra as the new Dewan [Briggs 1861a: 146]. Upon the Nizam objecting, Munir ul Mulk was appointed as nominal dewan, while all real power, even the royal seal, was vested with Raja Chandulal – Peshkar. Chandulal showed his mettle in 1810 by advising Maharaja Ranjit Singh against an alliance with the Marathas against the British [Mallampalli 2017: 74 n27,29]. In later years, he supported all the financial demands of the British at the cost of bankrupting the state.
Thus dawned the age of the Dewans, and Nizam Sikandar Jah fell into increasingly sullen silence and frequent long periods of isolation, while malicious gossip charged him with mental frailty. Hope quashed, he preferred the dignity of silence to words of defiance.
DEATH OF MAHIPAT RAM AND LIVING MEMORIES
Raja Mahipat Ram was killed in Indore a few years before Holkar signed the subsidiary alliance. The circumstances are unclear. Some attribute it to a faction fight [Chaudhuri 2016: 151], others to a mutiny over unpaid arrears ending in death at the hands of Holkar’s troops [Gribble 1924: 146] and still others to treachery of his employer [Briggs 1861a: 91].
In mid 1960s, the MCH under the mayoralty of Smt. Sarojini Pulla Reddy recognised Raja Mahipat Ram as the first freedom fighter of Hyderabad and named the lane adjacent to Koti Women’s College after him. The lane carried a plaque with his name until the Telangana agitation failed. The plaque disappeared sometime thereafter and has not appeared since.
Although Mahipat Ram was externed from Hyderabad, his family continued to be paid Rs. 200/ as token renumeration from his jagir by the Nizam until 1948. Mahipat Ram belonged to the Sehgal family and some of his direct descendants live on in Hyderabad. He is still remembered fondly by the Brahmakshatriya community of Hyderabad.
Men die, circumstances change, but memories live on.
PLACE NAMES & HISTORY OF HYDERABAD
- Many place names in Hyderabad point to its history.
- Secunderabad where the British subsidiary force was lodged was named after Sikandar Jah Nizam Asaf Jah III.
- The Mir Alam tank is known after Dewan Mir Alam.
- The locality Chandulal Baradari is named after Raja Chandu Lal who rose from peshkar in 1804 to the post of Dewan in 1829.
- Gunfoundry was the place where Monseir Raymond began to cast cannon in 1787-8. In urdu, it is still called “tope ka saancha”.
- Moosarambagh is the place where Raymond trained his troops.
- Due to apabhramsa, Monseir Raymond was known as Moosa Ram to common Hyderabadis — a charming Deccani eclecticism.
- Forgotten by its denizens, Hyderabadi history dwells on in names.
Briggs H.G. (1861A) The Nizam: His History and Relations with the British Government, v1, Bernard Quaritch, London
Chaudhuri Nani Gopal (2016) British Relations with Hyderabad (1795-1857), unpublished Ph.D. Thesis submitted to Calcutta University.
Gribble JDB (1924) A History of the Deccan v2, (ed.) Mrs. M. Pendlebury, Luzac & Co, London.
Maharashtra Gazetteers: Nizam
Mallampalli C (2017) A Muslim Conspiracy in British India? Politics and Paranoia in Early Nineteenth Century Deccan, Cambridge University Press.
Rao Veldurti Manik (2017) Freedom Struggle in Hyderabad, Publications Division, GOI.