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Nawabs of Bengal and Murshidabad

Nawab Nazim of Bengal
(1717–1880)a
Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad
(1882–1971)b
Coat of arms of the Nawab Nazim (top) and that of the Nawab Bahadur (bottom)
Coat of arms of the Nawab Nazim (top) and that of the Nawab Bahadur (bottom)
Creation1717
First holderMurshid Quli Khan
Last holderWaris Ali Mirza
Present holderAbbas Ali Mirza
StatusDe facto only, not de jure
Extinction date1971
Seat(s)Murshidabadc
Former seat(s)Hazarduari Palace, Murshidabad
MottoNil Desperandum
(There is no cause for despair, never despair)
a. Title abolished in 1880, succeeded as the Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad.
b. Derecognition of rulers and abolition of Privy Purse by the twenty-sixth amendment of the Indian Constitution, in 1971.[1]
c. Murshidabad was the capital for both the Nawab Nazims and the Nawab Bahadurs.

The Nawabs of Bengal (the Nawab Nazim of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa) were Shia Muslim rulers of Bengal, and significant portions of present-day Bihar and Orissa. With their capital in Murshidabad, they ruled the Mughal Bengal subah, while nominally subordinate to the Mughal empire, in between 1717 and 1772. Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, lost the Battle of Plassey to the British East India Company in 1757. He was betrayed by Mir Jafar in the battle, who was subsequently installed as the titular Nawab Nazim. Following the victory in Plassey, the British East India Company established itself as a strong political power-hold in the region of Bengal. In 1765, the system of dual government came to be established, as per which the Nawabs ruled subordinate to the British. In 1772, the system was abolished and Bengal was brought under direct control of the Company. When the nizamat (administration, judicial, and military powers) of the Nawab was also taken away in 1793, they remained as the mere pensioners of the Company.[2][3] Following the abolition of the title of Nawab of Bengal in 1880, the last Nawab of Bengal, Mansur Ali Khan, abdicated on 1 November 1880, in favour of his eldest son, Hassan Ali Mirza.[4]

The Nawabs of Murshidabad (Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad) succeeded the Nawabs of Bengal, following Mansur Ali Khan's abdication[5] They had no direct control in the share of the revenue collected and could not use military force. The fourth Nawab Bahadur, Waris Ali Mirza died in 1969, and a long dispute over succession ensued.[6] Meanwhile, the policy of Privy Purse, which had allowed nobles to keep some of their privileges and titles, stood abolished in 1971 by the twenty-sixth amendment of the Constitution of India, derecognising all such rulers. Eventually, in August 2014, the Supreme Court of India decided on the dispute over succession to Waris Ali, in which one Abbas Ali Mirza was declared to be his lawful heir; Waris Ali Mirza was his maternal uncle. The hereditary title today is de facto only as it is not recognised by Indian law.

Bengal

The term Bengal delineates the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal which includes present-day Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal in India.[7][8][9] During the partition of Bengal in 1905, East Bengal was carved out of the Bengal Presidency as a Lieutenant-Governorship along with Assam.[10] In 1911, East Bengal was reunited with the rest of Bengal.[11] The Nawab's rule extended beyond the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal to parts of present-day Orissa and Bihar.[12][13][14][15][16][self-published source?] The majority of present-day Bengal is inhabited by a Bengali-speaking populace.[17]

History before the Nawab's rule

Mughal miniature depicting Akbar praying after the conquest of Bengal

Sultans of Bengal

The early Sultans of Bengal ruled until 1282 and were succeeded by several successive dynasties. Sultan Ilyas Shah, founder of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty, took complete charge of Bengal under his rule.[18] The Sultanate capital was shifted to Sonargaon.[19] His son, Sikandar Shah, who succeeded him, built Adina Mosque at Pandua, near Gaur, which is considered to be the largest in undivided Bengal.[20]

Mughal empire

The Mughal empire emerged as a powerful empire in northern India. Babur, who was related to two legendary warriors – Timur and Genghis Khan, invaded north India and defeated Ibrahim Lodi.[21] He was succeeded as the second Mughal emperor by his son Humayun. At the same time, Sher Shah Suri of the Suri dynasty rose to prominence and established himself as the ruler of present-day Bihar by defeating Ghiyasuddin Shah III. But he lost to capture the kingdom because of the sudden expedition of Humayun. In 1539, Sher Khan faced Humayun in the Battle of Chausa and forced him out of India. Assuming the title Sher Shah, he ascended the throne of Delhi. He also captured Agra and established control from Bengal in the east, to the Indus river in the west.[22] After his death he was succeeded by his son, Islam Shah Suri. However, in 1544 the Suris were torn apart by internal conflicts. Humayun took this advantage and captured Lahore and Delhi.[23] Succeeded by Akbar, Sultan Daud Khan Karrani of Bengal was defeated. After this, the administration of the entire region passed on to the hands of Mughal empire appointed governors.[24][25][26] The Bengal subah was the wealthiest subah of the Mughal empire.[27] There were several posts under the Mughal administrative system during Akbar's reign. nizamat and diwani were the two main branches of provincial administration under the Mughals.[24] A subahdar was in-charge of the nizamat, and they had a chain of subordinate officials on the executive side, while diwans had subordinates on the revenue and judicial side.[24]

As the Mughal empire began to decline, the Nawabs rose in power, although nominally subordinate to the Mughal emperor.[24][28] Eventually, with the process of regional centralisation of the Mughal empire, they came to wield greater power for all practical governance purposes by the early 1700s.[28]

History during the Nawab's rule

Emergence of the Nawab Nazim

Murshidabad was the capital of the Nawabs
Early nineteenth-century view of Murshidabad, the Nawab's capital, with the Katra Mosque in the backdrops

Murshid Quli Khan arrived as the diwan of Bengal in 1717. He was preceded by four Diwans of the Bengal subah. Post his arrival, Azim-ush-Shan held the nizam's office. Azim got into a conflict with Murshid Quli Khan over financial control. Considering the complaint of Khan, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb transferred Azim to Bihar.[29] Upon his departure, the two posts of nizamat and diwani got unified into the office held by Murshid Quli Khan. Murshid came to be known as the Nawab Nazim of Bengal.[24][30] Murshidabad remained the capital of the Nawabs Nazims throughout the duration of their rule.[24][31] Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, the third Nawab Nazim, was betrayed in the Battle of Plassey by Mir Jafar.[32] He lost to the British East India Company, who took installed Mir Jafar as the succeeding Nawab, and established itself as a strong political power-hold in Bengal.[33]

In 1765, Robert Clive became the first Governor of Bengal.[34] He secured for the Company the diwani of the Bengal subah in perpetuity, from the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II. With this the system of dual governence was established and the Bengal Presidency was formed. In 1772, this arrangement came to be abolished and Bengal was brought under direct control of the British. In 1793, when the nizamat of the Nawab was also taken away they remained as the mere pensioners of the Company. After the Revolt of 1857, Company rule in India ended, and the British Crown, in 1858, took over the territories which were under direct rule of the Company. This marked the beginning of the British Raj, and the Nawabs had no political or any other kind of control over the territory.[35][36] The last Nawab of Bengal, Mansur Ali Khan, abdicated on 1 November 1880, in favour of his eldest son.[4]

Dynasties of the Nawabs

Tomb of Siraj-ud-Daulah at Khushbagh, Murshidabad

From 1717 until 1880, three successive dynasties – Nasiri, Afshar, and Najafi – ruled as the Nawab Nazims of Bengal.[37]

The first dynasty, Nasiri, ruled from 1717 until 1740. The founder of the Nasiri dynasty, Murshid Quli Khan, was born in a Deccani Odia Brahmin family, before being sold into slavery and bought by one Haji Shafi Isfahani, a Persian merchant from Isfahan. He was then initiated into Islam. He entered the service of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and rose through the ranks. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan.[30] After Shuja-ud-Din's death, in 1739, he was succeeded by his son, Sarfaraz Khan, who held the rank, until he was killed in the Battle of Giria in 1741, and was succeeded by Alivardi Khan, erstwhile ruler of Patna, of the Afshar Dynasty in 1740.[38]

The second dynasty, the Afshars, ruled from 1740 to 1757. Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, Alivardi Khan's grandson, the last Afshar Nawab, was killed in the Battle of Plassey in 1757.[39] They were succeeded by the third and final dynasty, namely the Najafis.[24]

Nominal control of Bihar

The Zamindars of Bihar maintained a tenuous loyalty to the Nawabs of Bengal.[40] Rebellion and the withholding of revenue was a common feature of the Nawab period in Bihar. In fact, when the British gained control of Bihar, they realised that one quarters of revenue in Bihar had been withheld from the state.[41] A prominent example of this were the zamindars of Raj Darbhanga in North Bihar were legally independent from Nawabs and refused to pay tribute and revenue to them.[42]

A major rebellion against the Nawabs of Bengal was led by the Ujjainiya Rajput chiefs of Bhojpur in West Bihar in 1760 during the reign of Mir Qasim. This rebellion was a serious blow to the Nawabs rule in Bihar and they faced great difficulty in subduing them.[43]

Maratha expeditions

Raghuji Bhonsle from the Nagpur Kingdom of the Maratha empire led the Maratha expeditions in Bengal

Marathas undertook six expeditions in Bengal from 1741–1748. Maratha general, Raghunath Rao was able to annex Orissa into his kingdom and the larger confederacy permanently, as he successfully exploited the chaotic conditions prevailing in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa after the death of Murshid Quli Khan in 1727.[44] Constantly attacked by the Bhonsles, Orissa, Bengal, and parts of Bihar were economically ruined. Alivardi Khan made peace with Raghunathrao in 1751 ceding in perpetuity the territory of Orissa up to the river Subarnarekha. He also agreed to pay 12 lacs annually in lieu of the Chauth of Bengal and Bihar.[45] The treaty also included a sum of 12 lacs for Bihar. The Marathas promised to never to cross the boundary of the Nawab's territory.[46] Baji Rao is often hailed for his success in subjecting the rulers of east India to Maratha dominance.[47]

The Nawabs under British rule and their decline

Mir Jafar meeting Robert Clive, after the Battle of Plassey
Flag of Bengal Presidency, under British rule

The regional centralisation of the Mughal empire by 1750, led to the creation of numerous semi-independent power-holds in the Mughal provinces. Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah was defeated by British forces of Robert Clive in the Battle of Plassey, in 1757.[39] Thereafter, the Nawab of Bengal had to depend on the British East India company for military support.[39]

Siraj-ud-Daula was succeeded by Mir Jafar, who had supported Clive in the 1757 Battle.[39] He briefly tried to re-assert his dominance by allying with the Dutch, but this failed following the Battle of Chinsurah.

After the defeat of Jafar at the Battle of Buxar and grant of the diwani of Bengal by Mughal emperor Shah Alam II to the British East India Company, in August 1765, and the subsequent appointment of Warren Hastings as the first Governor General of Bengal, in 1773, the Nawab's authority stood severely restricted. By 1773, the Company asserted its authority and formed the Bengal Presidency, including significant areas ruled by the Nawabs, along with other regions. The Company also abolished the system of dual governance.

In 1793, during Nawab Mubarak ud-Daulah's reign, the nizamat was overtaken by the Company. It took complete control of the region and the Nawabs stood as mere pensioners of the Company. The diwan offices except the diwan ton were also abolished.[35][36][48]

After the Revolt of 1857, Company rule in India ended, and all territories under the control of the Company came under direct control of the British Crown in 1858, marking the beginning of the British Raj. The administrative control of India came under the Indian Civil Service, which had administrative control over all areas in India, except the princely states. However, the Nawab's territory did not qualify as a princely state.[11]

Nawab Mansur Ali Khan was the last titular Nawab Nazim of Bengal. During his reign the nizamat at Murshidabad came to be debt-ridden. The Nawab left Murshidabad in February 1869, and had started living in England. The title of the Nawab of Bengal stood abolished in 1880.[4] He returned to Bombay in October 1880 and pleaded his case against the orders of the government, but as it stood unresolved the Nawab renounced his styles and titles, abdicating in favour of his eldest son at St. Ives, Maidenhead, on 1 November 1880.[4]

Emergence of the Nawab Bahadur and the Nawabs post Indian independence

Wasif Ali Mirza, the third Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad

The Nawabs of Murshidabad succeeded the Nawab Nazims following Nawab Mansur Ali Khan's abdication.[24][4][5] The Nawab Bahadurs had ceased to exercise any significant power.[24][49] Preceding Indian Independence in 1947, the Radcliffe Line divided the British provinces of Bengal and Punjab on religious lines.[50][full citation needed] Murshidabad, the capital city of the Nawab Nazims and the Nawab Bahadurs, came to be a part of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) for two days, as it had a Muslim majority populace. It became a part of India only on 17 August 1947.[51] Subsequently, the Pakistani flag was brought down from the Nawab's Hazarduari Palace and the Indian tricolour was hoisted atop.[52]

With the promulgation of the Indian Constitution on 26 January 1950, under Article 18 , the state was prevented from conferring any titles except those given to individuals who have made their mark in military and academic fields. However, under the policy of the Privy Purse, nobles were allowed to keep certain privileges and their titles.

In 1959, Wasif Ali Mirza came to be the third Nawab Bahadur.[50] He was succeeded by Waris Ali Mirza who died in 1969,[53] survived by three sons and three daughters. His death was followed by a long standing dispute over succession as he had excluded his eldest son, Wakif Ali Mirza, from the succession for contracting a non-Muslim marriage and for not professing Islam. War is Ali took no steps during his lifetime to establish his successor. His will stood disputed.[6]

Meanwhile, in 1971, the Privy Purse policy was abolished by the twenty-sixth amendment of the Indian constitution. Hence, the title of the Nawab Bahadur ceased to enjoy legal sanctity.[1][6][54]

The dispute over the succession ensued a legal battle. One Abbas Ali Mirza claimed to be Waris Ali's lawful heir on the basis of him being the grandson of Wasif Ali Mirza, through his only daughter; while Sajid Ali Mirza claimed the same on the basis of being the son of Wasif Ali, through a mut‘ah marriage. The dispute was decided in the Supreme Court on 13 August 2014, by Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R. K. Agrawal. The court declared Abbas Ali Mirza as the lawful heir of Waris Ali. However, the case challenging the overtaking of the Murshidabad estate by the state, worth several thousand crores, is still pending as of 2014.[53][55]

List of the Nawabs of Bengal

The following is a list of the Nawabs of Bengal. Sarfaraz Khan and Mir Jafar were the only two to become Nawab Nazim twice.[56] The chronology started in 1717 with Murshid Quli Khan and ended in 1880 with Mansur Ali Khan.[24][4][56]

Portrait Titular Name Personal Name Birth Reign Death
Nasiri dynasty
Murshid Quli Jafar Khan.jpg Jaafar Khan Bahadur Nasiri Murshid Quli Khan 1665 1717–1727 June 1727[30][57][58]
Sarfaraz Khan.jpg Ala-ud-Din Haidar Jung Sarfaraz Khan After 1700 1727-1727 (for few days) 29 April 1740[38]
Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan.jpg Shuja ud-Daula Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan circa 1670 1 July 1727 – 26 August 1739 26 August 1739[59][60]
Sarfaraz Khan.jpg Ala-ud-Din Haidar Jung Sarfaraz Khan After 1700 13 March 1739 – 29 April 1740 29 April 1740[38]
Afshar dynasty
Alivardi Khan.jpg Hashim ud-Daula Alivardi Khan Before 10 May 1671 29 April 1740 – 9 April 1756 9 April 1756[61][62]
Siraj ud-Daulah.jpg Siraj ud-Daulah Siraj ud-Daulah 1733 9 April 1756 – 23 June 1757 2 July 1757[63][64]
Najafi dynasty
Mir Jafar (left) and Mir Miran (right).jpg Ja'afar 'Ali Khan Bahadur Mir Jafar 1691 2 June 1757 – 20 October 1760 17 January 1765[65][66][67]
Mir Qasim.jpg Itimad ud-Daulah Mir Qasim ? 20 October 1760 – 7 July 1763 8 May 1777[68]
Mir Jafar (left) and Mir Miran (right).jpg Ja'afar 'Ali Khan Bahadur Mir Jafar 1691 25 July 1763 – 17 January 1765 17 January 1765[68][69]
Nazam ud-Daulah.jpg Nazam-ud-Daulah Najimuddin Ali Khan 1750 5 February 1765 – 8 May 1766 8 May 1766[70]
Saif ud-Daulah.jpg Saif ud-Daulah Najabut Ali Khan 1749 22 May 1766 – 10 March 1770 10 March 1770[71]
Mubaraq ud-Daulah.jpg Mubarak ud-Daulah Ashraf Ali Khan 1759 21 March 1770 – 6 September 1793 6 September 1793[72]
Babar Ali.jpg Azud ud-Daulah Baber Ali Khan ? 1793 – 28 April 1810 28 April 1810[73]
Ali Jah.jpg Ali Jah Zain-ud-Din Ali Khan ? 5 June 1810 – 6 August 1821 6 August 1821[74][75]
Walla Jah.jpg Walla Jah Ahmad Ali Khan ? 1821 – 30 October 1824 30 October 1824[76][77]
Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah.jpg Humayun Jah Mubarak Ali Khan 29 September 1810 1824 – 3 October 1838 3 October 1838[78][79][80]
Feradun Jah.jpg Feradun Jah Mansur Ali Khan 29 October 1830 29 October 1838 – 1 November 1880 (abdicated) 5 November 1884[4]

List of the Nawabs of Murshidabad

The Nawabs of Murshidabad succeeded the Nawabs of Bengal.[24][4] Waris Ali Mirza was the last Nawab to hold the title legally. Abbas Ali Mirza has been recognised as the lawful heir of Waris Ali. The title today is de facto only and is devoid of any legal sanctity.[1]

Picture Titular Name Personal Name Birth Reign Death
Najafi dynasty
Young Hassan Ali.jpg Ali Kadir Hassan Ali Mirza 25 August 1846 17 February 1882 – 25 December 1906 25 December 1906[81][self-published source?][5]
Wasif Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur.jpg Amir ul-Omrah Wasif Ali Mirza 7 January 1875 December 1906 – 23 October 1959 23 October 1959[81][82]
Waris Ali.jpg Raes ud-Daulah Waris Ali Mirza 14 November 1901 1959 – 20 November 1969 20 November 1969[6]
N/A N/A Disputed/In abeyance[53][55] N/A 20 November 1969 – 13 August 2014 N/A
Coat of Arms of the Nawab of Murshidabad.png N/A Abbas Ali Mirza circa 1942 13 August 2014 (declared lawful heir)[53][55] N/A

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