Unaccepted, Sanguinary and the Fearless Nawab: Wazir Ali
Volume: 13, No: 07 ; July-2019
The Nawabs of Awadh have given this place humongous of heritage, art, history and culture – it’s incredible! And so is the life of these Nawabs. As the chronicles of history depict, the Nawabs of Awadh have lived their life through myriad phases. And one such Nawab is – Nawab Mohammad Wazir Ali Khan. A man of mild disposition – Nawab Wazir Ali Khan was the fifth Nawab of Awadh.
Born as a son of a servant, he was adopted by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. Wazir Ali’s mother was a menial worker and since Asaf-ud-Daulah, the fourth Nawab of Awadh, had no children, he adopted Wazir Ali. Being aware of his adoption, Wazir Ali was insecure and it was probably this consciousness which ignited in him a hostile attitude towards the British.
Wazir Ali was married at the age of thirteen in Lucknow. And his marriage was one of the most opulent shows of wealth and power in the history of Awadh. This grand show was organised with the active help of important persons like Raja Tikait Rai, Almas Khan, Jawahar Ali Khan, Tahseen Ali Khan and Bahu Begum.
In an unusual gesture, very unlikely of the Nawabs, Wazir Ali’s foster father – Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula walked for a short distance leading his son’s wedding procession. When the courtier insisted he boards a chariot or at least rides a horse, he replied: ‘Today I wish to walk like my subordinates in front of Wazir Ali’ – how thoughtful of him. After all Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was the same Nawab who had constructed Asafi Imambara complex in Lucknow to provide employment to people in the famine stricken Awadh.
An unaccepted Nawab…
After the death of the fourth Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-ud Daula in September 1797, Nawab Wazir Ali Khan ascended the seat of Awadh as its fifth ruler. However, his claim was challenged as he was an ‘adopted’ or an ‘illegitimate’ son of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. Despite the general notion that Wazir Ali was actually not Asaf-ud-Daula’s son, he had been brought up as an heir of the fourth Nawab.
Wazir Ali was seventeen or eighteen when he took over the Awadh’s throne as Nawab. Being of quite a young age, things started off well. However, Wazir Ali’s reign was short lived. Within four months he was accused of being unfaithful, by the British.
Soon after Wazir Ali ascended the throne of Awadh, Saadat Ali Khan began his preliminary process of proving Wazir Ali not being the legal heir to the throne in front of the British. He put forward his claim on the grounds of being the eldest surviving member of the Safdarganj’s lineage and Wazir Ali having no blood relation to Asaf-ud-Daula. Moreover, Saadat Ali Khan promised to fulfil all the engagements between Asaf-ud-Daula and the Company, if the company supported him to gain the seat of Awadh.
Henceforth, John Shore, then Governor General (1793-1798) resumed his pending enquiries against Wazir Ali’s succession. In the course of this enquiry, the Governor-General came to know that Wazir Ali was “fearless, debauched, of a sanguinary and of uncontrollable disposition…” Consequently, Wazir Ali soon became the eye-sore to the British and “a determined enemy to the English”.
Thus, Shore himself went to Lucknow to conduct some fresh enquiries and arrived at the conclusion that “Wazir Ali had no title to the masnad (throne)… and supporting him would not only be a disgrace to the Company but would also ultimately prove disastrous to Oudh and the English influence here…” Consequently, Shore moved in with 12 battalions and replaced Nawab Wazir Ali with Saadat Ali Khan 2.
The Nawab was deposed and was sent to Benaras (Varanasi), to be kept in an enclosure known as ‘Madho Das Garden’ – Nawab Wazir Ali’s deposition terms were fixed at rupees 1.5 lakhs as an annual pension and a residence in the city of Benaras.
While in Benaras, Wazir Ali was supposed to stay in communication with George Frederick Cherry, a British resident in Benaras and Mr Davis, Jugde & Magistrate of the City court. The government of Calcutta decided to remove him from his domain further. On January 14, 1799, the Superintendent of Police informed Davis about Nawab engaging armed men in his service, instead of preparing for his departure. Subsequently, the former Nawab visited Cherry’s resident and presented his grievances before him. However, in the course of arguments, Wazir Ali cut down Cherry with his sword. Wazir Ali then sets out to attack Davis’s house, Nandeshwar Kothi. Davis defended himself with a pike on his house’s staircase until British troops saved him. He and his troop also ravaged the houses of other Englishmen nearby. As the English troop arrived to handle the situation, Wazir Ali stationed himself to Madhu Das Garden. The English troops led by Major General Erskin followed Wazir Ali and seized his house to arrest him, however, Wazir Ali by then managed to flee. After, Wazir Ali’s escape, General Erskine’s rapidly assembled forces and soon “restored order”.
Although Wazir Ali’s coup to revenge his deposition had failed at Benaras, it didn’t dishearten him. He lived at large and even his close accomplices could not be captured. However, finding him difficult to capture, the British searched for his frantically from place to place. At last, he was found in Rajputana and had taken refuge under Raja of Jaipur.
As British got to know about Wazir Ali’s hideout, they started to press Raja of Jaipur to hand him over to them. Thus, at last, Raja of Jaipur gave-in to the request, handing over Wazir Ali to the British forces, though after taking an undertaking that he would neither be hanged nor put in fetters. In December 1799, Ali finally surrendered to the British and was put in severe detention at Fort William, Calcutta.
The colonial government complied with the terms of surrender and Wazir Ali spent the rest of life, 17 remaining years – in an iron prison in Fort William in the Bengal Presidency. Later, he was sent to Vellore and was housed in the palace which was constructed for the family of Tipu Sultan. Wazir Ali died on 15 May, 1817 and was buried in the Muslim graveyard.
Wazir Ali’s life had many turns – some fortunate and some unfortunate, rather more of the latter. However, he had many firsts to his credit. He was the Nawab whose opulent marriage to Gumani Begum Sahiba, is a record of sorts for Awadh, which itself was famous for its opulence. To have been elevated as the successor of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, only to be repudiated later, was another notable incident. Wazir Ali ascended the Awadh throne at the age of seventeen is yet another landmark. And while Wazir Ali’s marriage was a lavish affair, his funeral expenses were met with mere rupees seventy, in contrast to what he was and how lavish a life he deserved.
Source: The Life & Times of Nawabs of Lucknow – Ravi Bhatt ; The Revolt of Wazir Ali – B.K Sinha.