I just completed reading the book Hyderabad, British India, and the World subtitled Muslim Networks and Minor Sovereignty C.1850-1950 by Eric Lewis Beverley, published by Cambridge University Press- 344 pages and priced at Rs 1250.
Now, why was I interested in an ex Princely state which had limited sovereignty and which had co-operated with the British during the Mutiny or first Indian war of Independence – the view depending on which side you were? Well, I was curious to know about erstwhile Hyderabad since my father was a Hyderabadi and belonged to a family which counted itself in the ruling elite of the state . His uncle had been Subedar of Aurangabad and the Inspector General Police or Kotwal of Hyderabad. My mother belonged to Berar — which had once formed part of the Nizam State but had studied in Hyderabad from 1946-51 the crucial years when India was being partitioned and Hyderabad was taken over through Operation Polo. However I hadn’t lived in Hyderabad since my father was allocated to Maharashtra when the state of Hyderabad was bifurcated into Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. But we continued to visit our relatives in Hyderabad and kept hearing stories of the good old days and my interest in the erstwhile state remained .
So though this explains my interest, I was keen to know what interest Eric Beverley Asst Professor of History at State University New York, had in such an unpretentious subject of Indian history . Beverley in the introduction, states that he considers the formally autonomous state of Hyderabad important in a global framework for it challenges the idea of the dominant British Raj as the sole sovereign power in the late colonial period and that Hyderabad exercised the right to internal self government and acted as a conduit for the regeneration of transnational Muslim intellectual and political networks quite successfully.
I was pleasantly surprised to read in the book the many ways in which in the officials and elite of Asif Jah worked for the welfare of the people and that their development of infrastructure was geared for the benefit of the masses. While famines raged in British India , the state response to the famine of 1876-78 in Hyderabad was based on a political ethics of state social responsibility as distinct from British India .The Famine Relief Committee Chairman Mehdi Ali’s report indicates the well managed agrarian system and as per the data on the grain stores,grains were not only distributed to famine relief houses but also exported to British India …According to Beverley ,research on rural social relations in British India suggest that by comparison Hyderabad and other sub-imperial states experienced little or no land alienation to money lenders during the lean times. Moreover in Hyderabad, the Asaf Jah administration didn’t merely arrange to provide labor for the able bodied but also made distinction between if and how much work the affected were expected to perform. And accordingly developed multiple relief modalities and work schemes besides setting up relief houses. These relief houses indicate the cultural accommodations which envisioned relief to “the poorest and most helpless classes.”It seems that there were many peasants who migrated with their cattle from adjoining localities in British India into Hyderabad during the famine
I was impressed by the details on development and remaking of the city of Hyderabad in the chapters titled: Remaking city, developing state and Improving urbanism :sanitation and power in Hyderabad and Secunderabad. The city planners were remarkable in their sympathy and benevolence towards the working class ,- the poor Muslims and Dalits. Emphasis was given on providing open spaces , public gardens, public toilets, proper drainage, clean water supply, access to civic facilities etc. Economic planning also gained momentum and Industrial and Commercial Hubs and Markets were set up .
After enumerating and describing the nature of the state, the author in the conclusion states that ‘Post-1948 national-level and Deccani regional movements have played on the notion that Asaf Jahi political culture was particularly inclusive when compared to that of the Raj …’ He further states that, ‘Descriptions of Hyderabad ‘s shared Hindu-Muslim “composite cultures” emphasizes the accommodating and localized character of Muslim rule in the sub continent.” In depicting the Asaf Jah State as a collaborative Muslim-Hindu endeavor and progressive regime it projects Indian Muslims at the center of histories of co-existence.
To me this well researched book on the erstwhile state of Hyderabad was quite an eye opener – specially the narrative of political ethics and patrimonialist discourse which the Asaf Jah’s followed which incorporated the concepts of civic virtue and good governance with the Islamicate notion of political responsibility. But the integration of Hyderabad state in the Union and its later bifurcation on linguistic basis into three states, with Hyderabad city as, the capital of Andhra, led to an influx to the city, of professionals and agrarian capitalists from the ex-Madras ,formerly British ruled districts ,especially coastal Andhra Pradesh. This together with the earlier outflow of elite Muslims and disenfranchisement of Asaf Jah officials and elites led to a transformation of its political culture which was characterized by a” polygot ,multi religious ,cosmopolitan imaginaries”.
But then my father who nostalgically reminisced about the Hyderabad State admitted that we gained in becoming an independent democratic country which was the finest forms of government.