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Salar Jung and Nizam of Hyderabad kept waiting for a gift for supporting British in 1857

Salar Jung I was India’s most influential statesman in the 19th century under the Nizam of Hyderabad. The British simply couldn't decide what to gift them.

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Given the nizam and Salar Jung’s support to the British in the dark days of the Mutiny, it was natural for them to expect some mark of gratitude from the British.

Unfortunately, this was strangely missing for a long time. As Harriet Ronken Lynton observes, ‘That loyalty conferred an obligation was normative in Salar Jung’s world. The loyalty which the “Faithful Ally” confidently expected to be returned was mysteriously missing in Calcutta, where the Viceroy was so busy being magnanimous to former enemies that he earned from the European community the derisive nickname “Clemency” Canning.’

The nizam seemed worried about the lack of acknowledgement of Hyderabad’s role. On a visit to the residency in June 1858, he had sought reassurance from Davidson about the state of the relationship and if ‘anything had occurred to interrupt the amity and alliance of the two governments’. The resident was quick to assure him that all was well.

Part of the nizam’s apprehension lay in the fact that the British had been silent about his services. Even the press seemed to give more credit to Salar Jung than to the nizam, so jealousy played an important role. It is possible that the suspicious Afzal-ud-Daula was wondering if the Governor General too was ‘apportioning credit in the same way’. Davidson, generous with his praise, and persistent in his efforts, tried his best.

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On 29 March 1858, he had written a letter to the government noting that the ‘unhesitating energy and promptitude with which the Nizam’s Minister assisted the English Government were beyond all praise’. Even a year after writing this letter he had yet to receive a reply which satisfied him.

Salar Jung was not unduly worried about the lack of tangible evidence of gratitude from the British. He had received news from his old friend Colonel James Oliphant that ‘substantial marks of the obligation felt by the British Govt. will be conferred upon his Highness’. Colonel Oliphant had been in the Madras Engineers and been assigned to Hyderabad where he built the bridge which still bears his name. Salar Jung and he must have become friends at this time. He became a director and then chairman of the East India Company, and had been appointed by Queen Victoria to attend to the young Maharaja Duleep Singh when he first arrived in England, and served him as equerry and comptroller of the household.

In August 1858, Oliphant informed Salar Jung of the despatch to the ‘Supreme Govt. calling for a list of those Princes who have distinguished themselves by acts of fidelity to the British Govt. and asking their [the Supreme Govt’s] views as to the best means of rewarding them; whether by territorial grants, by pensions, or gratuities, or by Honorary distinctions.’ Oliphant assured him that high on the list, along with other worthies like Scindia, Holkar and the king of Nepal, was the nizam.

There is no evidence to suggest that the resident knew about this correspondence or that Salar Jung ever confided in Davidson the information Oliphant had shared with him. However, knowing that some reward or honour was bound to be given, the resident expressed his confidence to the nizam that a mark of British gratitude could certainly be expected.

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In early 1860, when still nothing had been heard in the matter of a reward, Oliphant wrote to Salar Jung once again, informing him of his interview with Sir Charles Wood on the subject. Wood said that they were keen to reward the nizam, but Lord Canning had shown little interest in the matter. Oliphant wrote: ‘I replied “It is a poor return to the Nizam for all that he has done, that every little petty state and zemindar has had gifts and jagheers and titles bestowed, when our oldest and most faithful ally to whom we owe the safety of Southern India has been left unnoticed.”’

In a subsequent letter, Oliphant again inquired from Salar Jung as to why the resident had done nothing to remind the Governor General about the reward. ‘They have done what they thought right for the Resident; how is it that they have done nothing for the Native Prince?’

While the British realized that some reward or tangible form of gratitude was necessary for the princes who had stood by them, they were unsure as to how to reward them. Vernon Smith, president of the Board of Control, was unsure as to how to honour those who had ‘behaved well’. Ross Mangles, chairman of the East India Company, recommended some special mark of distinction from the queen. The more pragmatic Canning rightly believed that some accession of territory would go down well with the smaller chiefs.

For the more important princes like Scindia and Holkar, he recommended some alteration or relaxation in the treaties. The latter would also benefit the British since many of the treaties were inconvenient to them, there being something to amend in almost all of them. When these matters were being discussed, Lord Palmerston’s government fell in February 1858, as we have already noted, and the Earl of Derby formed his second cabinet. Lord Stanley became president of the Board of Control and later the first Secretary of State for India.

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A generous man, Stanley wanted Canning to reward the princes with land to show that ‘we can recompense as well as punish’. In the end, the smaller chiefs received jagirs and titles, and both Scindia and Holkar were rewarded with territory. A suitable reward for the nizam was, however, proving to be a difficult decision. Stanley had already suggested land, and Canning agreed. In fact, the viceroy went as far as suggesting that the restoration of Berar, even a partial one, was the only reward worth giving the nizam.

He was well aware that it was also the one he would appreciate the most. It would not be too extravagant to suggest that one of Salar Jung’s reasons for supporting the British during the Mutiny was an expectation of just this reward.

This excerpt from The Magnificent Diwan by Bakhtiar K. Dadabhoy has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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