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date: 11 April 2021

Asaf Jah VII [Osman Ali Khan]free

(1886–1967)
  • Barbara N. Ramusack

Asaf Jah VII [Osman Ali Khan] (1886–1967), nizam of Hyderabad, was born on 6 April 1886 at Hyderabad city, India, as Osman Ali Khan. He was the eldest son of Mir Mahbub Ali Khan (1866–1911), then the nizam (ruler) of Hyderabad as Asaf Jah VI, and Amat-uz-Zahra Begam (d. 1944), a Shi'i Muslim with whom his father never contracted a nikah, or legal Muslim marriage. Although his father's name, Mahbub, meant beloved, and he could be extravagantly generous to some, he kept Osman on an extremely limited allowance, which is generally held to be one factor underlying Osman's disposition for parsimony. Throughout his life Osman Ali Khan was emotionally closer to his mother than his father and generously supported Shi'i religious institutions even though he was a Sunni Muslim.

After being initially tutored in the Koran, in 1895 Osman began his academic and physical education under the direction of Saiyid Hussain Bilgrami, then also serving as the director of public instruction in Hyderabad. In 1899 Sir Brian Egerton became his tutor and remained in that capacity until 1911. Mahbub resisted British suggestions that his son attend Mayo College for princes. This lack of interaction with other princes and the world beyond Hyderabad during his formative years fostered a provincial and self-centred outlook, and subsequently the mature Osman Ali Khan found it difficult to co-operate with his fellow princes and to negotiate effectively with popular political leaders.

Upon the death of his father Osman Ali Khan succeeded to the throne on 29 August 1911, taking the name Asaf Jah VII (although he continued to be widely known as Mir Osman Ali Khan). At that time he was described as of average height, with a fair complexion, physically robust, and on formal occasions sumptuously attired in exquisite silk brocade and magnificent jewellery. It was only from the late 1920s that he began to dress indifferently and acquired a reputation as unkempt and miserly. Because Hyderabad was the wealthiest and most populous of the princely states, he was highly visible among the Indian rulers whom the British reaffirmed as their allies and the natural leaders of India after the revolt of 1857. However, during his long reign he would confront challenges from British officials promoting internal reforms within the princely states, from Indian nationalists and religious reformers who sought to extend their activities to princely territories, and eventually from Indian politicians ranging from pro-Pakistani Muslims to communist organizers of peasant protest who struggled for power during the process of decolonization.

During the First World War Osman Ali Khan staunchly supported the British. At their request he issued a decree that the conflict was not a jihad, or Muslim holy war, but a political dispute. Consequently Muslims, who were a significant portion of the British Indian army, could fight with a clear conscience against the central powers including the Ottoman sultan, who was also the caliph, or religious leader, of the Muslims. In return the British promised to safeguard the religious position of the caliph in any post-war settlement. Besides using his position as a Muslim leader, which the British helped to construct, the nizam also unsparingly contributed money, troops, and equipment. Already created GCSI in 1911, he was made GBE by King George V on 4 December 1917, and given an increase in his ceremonial salute to twenty-one guns, and the titles of ‘faithful ally of the British government’ and ‘his exalted highness’.

Osman Ali Khan had long desired to regain control from the British over Berar, a rich cotton-growing region whose revenues had been ceded in 1853 to maintain the Hyderabad contingent, a military unit sustained by Hyderabad for British use but eventually disbanded. In 1902 the viceroy, Lord Curzon, had wrested a lease in perpetuity of these districts from Hyderabad. Spurning a negative decision by Lord Reading on his proposal for restoration of Berar, Osman Ali Khan asserted his status as an equal ally and challenged any unilateral decision. In March 1926 the viceroy, Reading, responded with an often-quoted statement that 'the sovereignty of the British Crown is supreme in India, and therefore no Ruler of any Indian State can justifiably claim to negotiate with the British Government on an equal footing'. By implication the British could intervene in the internal as well as external affairs of states as they deemed appropriate to secure order and the people's welfare. This declaration alarmed many princes, who mobilized to procure greater constitutional guarantees by participation in the round-table conferences.

Throughout the 1930s British officials, his princely colleagues, and moderate Indian politicians solicited the nizam for political and financial support. Although his officials conferred, the nizam was withdrawn, unpredictable, and tight-fisted. Resisting demands for greater popular participation in state government, by 1940 the nizam was overtly sympathetic to Muslim politicians, despite the fact that 88 per cent of his subjects were Hindu. Osman again loyally supported the British during the Second World War. When the British announced their decision to leave India in 1947 and Lord Mountbatten urged the princes to join either India or Pakistan, the nizam opted for independence. His efforts to obtain Marmagao harbour from Portugal to gain access to the sea, and support from the British crown, were unsuccessful. Meanwhile militant peasant groups revolted against landlords in the Telingana area of Hyderabad state. In September 1948 Jawaharlal Nehru, as prime minister of India, launched a police action which forcibly integrated Hyderabad into the Indian Union and suppressed the uprising in Telingana. Despite being the rajpramukh, or governor, of Hyderabad from 1950 to 1956, the nizam became increasingly reclusive and declined the governorship of the state of Andhra Pradesh created in 1956.

Osman Ali Khan married Azam-un-Nisa Begam (commonly referred to as Dulhan Pasha Begum), daughter of Jahangir Jang, a distant relative, on 16 April 1906. They had three children: two sons, Himayat Ali Khan, Azam Jah (1907–1970), and Shajaat Ali Khan, Moazam Jah (1907–1987), and one daughter, Shahzadi Pasha, who never married. He had three other wives, approximately forty concubines in his zenana, and thirty-three surviving children in 1955. He died on 24 February 1967 in Hyderabad, and was buried in the Judi Masjid (mosque), near the King Kothi Palace, where he had died. Mir Barkat Ali Khan, Mukarram Jah, Asaf Jah VIII (b. 1933), his eldest grandson, succeeded to the title of nizam.

Sources

  • V. S. Bawa, The last nizam: the life and times of Mir Osman Ali Khan (1992)
  • Z. Yazdani and M. Chrystal, The seventh nizam: the fallen empire (1985)
  • The Times (25 Feb 1967)
  • J. Roosa, ‘Quandary of the Quam: Indian nationalism in a Muslim state, Hyderabad 1850–1948’, PhD diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1998
  • L. D. Benichou, ‘From autocracy to integration: political development in Hyderabad state, 1938–1948’, PhD diss., University of Western Australia, 1985
  • V. P. Menon, The story of the integration of the Indian states (1956)
  • K. Leonard, ‘Hyderabad — the Mulki–non-Mulki conflict’, People, princes and paramount power: society and politics in the Indian princely states, ed. R. Jeffrey (1978), 65–106
  • I. Copland, The princes of India in the endgame of empire, 1917–1947 (1997)
  • K. M. Munshi, End of an era (1957)
  • Swami R. Tirth, Memoirs of the Hyderabad freedom struggle (1967)
  • V. H. Desai, Vande Mataram to Jana Gana Mana: saga of Hyderabad freedom struggle (1990)
  • I. Copland, ‘Communalism in princely India: the case of Hyderabad, 1930–40’, Modern Asian Studies, 22 (1988), 783–814

Archives

  • Andhra Pradesh State Archives, Hyderabad, records of Hyderabad state
  • National Archives of India, New Delhi

Likenesses

  • photographs, BL OIOC, photographic collection

Wealth at Death

established several trusts before death

British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections