Allama Fazle Haq Khairabadi – scholarly rebel of 1857

Part II

In his book he amply highlighted the characters of Shahzada Mirza Mughal, and General Bakht Khan and their perennial cut throat rivalry, (By August the army was divided into three Divisions under the commands of Mirza Mughal, General Bakht Khan and Ghaus Muhammad Khan. Out of the three, Mirza Mughal and General Bakht Khan had had held the appointments of Commander in chief one after the other). Acute trust deficit existed among factions commanded by the former two. The few following randomly picked excerpts from his book, Al soorat-ul-Hindia would help understand this;

‘Shahzada Mirza Mughal proved himself to be a highly incompetent, unprofessional and clumsy Commander who failed to display any worthwhile act during the entire campaign…..’ ‘In May 1857 he was made Commander in Chief of the army on the behest of the officers and men of his army, but  miserably failed to live up to their expectations….’ ‘Shahzada Mirza Mughal did not only lack courage but also was devoid of any worthwhile intelligence. As a result he remained encircled by sycophants, spies, and informers of the British…’ ‘Remained at loggerheads with General Bakht Khan…..’ ‘Mirza Mughal as well as other princes remained the butt of criticism by all and sundry, as they never represented themselves physically on active fronts and failed to physically take part in actual combat…..’ ‘The Commander of Bareli Force General Bakht Khan and Mirza Mughal are so antagonized with each other that it is being feared that General Bakht Khan might get him killed….’ ‘Official complaints were lodged in the court of the emperor against alleged Corruption of Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizer. They were accused of eating hundreds of thousand rupees collected from the residents of Delhi for the campaign, and not spending a penny on the army….’ ‘Mirza Mughal besieged the king that if he (the King himself) accompany the forces on a charger to attack the British positions on the hill (Dheeraj Pahadi) it would bring victory to them. The King regretted by saying that he did not have the physical strength to do it….’

Somewhere in mid August, the army of Mirza Mughal returned after a successful campaign with a large quantity of war booty against the British. On this General Bakht Khan commented that “he would’ve been happy if the army of Mirza Mugha had been annihilated instead, as their victory had demoralized his own troops”.

General Bakht Khan was an artillery Officer. He reported to the emperor with his five regiments on 2 July 1857. He was professional, courageous and motivated, but too over-ambitious. And probably this very foible transcended all his strengths which later was to blot out the entire edifice of the struggle. The emperor welcomed him with open arms and bestowed honours on him and his men accompanying him. However the first condition he put forward to the emperor was the demand to make him a ‘General’. The emperor readily granted that and bestowed upon him the royal sword and shield. After three weeks General Bakht Khan demanded the title of ‘Governor General’ which was also granted to him. Not only was this, he was given plenipotentiary powers by stripping off all the princes of their powers, especially military responsibilities. The General on his request was also given the title of ‘Farzand’. He thereafter shifted in the palace along with his two British confidants (Sergeants) whom he had brought with him from Bareli. Even Shahzada Mirza Mughal was also seen extending full cooperation.  Bakht Khan ensured getting through many compensations from the emperor with regards to his future including the verdict that if he was able to push out British from Delhi and Meerut he would be entitled to the title of ‘Bahadur’. This was also endorsed by the emperor.  On the contrary, his performance as a military commander kept deteriorating. He remained at loggerhead with the princes. Many quarters accused him for being inefficient and clumsy. He refused to deposit the amount he had brought with him in the treasury as was done by others. He remained active collecting funds from different sates and affluent individuals.

‘At one point in time, while the British was busy  laying siege against Delhi he was demanding salaries for his army threatening the emperor that if his demands were not met he would leave Delhi with his troops. In fact, except for a few minor let-ups, he did not do any worth while campaigning on the front of Delhi that could pave way for a decisive victory. On the contrary his failure to mount attack on the swelling military presence of the British around Delhi provided the latter the much required pause to strengthen and reorganize their forces and build strong logistics which helped them over run the city in a short period of four months…...’ ‘There was great discomfort among the rank and files on elevating of General Bakht Khan to Commander-in-Chief, being an artillery officer. A petition from the officer cadre was forwarded to the emperor in which they conveyed their reservation on the decision of the emperor to put an artillery officer over them by making him Governor General and Commander-in-Chief. Not only the incumbent not worthy of the titles but doing this also was contrary to state laws……’ ‘Complaints were lodged to the emperor regarding extensive indulgence of princes and senior army commanders in drinking, womanizing, and spending most of their time on kothas (houses of prostitution)……’ ‘At one point in time the emperor issued a commandment to all army officers not to obey orders of Shahzada Mirza Mughal or General Bakht Khan’.

Talking of the emperor, the Allama noted:-

‘That Sardar, Chieftain (Bahadur Shah Zafar) was such a gullible soul, inexperienced and naïve that he did not know even the iota of a thing as to the affairs of the state. He was old and gaunt suffering from acute dementia. Old age had made him berserk to such an extent that he could not do anything with his own will. He was incapable of distinguishing good from bad. His conduct was of a person mentally challenged. He did strange and bizarre things. He had no opinion of his own. He was incapable of issuing an order neither in person nor indirectly or covertly. He could neither benefit nor had the capacity to harm. While this was happening a massive group of muslims arrived in the city and bore allegiance to him. They were a band of ruffians who were looking for power and were more interested in plundering rather than carrying out an organized struggle. This ignorant chief not only accepted them but also appointed commanders over them. These so called commanders were in reality his own inefficient, incapable coarsely nerd men of straw –his own aulad (grand children Mirza Mughal, Khizer Sultan and the ilk). They despised honest and scrupulous men. They neither had the training of war nor did they ever encounter one. Owing to their own doings they were ripped of money. Soon they resorted to various tactics to mint money. The easiest and the quickest was to collect money from masses in the name of freedom struggle. This made them richer and richer every passing day. However they did not even spend a dime either on freedom fighters or on the equipment of war, instead, they squandered the money on nights with whores and prostitutes. Women and wine, comfort and luxury extracted all traces of courage from their hearts and rendered themselves incapable of even walking besides their troops. As if it was not enough the coterie of sycophants and apple polishers masquerading as freedom fighters storming around them kept them away even from the troops forming the rear guards. They were coward pigs waiting to be slaughtered. The Hindustani rebels were divided into innumerable small groups. Many groups were brave carrying the flame of freedom but without the presence of any commander they were more like lost herds of sheep. Then happened the inevitable; the British seized a prominent hill overlooking the city (Dheeraj Hill). This was the vital ground that was supposed to be guarded. But when the commanders of the time could not see beyond own material advantages, who would have catered for something like that. Then the British made this hill their spring board and brought cannons and manjaniks (catapult) there. They started pounding the city day and night so as to give a spectacle at night as if stars were falling from heaven. The Hindustani rebels in the absence of a central command and any logistics were gradually giving way. Panic, chaos and anarchy started to show. Many fled the battlefield. Those left behind had neither the physical courage (due to long starvation) nor the arsenal to fight the invading British. Most of the so called commanders did not see it feasible to face the rigours of the battlefield and stealthily slipped away into their burrows –this included the dens of prostitutes. Even with such odds the brave elements of the rebels remained steadfast to the extent that at one point in time the British forces were completely exhausted and near retreat. At this juncture the British Commanders asked the hindu localities in the west for assistance. Hindus from that area turned out to be the real savior and provided not only logistics but military arsenal in abundance within very short time. With this recuperation the British got a new lease of life. They after regrouping and reorganizing started fresh attacks with renewed spirits. The new forces joining the British comprised mostly hindus and also groups of muslims having very fair colour (probably hinting towards troops from NWFP). Apart from this, the residents of the city, now getting panicked, started shifting their loyalties in favour of the British. This included mostly the hindu population. As for the muslims, these also split into two groups; those still resisting the British colonialism and the other comprised the anglicized who were more enemy of the freedom fighters than the British. For four months (May to September 1857), despite preponderance the British could not enter the city….’


Then one night with the stroke of misfortune, the brave soldiers on the front facing Dheeraj hill holding the impending British invasion were relieved by a group of spineless cowards. This new group removed their arms and fell asleep. The slumber cost them costlier and the British through their intelligence came to know their state. The British followed with a physical night attack, seized all the weapons and munitions and made them sleep forever. They opened the gates of the city, overran the trenches and barriers and walls impeding their advance, and brought the heavy cannons and catapults into the city. The intervening screen now had been removed and with that not a soul could hide or run. Anyone trying to stand or run was quickly targeted with sniper fire. Simultaneously they started pounding every house every building turning the same into smithereens. The city gave the spectacle of a ruin. The old emperor had taken refuge in the tomb of his ancestor three miles from the city (Humayun). In fact he was a slave to his Queen and Wazir who had given him the hope that the British after taking over would restore his majesty to the throne……’

‘The remnants of the rebels already sporadically disbursed in pockets fled like sheep. Now the hindu traders and merchants hid the Ghalla (grain) and stopped any entry of the same into the city from adjacent villages. This trick paid off. When citizens could no more bear the hunger and thirst they started to come out and run in whatever direction they found feasible. This enabled the British to occupy their houses, shops and bazaars to house their soldiers and made these their fortresses…..’

‘19 September 1857, Delhi was captitulated. Organized massacre unfolded and the British soldiers then started bayoneting every one they could find on the street. Houses of rich and affluent were stormed, looted and inhabitants murdered in cold blood. As this was not enough their soldiers started barging from one household to another and did not even spare women and children. Houses of rich and affluent were stormed, looted and inhabitants murdered in cold blood. While this was happening another group of the British started searching for the emperor and his sons. The emperor who was still hiding inside the tomb of Humayun was quickly traced out. He was dragged out along with his sons, daughters, and grand children and fetters put on his feet. On the way, Mr Hodson gunned down his sons, then severed the heads, and after throwing away the bodies presented the severed heads on a large platter to the 82 year old emperor….’ 

The scenes described by Allama in his book which he penned down during the period of his captivity marooned on a far flung island is vindicated by the various British writers and authors:-

‘Gallows were erected all over the city, and the hangings began. Anyone suspected of complicity with the rebels was summarily tried and executed: ‘-------- hundreds of natives were shot or hanged while British officers sat by puffing contentedly on their cigars and soldiers and soldiers evidently bribed the executioners to keep the condemned men “a long time hanging, as they liked to see the criminal dance, as they termed the dying struggles of the wretches’ (History of the Indian mutiny, T.Rice Holmes, London 1898, p398)

‘The revenge was appalling. Old men were shot without a second thought; groups of younger men endeavoring to escape from the city were rounded up and executed in the ditch outside the gates No one with a coloured skin could feel himself safe. Many who had never struck a blow against us –who had tried to follow their peaceful pursuits –and who had been and buffeted by our own countrymen, were pierced by our bayonets, or cloven by our sabers, or brained by our muskets or rifles’ (The History of the Indian Mutiny, by Sir John Kaye)

‘Some women came out of their houses along with their children and killed themselves by jumping into the wells. Others were killed y their husbands or fathers. “We found fourteen women with their throats cut from ear to ear by their own husbands, laid out on shawls, for fear they should fall into our hands – their husbands had done the best they could afterwards and killed themselves” (The narrative of the Siege of Delhi, as quoted in The Great Mutiny)    

After the Britishers took over Delhi, Allama escaped to Audh and was part of the struggle there. Following the fall of Lukhnow, in January 1859 a case was registered against him in courts and finally he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at Andeman (Kala Pani) and his property was confiscated. Allama chose to be his own counsel and himself fought his case in court and openly said “the Fatwa on Jihad against the British was issues by me and even today I stand on my words”. Allama’s character was so high that when case was filed against him in court, witnesses could not prove the charge, but Allama himself accepted that he was the one who issued the Fatwa. This acceptance of the truth led him to sentence of life long imprisonment at Andeman, reaching there on 8th October, 1859. (In few books it has been stated that he was hanged to death).

Besides, being a scholar of Islamic studies and theology, he was also a literary person, specially of Arabic and Persian literature. More than 400 couplets in Arabic are attributed to him. Allama died in 1861 in Andeman and was buried there. As a writer and scholar of Urdu literature his contribution is immensely huge. He wrote innumerable books in Arabic. Many of his successors followed his footsteps, and gave significant contribution to literature.

What happened next in the course of history, and which remained the hallmark of a deliberate and carefully crafted policy was to drive a wedge between the two communities (Hindus and Muslims) and can best be summarized in the report to the Board of Control in London by the then Governor General/Viceroy Lord Canning (1856 – 1862).

"The men who fought us at Delhi were of both creeds. – As we must rule 150 million people by a handful of Englishmen, let us do it in the manner best calculated to leave them divided (Canning Papers)."


Ghadar ki Subha Shaam

Ghaddaron ke Khatoot

Memoirs of Hakim Ahsanullah khan

Al Soorat-ul-Hindia/Baaghi-e-Hindustan

The History of the Indian Mutiny (Sir John Kaye)

The Great Mutiny (Christopher Hibbert)

History of the Indian Mutiny (T.Rice Holmes)

The author is a retired Cavalry officer. He has spent 27 years in uniform and has a published collection of short stories 'By the Autumn Trees' to his name. He is an avid traveler and also has ample of well-researched travelogues published in the leading newspapers of the country.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt