History is replete with stories of off-springs used in order to seize and wield power. One such story has been narrated by Abdul Haleem Sharar in his excellent Urdu book, “Guzishta Lucknow” (Lucknow of the past). In its chapter on “Jang-e-Azadi aur Lucknow” (War of Independence and Lucknow), he writes: “The King, Wajid Ali Shah himself was in Calcutta, his family was in London, and . . . the conflict over the cartridges and government’s insistence suddenly caused a mutiny and from Merrut to Bengal such revolt flared up that the homes of every friend and foe were burnt and such a strife broke out that the foundations of British government in India appeared to be shaking.
“The way rebels of Merrut etc came to be converged in Delhi and made Zafar Shah Emperor of India, likewise the rebels of Allahabad and Faizabad reached Lucknow in May 1857. The moment they reached here many of the loiterers found a cause and girded up their loins and when they failed to find any other member of the royal family of Oudh, they enthroned Wajid Ali Shah’s 10 year old minor child Mirza Birjees Qadr and her mother Nawab Mahal became the sovereign-custodian of the Kingdom. A limited number of English army was posted here, and all the European officials of the Kingdom who could save their lives from the hands of the rebels fortified in Bailey Guard around which trenches were dug and sufficient arrangements for a safe living made. It proved good and fortunate that Wajid Ali Shah had already left Lucknow otherwise he would have been made the King, willy-nilly. His death would have been far worse than that of Zafar Shah and the ruined and the doomed of Oudh would not have found that ephemeral flourish in the court of Matiya Burj that they happily enjoyed.”
The only reason Mirza Birjees Qadr was enthroned was that he belonged to the royal family and could be treated as the legitimate claimant of the throne; he could win the assent of the subjects also. Another reason could be that in case of a controversy he could be presented before the English as the legitimate heir to the throne. At that time royalty’s right to kingship was considered valid; it is in accord with this right that the English used to make provision for stipend, pension, etc, to the members of royal families. He was made King for the reason also that he belonged to the reigning family and that was why he had to act as supreme commander of the army also. The same was the case with Bahadur Shah Zafar.
What made such enthronements of minors problematic is that those poor souls were quite oblivious of the fact of their responsibility; their age naturally required them to be living playfully and in carelessness; how come that they would possess such wisdom which is necessary to understand and resolve the intricate and complex issues and affairs of the Kingdom and the politics woven around the seat of power; for the same reason when the rebels of Lucknow burdened Birjees Qadr with the crown of the Kingdom his mother was made sovereign-custodian and it was she who in fact saw to the affairs of the Kingdom. That means Birjees Qadr who was made the King was merely a showpiece; the real power to rule rested with his mother Nawab Mahal. Apparently it was a necessary arrangement and involved no political trickery. However, if this arrangement was not put in place, the throne may have been lost.
Sharar relates that this was Birjees Qadr’s “rule” in Lucknow but Hazrat Mahal’s “government.” However, the coinage was issued in the name of Birjees Qadr; officials of the Kingdom appointed; and revenue started coming in from all over the country. In the November of the same year just six or seven months after the enthronement of Birjees Qadr the English army reached Lucknow to recover it. The English army was composed of Sikhs of Punjab and mountaineer people of Nepal, and it is said that it were they who committed more of the cruelties. The impression that the new Kingdom produced disappeared in the face of bombardment of two or three days as a cobweb perishes. Nawab Mahal herself and Birjees Qadr had to flee towards Nepal along with other escapees. Since it was a crowd of about hundred thousand people hence consultation decided to take shelter in the valleys of Himalayas and attack the English army when opportunity facilitates; in case of victory go back to the homeland and take up the charge of the Kingdom, and in case of defeat continue living in the mountains. That was difficult to happen, no doubt!
That’s a political story of 19th century. We are living in the 2nddecade of the 21st century. But the news about the rolling out of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari recalled to my mind that more than 150 year old story and made me think: Is Pakistan of today no more different from the Kingdom of Oudh of 1857? Actually Bilawal’s coronation had already been accomplished when his mother Benazir Bhutto was killed in 2007. Then his father Asif Ali Zardarin himself occupied the co-chairmanship of the Peoples Party while Bilawal was enthroned as its chairman. Aren’t Bilawal, Mirza Birjees Qadr and his father Asif Ali Zardari, Nawab Mahal of today’s Pakistan? Doesn’t real power of the PPPP and its politics rest with Asif Ali Zardari, who is like Nawab Mahal, sovereign-custodian of the Party? As a king at the time of his coronation was honored with various titles; in the same manner when Bilawal was made chairman of the PPPP, he was given the title of Bhutto Zardari. That proves his political hereditary lineage, or political-cum-royal lineage! But that raises certain pertinent questions: Is PPPP a party like the royal family of Wajid Ali Shah? Is Pakistan like the Kingdom of Oudh? Are its leaders Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani and others merely courtiers paying homage to the new Crow Prince? Are the workers and voters of PPPP nothing but subjects of its Political Kingdom wherein Bilawal has been made a Political Crown Prince?
Note: This article was completed on July 30 and was originally posted in October 2014.