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In memoriam: The last Ruler of Bahawalpur

Published May 29, 2011 06:29am


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President Ayub Khan with Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan V Abbasi - Photo by the author

The Government of Pakistan announced the death of “General His Highness Nawab Al Haj Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan V Abbasi, N.Q.A, G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., K.C.S.I., K.C.V.O., L.L.D., the Ameer of Bahawalpur at 1.45pm on May 24, 1966, at London… His Highness was a great patriot…” In Pakistan, the national flag was lowered to half-mast on public buildings.

In London, the representatives of the Queen condoled following funeral prayers. At Karachi airport, the General Officer Commanding, Pakistan Army, received the body of the late ruler on behalf of the President of Pakistan. Units of the Pakistan Army presented an Honour Guard as six pallbearers from the Army bore the late ruler’s coffin draped in the national flag.

A special train escorted by an Honour Guard transported the coffin, members of his family and household staff to Bahawalpur.

On the following morning, the railway lines in the former Bahawalpur State were blocked by people mile after mile. Immense crowds expressed grief at the loss of their former sovereign who had succeeded to the throne of Bahawalpur State in 1904. He represented almost three centuries of peace, dignity and benevolent rule.

At Sadiqgarh Palace, the coffin was mounted on a gun-carriage escorted by six generals of the Pakistan Army; the procession followed on foot for one kilometre through silent crowds. Thereafter, the procession entered vehicles bound for Fort Derawer in the Cholistan desert to bury the last of Bahawalpur’s rulers alongside his ancestors.

At Fort Derawer six buglers of the Pakistan Army sounded the Last Post. Artillery batteries of the Pakistan Army, coordinated by radio, fired a 17-gun salute simultaneously from Rawalpindi and Fort Derawer. Thus the history of Bahawalpur State was buried.

The territories of Bahawalpur State comprised an area larger than Denmark or Belgium, its ruler was entitled to a return visit from the Viceroy of India. On August 14, 1947, its eastern border across ‘the Great Indian Desert’ was shared with India for 300 miles. Its western border was the River Indus, while its northern border was the River Sutlej shared with Punjab, and its southern border was shared with Sindh.

By 1947, Bahawalpur State’s institutions, largely set up by successive British advisors with support from the rulers, consisted of departments run by trained civil servants; there was a Ministerial Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister; the State Bank was the Bank of Bahawalpur with branches outside the State also, including Karachi; there was a high court and lower courts; a trained police force and an army commanded by officers trained at the Royal Indian Military Academy at Dehra Doon.

Regiments of the State’s Forces were later to become distinguished regiments of the Pakistan Army such as the 8th Baluch (1st Bahawalpur Light infantry), the 9th Baluch (2nd Bahawalpur Light Infantry), the 20th Baluch, the 21st Baluch, the 14th Abbasia Field Regiment Artillery, etc.

Education was of special interest to the late ruler. A network of primary and high schools, colleges and a university called Jamia Abbasia (now the Islamic University of Bahawalpur) were operative in the state. Education was free to A level and the State’s Government provided scholarships of merit for higher education. In 1951, the late ruler donated 500 acres in Bahawalpur city for the construction of Sadiq Public School. It was to be the last large education institution to be built in his lifetime.

This institution produced politicians, a chairman of the Senate, businessmen of today’s Pakistan, and several corps commanders. Libraries existed in every tehsil and a most impressive central library (the Sadiq Reading Room) at Bahawalpur was inaugurated in 1924 by Sir Rufus Daniel, Governor General of India. A well-stocked zoo was established in the city as also was the Bahawal Victoria Hospital.

The Boundary Commission formed for partition of India and chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliff allocated the territories to comprise the Dominions of Pakistan and India. The Award excluded the territories of Bahawalpur State from Pakistan since they were not part of British India.

Correspondence from the 1930s between Allama Iqbal and the late ruler shows his interest and support for the Muslim struggle for a homeland, with ongoing financial support for the Muslim League. A relationship of many years developed between the late ruler and the Quaid-i-Azam, who was also engaged professionally for a period to advise. It was this relationship that was later to become significant, politically and economically, in the strengthening of Pakistan.

While India inherited Delhi, the imperial capital, Pakistan had Karachi, then a small town with virtually no State apparatus, without stationery in offices and no State Bank. Financial funding for the new dominion and facilitation of the Quaid to operate as Head of State and the running of administration was much needed.

For the inauguration of the Quaid as Governor General of Pakistan in the presence of the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, on August 14, 1947, the late ruler dispatched units of Bahawalpur’s State Forces to Karachi to provide an Honour Guard on the occasion. A Rolls Royce open Landau was also dispatched for the Quaid to receive Lord Mountbatten and proceed through Karachi to Government House.

Bahawalpur State was independent of Pakistan. The India Act of 1935 provided that the future status of the State lay with its ruler. For Pakistan securing the eastern border with India and for ensuring the passage of water from the rivers Sutlej and Indus was critical (an elaborate and modern irrigation system was in place); all the new Dominion’s lines of communication from north to south ran through Bahawalpur State. Consequently, the State became politically central to the survival of Pakistan in 1947.

At a meeting with the late ruler at Bahawalpur House, on his private estate at Malir, Karachi, a formal request from Quaid-i-Azam was made to politically federate Bahawalpur State with Pakistan in order to secure its eastern border. It was unhesitatingly accepted by the late ruler of Bahawalpur.

On October 10, 1947, in pursuance of the India Act of 1935, a constitutional Instrument of Accession, in favour of the Dominion of Pakistan, was drawn out by the late ruler and signed by him and the Quaid. Under the terms of the India Act it was open for the ruler to limit the exercise of federal authority in the State.

A list of federal subjects, regarding safeguards for defence and external affairs, was approved by the late ruler while the State of Bahawalpur retained its autonomy. Clause 8 of the Instrument of Accession read: “nothing in this instrument affects the continuance of my sovereignty in and over this State or save so provided by or under this instrument…”

In the period between October 10, 1947, and September 11, 1948, the initial financial requirements of the new Dominion of Pakistan were settled by the late Ruler (Bahawalpur State to Region, by Dr Umbreen Javaid). Pakistan had no State Bank at the time so the Bank of Bahawalpur became the conduit. Its financial assistance to Pakistan was treated as a contribution, not a loan.

Offers by the Dominion Government to compensate the late ruler for the loss of his palaces in Delhi, Missouri and Simla were declined by the ruler. The Dominion Government of Pakistan conferred the honorary rank of Full General of Pakistan Army on the late ruler. It was to be the first of the honours the Dominion accorded him during his lifetime. Following the Instrument of Accession, in 1952, a Second Supplementary Instrument of Accession was drawn up by the late ruler at the request of Governor General Khawaja Nazmuddin for additional “Dominion Subjects” to be approved. This followed the Government of Bahawalpur Act 1952 that created an interim constitution promulgated by the ruler for his State to ensure that elections took place and altered his political position to that of a constitutional ruler.

In the same year, the late ruler was invited by the Governor General of Pakistan to pay an unprecedented three-day State visit. In 1955, it became expedient for the political unity of the Dominion for a merger to take place between the two States which the late ruler agreed to. Accordingly, a Merger Agreement was signed by the late ruler and the Governor General which dealt with the new political position of the Bahawalpur State and the status of the late ruler and his family, which the new Dominion guaranteed to maintain and respect.

Withdrawing to private life, the late ruler alternated between Bahawalpur and England where he had maintained his country home on Lord Cowrdry’s Estate since the 1920s and his London residence at White Hall. He maintained his secretariat in London and continued his engagements, as also with Buckingham Palace.

In 1959, the late ruler set up his charitable foundation. It was to consist of 1,700 acres to maintain charitable institutions, orphanages and mosques. This followed the grants going to educational institutions, such as endowments to the universities of Aligarh and Punjab, both of which honoured him with degrees of Doctorate of Law. In Lahore, he constructed and donated the Senate Hall of the Punjab University and at Aitchison College the swimming pool, a mosque, and an entire block called Bahawalpur House.

In 1959, President Ayub Khan visited Sadiqgarh Palace and in the Darbar Hall, in the presence of the officials of the Government of Pakistan and the Court, invested the late ruler with the Order of the Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam. It was to be the last honour the country could confer on him in his lifetime.

In 1965, war with India broke out. The late ruler, by now ailing, contributed extensively to the Defence of Pakistan Fund and also dispatched those regular units of the former Bahawalpur State Force that were retained by him to confront Indian aggression. This gesture for Pakistan was recorded by the Government of Pakistan in its Gazette Notification. It was to be his last gesture for the wellbeing of Pakistan for on May 24, 1966, he died.

With the death of the late Ruler, successive governments in Pakistan seem to have forgotten him and the enormity of his contribution to the formation of this country. Gestures such as commemorating his death anniversary are overlooked except at Bahawalpur. Even his name is not cited in the annual Roll Call of distinguished Pakistanis on August 14.

The writer is a grandson of the late Ruler of Bahawalpur


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Comments (20) Closed

Hasnain Ahmed May 29, 2011 02:54pm
Its an honour to be the resident of the Great State of Bahawalpur. I was really not aware of this much of the contributions done to Pakistan by his Highness Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan V Abbasi, May Allah rest his soul in peace. Today, Masha'ALLAH, Bahawalpur is truly the most peaceful & harmonious city in Pakistan. But it really pains me alot of how most of the Abbasi era monuments lay in ruins. Some of them, taken care by Pakistan Army, have been renovated really well. But still, there are many of them waiting for an eye of attention & cure. I wish my message could reach the related people as I am overseas far from my dearest home city, the city of Culture, Traditions, Hospitality & Love. My Dearest Bahawalpur.
Muhammad Ali May 30, 2011 04:32pm
Being too far from my home city, Bahawalpur, this article really touched me and reminded me several things related to Bahawalpur. It is one of the few cities, which has best education system, hospital, historical places. May Allah rest the soul of former ruler of Bahawalpur and protect this city and entire Pakistan, InshaAllah. Ameen!
Raja Ali Ehsan May 30, 2011 05:35pm
My father had the honour of inviting HH to his house in Basra,Iraq during HH visit to that country in 1940.....back in Bahawalpur,His Highness sent his signed photograph with a letter from Al-Hilal,Kangra(India)to my father. My father was then Port Health Officer,Basra Port.HH was accompanied by Major Shamsuddin,Col.SA Hashmi and other members of his staff. Though my father has died,but I have HH photograph & that letter.He was a great man,a great leader and a great friend.May his soul rest in peace.
Atif Arif May 30, 2011 05:43pm
I agree with the writer. I visited Bahawalpur city last December 2010 and found it as a great place to explore. It is peaceful and ppl are loving. Great sites to visit. Nawabs really has great contributions for Pakistan which cannever be forgetton. Last but not the least, Now Bahawalpur City look more of a Garrison....everything is under the command of Army...Nawab's palaces are under control of army which we cant see.....which is bad.....Anyways Salute to nawab and his legacy...
IL Khan May 30, 2011 06:04pm
Many thanks Prince A.M.Abbasi for this article. I am proud of his achievements that you have listed especially the education system and the libraries he commenced. Today Pakistan has a shallow education system except for the handful of privileged institutions. Our population majority is illiterate/basic educated. I wished we had more leaders like your grandfather who knew education is the backbone of any sucessful community or country. Even half of what he had done is implemented in our state our children will have a better future. May Allah bless his soul.
Jawaid Iqbal May 30, 2011 06:10pm
My late father worked for Bank of Bahwalpur , most of our summers were spent there .It was probably the most clean city and market .Enviromentally it was far ahead , The Panjnad area was an ecologically the best have seen . May Allah Subhantala bless the Family ,Ameen
Umer Abbasi May 30, 2011 06:45pm
vry gentle but with a kind heart...may Allah bless his soul in peace....Aameen
Igloo May 30, 2011 07:41pm
Thank you for the article, very informative. Great shame about the apparent lack of recognition.
fahim May 30, 2011 09:03pm
Prince M.A. no doubt about the Great Vision of Saddiq the Great, but i am sure it was on his children to lead the BWP and become as significant figure as HH was and i am sure your family has been in power all this while if not then why. i respect you as you have the vision but apart from selling the land you know what else has been acheive for the PPL of BWP. i love my city and its history but time changes... it reminds me of the fall of Outtoman Empire. you have the power .. people and resource to be something which after HH no one had. lead your people and they will follow you else every glory in the past is history ... today's Greece of Alexander th Great is begging EU to save them from financial default. i hope you will understand my point of view .. anyways i grew up stealing mangos from your gardens.. lolz
shuaib Mahbub May 30, 2011 09:15pm
The nations who forget their past are doomed to be forgotten. Wake up Pakistan respect and remember your heroes, so that more Heroes can be created
Majid May 30, 2011 09:25pm
This is the inspiring article of the day for me, which comes from a forgotten chapter of history. Can we remember and pay the due respects to this amazing gentleman who contributed in the survival of our nation possible in the most difficult days? Let's note him atop when listing the most influential heroes of Pakistan.
Faisal Anwar May 31, 2011 10:12am
Great people like him are the inspiration for individuals and nation in general.thus we should not only remember personalities like him, it shall be part of our school teachings so that from the begining we know those who really matters and are the role models.
Khurram Zeshan May 31, 2011 11:10am
Very Nice
Haider May 31, 2011 11:33am
Very informative and insightful! May God bless the departed soul of this Great man! Looking at his acheivements and contributions, I don't think a man of such strature would be too bothered about not getting a mention by the hypocrite rulers and populace of today.
AWAIS May 31, 2011 03:22pm
I am really impressed by the lord, may his soul rest in peace. I am sorry to the nation of PAKISTAN who have forgotten all the beneficiaries of newly born PAKISTAN.
Bashir Jun 01, 2011 01:02pm
well the writer has put it in an awesomely great manner...but one thing to be mentioned over here is that the agreement between His Highness and Quaid-e-Azam, also included the the state of bahawalpur when ONE unit of pakistan is broken would not be merged with any province but rather would be made a province....and this is why the people of BAHAWALPUR are demanding this province so that they can have that prosperity and the development AND restore Bahawalpur to its previous Glory and the people get their right back which was snatched from them. Pakistan Zindabad !!!
Malik from Australia Jun 02, 2011 11:33am
I have great admiration of the Nawab of Bahawalpur, The Nawab Sahib. I spent my childhood and youth in Bahawalpur and that was the best time of my life. I will always remember the time I spent over there. Bawalpuris are the most friendly, gentle and cultured people. Nawab Sahib was a Nawab of the people. He contributed so much to the welfare of his subjects: education, health, culture, and general welfare of the public. Bahawalpur had the highest number of schools, hospitals, libraries and welfare organizations per capita in the State compare to the rest of the country. Alas, those ratios got whittled down gradually since Bahawalpur's integration with One Unit. Nawab Sahib's name would be written in the history of Pakistan in gold letters.
Talha Jun 03, 2011 10:09am
An Amazing Pakistani indeed. His dedication to Pakistan as detailed in this story is exemplary and is surely an example for leaders of today, once they claim to have a 'strong urge to serve our country'. This is what real service to a country and a cause called Pakistan. May Allah give Nawab Sahib eternal peace and shower His blessing on his soul.
Ashraf Prince Jul 05, 2012 06:50am
I am confidently writing that HH had contributed not less then Quaid a Azam. I salute the efforts of HH.
m a malik Jul 10, 2012 07:26am
nawab saibh was a great leader. he contributed a hand some amount for newely country . may Allah bless him.