In the seventy or so years since Independence, much less has been written about the Princely States which acceded to Pakistan than those that remained in India. The name of the once great State of Bahawalpur is no longer remembered among its well-mapped peers over the border in Rajasthan.
This book is based on conversations with Salahuddin Abbasi, grandson of the last ruler of Bahawalpur and born a year before Partition. Starting with the history of his State and his family, his memories add light to stories of Bahawalpur's princes from old records, letters, and the accounts of British travellers and civil servants. They also encompass a lifetime of first-hand experience of the political life of Pakistan and his relationships with the country's leaders.
Pakistan's troubled history has clouded a clear picture of it and shrouded its component parts. From the microcosm of Bahawalpur, this account helps to join the dots of a more coherent view of the macrocosm of Pakistan and queries the future route of the Islamic State.
Anabel Loyd has been a regular columnist for the Indian Telegraph for many years, writing from the UK about the political world in Westminster. She has lived and worked in India and has a particular interest in the Indian history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the lead up to Partition and Independence. She first read about Bahawalpur while editing the Indian journals of the vicereine Mary Minto.
It all began with a description of the Coronation Durbar of the King Emperor, George V, and Queen Mary at Delhi in December 1911. At the military review on 14 December, the Indian chiefs led their state troops in person, and it was the youngest of those princes who held all eyes. He was the nawab of Bahawalpur, aged seven, who: led his camel-corps past, himself riding a camel in front of a grave and trusty trooper. Dressed in full uniform of khaki with gold-embroidered skirts, the little fellow boldly faced the King-Emperor at the saluting point, threw out a baby's right arm to its full length, and with perfect correctness and time in every motion brought down his tiny sword to the salute. Seventy or eighty years hence, it may be, he will be conspicuous as the only survivor of the many gallant gentlemen who rode past King George on that day.
Seventy years later, that shining child, General Jalalat ul-Mulk, Rukn ud-Daula, Saif ud-Daula, Hafiz ul-Mulk, Mukhlis ud-Daula wa Muin ud-Daula, Al-Haji Nawab Sir Sadiq Muhammad Khan Bahadur Abbasi V, Nusrat-i-Jung, Amir of the God-gifted Kingdom of Bahawalpur, GCSI, GCIE, KCVO, ruler of a state the size of Denmark, where the five life-giving rivers of the Punjab combine as the Panjnad, had died five years earlier at his English home. By then, he was no longer a ruling prince; his country had divided and his state had disappeared into the united entity of West Pakistan. His body had been carried back to Bahawalpur, to the palace of Sadiqgarh and thence by gun carriage into the desert to his final resting place in the family mausoleum.
I had never heard of Bahawalpur. John Fortescue, eyewitness chronicler of the 1911 Durbar, wrote truthfully of the Indian people: `No one man has ever seen, nor will ever see, in spite of motor cars, and aeroplanes and railways, one hundredth of the eighteen hundred thousand square miles over which they are spread. No one man has ever visited, nor will ever visit all the cities, living and dead, which they have builded.' Nevertheless, like all visitors to India who have read their South Asian histories and their travellers' tales, I had some idea that I had at least heard the names at one time or another of most of the former princely states.
Quite wrong, as I discovered when I tackled the list of all 565 states in existence at Independence. They ranged from the twenty-one-gun-salute states, remembered by one British viceroy with the mnemonic 'hot kippers make a good breakfast', of Hyderabad, Kashmir, Mysore, Gwalior and Baroda, to the tiny non-salute slip of a village in Gujarat called Vejanoness, with an area of 0.76 sq. km and a population of 206. Bahawalpur was much closer to the kippers. Slightly smaller in land area than Bikaner in Rajasthan, with which it marched, and larger than Jaipur, it was, like them, a seventeen-gun-salute state.
Since then, unlike its neighbours in tourist-friendly Rajasthan, Bahawalpur had vanished from the map so far at least as foreigners were concerned, behind the borders of an unexplored and potentially perilous Pakistan. My lack of recognition of the name showed my ignorance of the geography and literature of Partition, when Bahawalpur had been on the front line of the rift with India. In Delhi, vague memories were stirred in the minds of older generations, of family homes in Lahore or Karachi, of the lives of their parents and grandparents before Partition and, of Bahawalpur, of notions of a wealthy Punjab state, glamorous nawabs, fleets of Rolls-Royces and remarkable palaces lost to view.
As the state was absorbed into the Punjab, it became a less-favoured backwater, marginalized by the upper-Punjab power base, with little of the wealth and few people or businesses flowing south. Even in Lahore and Islamabad, few people had been to Bahawalpur. They knew of, and could sometimes name, palaces 'saved' by the army; they remembered family quarrels propagated in public and through the courts, and slippery tales of secret tunnels and buried treasure. Beyond the tittle-tattle, most knew of the respected and very private `Nawab Sahib', Salahuddin Abbasi, grandson of Sadiq Muhammad Khan V, who kept his own counsel except in the matter of promises made and broken by successive governments on behalf of his people in Bahawalpur.
Ubiquitous Google provided photographs of nineteenth-century palaces, sketchy Abbasi family trees that stretched back beyond the birth of Islam and, the greatest initial lure to me, images of the spectacular Derawar Fort, its massive brick bastions rooted in the sand of the Cholistan Desert. I had been to Derawar's close cousin, the Bhatner Fort (otherwise known as Hanumangarh), only a few months earlier. Part of the same chain of defensive forts along the invasion route from Central Asia into India, it had once been the seat of the same Bhati Rajputs who held Derawar.
In century-old photographs, Hanumangarh stood like Derawar alone in the desert, an outpost of Bikaner state. Now it is in the centre of an eponymous market town, more busily Punjabi than Rajasthani. Dwellings are built almost into the monumental bastions; a good view of the extent of the ramparts requires invasion of someone's roof space, tea and a community photography sitting. The interior of the fort is ruined but the rusted signs bearing the hopeful protective mantra of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are matched by some essential restoration to the walls.
Now I imagined a desert quest. An expedition, possibly involving camels, in search of Derawar and the further crumbling links of fortifications once intended to protect India's wealth. I spoke to Pakistani friends in London. How to get to Derawar? And straightaway it all became simple. Everyone has a cousin or a sister, brother, uncle, a whole extended family spread across the world in the Pakistani diaspora. I am inclined to believe that it is possible to get almost anywhere through the web of Pakistani relationships. The home country is the easiest of all and the most hospitable. The traveller is delivered from hand to hand along the family line like a precious parcel, looked after, entertained, feasted, fattened, carried hither and thither according to her interests and desires, and so it was for me to Derawar.
At a meeting in Bombay between 27 and 29 July 1946, the council of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) withdrew their previous acceptance of the Cabinet Mission's constitutional proposals for independent India and agreed on a programme of Direct Action for `the immediate achievement of an independent and fully sovereign state of Pakistan'. The travails of the Partition of India and the difficult emergence of a new country had begun.
On 29 July that year, Salahuddin Abbasi was born in the western Himalayas at Al-Hilal, the summer house among the tea gardens of Palampur built by his grandfather in the 1930s. His fifteen-year-old mother, his father's much-loved only wife, was the granddaughter of his grandfather's former tutor and eminence grise, Maulvi Ghulam Hussain. She had been chosen for his father, Nawabzada Muhammad Abbas Khan, the nawab's favourite English consort. She has been a quiet witness to the whole capricious lifetime of Pakistan, the perversity in practice of the country's successive leaders, the misery of her husband in the public roles forced on him and the battles of her eldest son to right or mitigate the wrongs to Bahawalpur implemented by those leaders.
In his presidential address to the new Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, three days before Independence, Muhammad Ali Jinnah reiterated his vision for his country. First, he reminded the assembly that power brings great responsibility. Its first duty would be to maintain law and order; corruption should be put down 'with an iron hand'; nepotism not countenanced; and the well-being of the people, especially of the poor, should be of primary consideration; that there should be no discrimination between any community, caste or creed; religious affiliation should be down to the personal faith of the individual but all would be citizens, and equal citizens, of the state. He pointed out that the endless 'angularities' of the various communities of India had been the 'biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long ago'. Jinnah also said:
As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.
So much of that dream had already been bloodied and reduced by the violence that had further precipitated the moment of Partition during the first year of Salahuddin Abbasi's life. In the decades since, he has watched as Jinnah's image of Pakistan has been buried. Not only under the flow of patronage and corruption that oils the cogs of state institutions at all levels but under the illusion and imperative, the 'mirage', of the Islamic state. The sheer one-upmanship of the everyday, increasingly archaic, public practice of religion in Pakistan hinders the running of a contemporary progressive state and argues an almost impossible case for reinstatement of Jinnah's aspirations for nationality rather than communality. Basic good governance and state machinery operating for the benefit of the nation, not the individual, remains a simpler, more tangible ambition from which new understanding might grow, but the Hercules who will clean out the present Augean stable at the heart of government has not yet arrived.
It is hard for a visitor to Pakistan, harder still for those in the country whose spirit has been consumed by the endless forced engagement with dishonesty and corruption, to see beyond the losses and failures. Easier by far to take comfort in a longer view of life based on religious belief and better things to come. The nation suffers from seventy years of broken promises, the loss of honour, respect, history and heritage, and yet many of the generation who remember Independence remain alive to memories of the high expectation at the birth of their nation and believe they may yet come to pass, Inshallah.
Salahuddin Abbasi's mother-in-law, Suraiya Aslam, a biochemist and his mother's younger sister, continues to engage in the political battle for governance of her country that might come closer to the image conjured by the Quaid-i-Azam. More optimistic for the future than her nephew, she sees the circle beginning to turn again through the agency of the PTI, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party founded by Imran Khan in 1996. Unfortunately, the PTI's centrist, populist and anti-corruption vision of an egalitarian, democratic, modern Islamic welfare state, secure in its sovereignty against outside interference and based on principles laid down by Jinnah, is easier to pursue in theory than in practice. In spite of electoral gains in 2013, the all-important tacit approval of the Pakistan Army and the ability to motivate the hopeful to turn out in large numbers at anti-status quo protest rallies, Imran Khan has not yet found the success he seeks. As the purity of his message is further diluted by expedient orthodoxy on religious matters and the double-edged sword of affiliation with well-known older-style politicians, it remains to be seen if his light waxes or wanes. A further obstacle to his progress against longer-established parties is the ubiquity of a level of corruption in the system that discourages even his supporters from the ordinary populace from voting for a man unlikely ever to have favours to distribute.
The divisions in Pakistani society are wider than ever. The old may clearly remember the birth pangs of their country, but they are already history to the selfie generation. For them, a residual and well-stocked hatred of their Indian neighbours is the most prevalent continuing reminder of Pakistan's violent nativity. En masse, the young are less interested than before in history and heritage. Their tragedy in the long run, but it is the privilege of the old and the wealthy to conserve the treasures of the past, and youth must first look forward. Pakistan is more than ever girt with the restraints of caste, creed and class, but young people continue to dream of something better and of levelling the ground. Those living in extreme poverty may be easily seduced or coerced by the promises of extreme Islam: a glorious life to come after death providing some sort of solace or reward for the lack of any uplift through education or public services during the only earthly existence available to them.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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