Notes on the importance of Sayyid Brothers
The Sayyid Brothers, Abdullah Khan and Hussain Khan, claimed descent from Abdul Farh, an adventurer from Mesopotamia who had settled down in India many centuries ago. Their father was a Subedar of Bijapur and Ajmer. Later on, he joined Prince Muazzam. During the war of succession, the Sayyid Brothers fought on behalf of Muazzam who became king as Bahadur Shah. Bahadur Shah awarded the two brothers.
In 1708, Prince Azim-us-Shan gave an important assignment to Hussain Ali in Bihar. In 1711, he appointed Abdullah Khan as his Deputy in the Province of Allahabad. In view of these favours, the Sayyid Brothers supported Farrukh Siyar, a son of Azim- us-Shan, for the Throne of Delhi.
They killed Jahandar Shah in the battle and offered the throne to Farrukh Siyar. In recognition of the services rendered to him. Farrukh Siyar appointed Abdullah Khan as Wazir and Hussain Ali as Mir Bakshi. That caused great jealousy in the minds of Turani
and Irani Nobles and they started instigating the Emperor to remove them. “Like all weak men, he (Farrukh Siyar) was swayed by the latest adviser and having resolved to do a thing could never hold to it for long but soon sank into despair and went back into his own undertakings. Constitutionally incapable of governing by his own will and controlling others, he would not trust any able agent, but was easily inspired by a childish suspicion of his ministers and induced to enter into plots in their favour.” The chief figure in the whole drama was Mir Jumla whom Farrukh Siyar has authorised to sign on his behalf. This was resented by the Sayyid Brothers. To quote Khafi Khan, “The two brothers were not inclined to bear patiently Mir Jumla’s invidious and provoking interference in their affairs.”
Farrukh Siyar took part in at least three plots against the Sayyid Brothers. As far as the first plot was concerned, he sent Hussain Ali against the Rajputs but also sent secret instructions to Raja Ajit Singh to help him in getting rid of Husain Ali in return for tempting gifts. The plot failed. In the second plot, Farrukh Siyar sent Husain Ali to the South as subedit of the Deccan and at the same time instigated Daud Khan to kill Husain Ali on the way. He promised to hand over the viceroyalty of the Deccan to Daud Khan after the successful implementation of the plan. The third plot was directed against the life of Abdullah Khan. According, to the plot, Abdullah Khan was to be surrounded and assassinated at the Nauroz ceremony. However, Abdullah Khan got scent of the plot and posted a large number of troops to overawe Farrukh Siyar. This plot also failed.
The Sayyid Brothers joined hands with the Jats and also entered into an alliance with Raja Ajit Singh by making him promises of reward. They made certain demands from the Emperor and the same were accepted. They were not satisfied and insisted on the dismissal of Itikad Khan (also known as Muhammad Murad). As the Emperor hesitated, he was dragged out from the harem, insulted and strangled.
After the death of Farrukh Siyar, Sayyid Brothers became the masters of the whole show. They acted as makers and unmakes of the kings. They appointed Rafi-ud-Darajat and Rafi-ud- Daula as Emperors. After the death of Rafi-ud-Daula, they put Muhammad Shah on the throne. As the new Emperor was young and inexperienced, he left the entire administration in the hands of the Sayyid Brothers.
Khafi Khan writes, “All the Officers and servants around the Emperor were, as before, the servants of Sayyid Abdullah. When the young Emperor went out for a ride, he was surrounded, as with a halo, by a number of the Sayyid’s adherents; and when occasionally he went out hunting or for an excursion into the country, they went with him and brought him back.”
The Sayyid Brothers not only believed but also acted upon the policy of religious toleration. They were responsible for the abolition of Jizya and a conciliatory policy towards the Rajputs. They appointed Raja Ratan Chand as Dewan. They were responsible for the formation of the Hindustani party which included both Hindus and Muslims. The Rajputs were the strongest supporters of the Sayyid Brothers on account of their policy of reconciliation.
Differences arose between the Sayyid Brothers themselves. They quarreled over the sharing of the spoils of victory and political power. They differed over the attitude to be adopted towards the old nobles in general and Nizam-ul-Mulk in particular. Husain Ali contended that Abdullah Khan had taken advantage of his position as Wazir and taken possession of all the buried treasures of Farrukh Siyar and the goods in his jewel house, imperial establishments etc.
He also maintained that Abdullah Khan had resumed the Jagirs of more than 200 nobles and distributed them among his followers. There was great tension but a compromise was arrived at through the good offices of Ratan Chand. When Agra was captured, most to the booty fell into the hands of Husain Ali. Trouble arose when Abdullah demanded his share. In spite of the intervention of Ratan Chand, Abdullah Khan was not satisfied.
The Sayyid Brothers differed from each other in many ways. Husain Ali was more energetic than Abdullah Khan. He was of a haughty and hasty temperament and he failed to weigh all the pros and cons before coming to a conclusion or taking action. Khafi Khan writes that Husain Ali “deemed himself superior in military governmental matters to his brother though he was forgetful of the real matter and unacquainted with stratagem.”
Husain Ali over-estimated the strength and stability of their position and did not appreciate the wisdom and moderation of his brother. The misfortunes of the Sayyid Brothers were very much due to the haste of Husain Ali in putting down the potential rivals. Abdullah Khan suggested that Nizam-ul-Mulk should be appointed the Governor of Bihar which province was notorious for its turbulent.
However, Hussain Ali insisted on the appointment of Nizam-ul-Mulk to Malwa and the same was done. It was from Malwa that Nizan-ul-Mulk was able to consolidate his position and raise the standard of revolt which ultimately led to the collapse of the power of the Sayyid Brothers.
When Nizan-ul-Mulk was incharge of Malwa, it was reported that he was collecting men and materials of war far in excess of his requirements as Governor of Malwa. It was suspected that he had an eye on the Deccan. The Sayyid Brothers were afraid of Nizam-ul-Mulk and decided to shift him from Malwa to Agra or Allahabad or Multan or Burhanpur. When Nizam-ul-Mulk did not accept the new offer, the Sayyid Brothers sent a mace-bearer to being Nizam-ul-Mulk to the capital.
Instead of obeying, Nizam-ul-Mulk revolted and crossed the Narbada into the Deccan. He was joined by the Governors of Berar, Khandesh and Asirgarh. In order to win over the Muslims to his side, the Nizam declared that whatever he was doing, he was doing for the honour and prestige of the royal house.
He had revolted because the Sayyids were determined to ruin and disgrace all Turani and Irani Nobles. He also contended that the Sayyids were allied with the Hindus and were pursuing anti-Islamic policies. These sentiments became the rallying cry of the movement against the Sayyids led by the Nizam.
Abdullah Khan realised the gravity of the situation and was in favour of winning over the Nizam by making concessions. He was supported by Khan-i-Dauran and Ratan Chand. However, Hussain Ali rejected the proposal for a compromise and blamed his brother Abdullah Khan for lack of initiative and courage. Dilawar Ali was ordered to march against the Nizam from the North and Alam Ali from the South.
The Nizam fell upon Dilawar Ali and routed him in June 1720 before he was joined by Alam Ali. Alam Ali and his Maratha supporters were defeated by the Nizam in August 1720. Husain Ali was assassinated when he was on his way to the Deccan with the Emperor. On 13 November, 1720, Abdullah Khan was defeated and made a prisoner. He died two years after.
The fall of the Sayyids was due to many causes. They were not able to win over an important section of the old nobles belonging to the time of Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shah. Those nobles looked upon the Sayyids as upstarts and were not prepared to be overshadowed by them in the conduct of the affairs of the state. They also did not approve of the policy of the Sayyid Brothers to conciliate the Marathas, the Rajputs and the Jats. They were opposed to the abolition of Jijiya. They were themselves ambitious people and would not like the usurpation of all power by the Sayyids.
It was contended that the Sayyids were anti-Mughal and wanted to monopolies all power into their own hands. The Sayyids committed a blunder in disposing of Farrukh Siyar. Abdullah Khan was not in favour of deposing Farrukh Siyar and the blame must rest on the shoulders of Husain Ali.
The deposition of Farrukh Siyar created an apprehension in the minds of many nobles about the ultimate intentions of the Sayyids who came to be regarded as tyrants and traitors to the salt. The deposition of Farrukh Siyar was a political blunder because it enabled the Chin group to appear as the champions of Timurid Monarchy and exploit the public feelings Against the Sayyids for their own ends.
Another cause of their failure was that they over-estimated their own strength and resources. They should have followed a policy of caution and conciliation as advocated by Abdullah Khan. It was the determination of Husain Ali to destroy Nizam-ul-Mulk, Amin Khan and others at the eraliest possible moment that brought about the fall of the Sayyids.
The dependence of the Sayyids on their subordinates such as Ratan Chand, made them unpopular. Their Government became corrupt and they failed to maintain law and order and such a regime cannot last long. Moreover, they did not receive timely help from the Marathas, Rajputs and Jats.
The rule of the Sayyid Brothers left a definite impact on the course of history. They followed a policy of religious toleration which was reminiscent of the time of Akbar. They exercised their influence on the Emperor to get the Jizya abolished in 1713. They cultivated cordial relations with the Hindus and offered them positions of trust. They won over Raja Ajit Singh who was a rebel and succeeded in arranging a marriage between his daughter and Farrukh Siyar.
They also won over the Jats and Marathas. It is maintained that if the high officials had carried on the liberal policy of the Sayyids, the course of Indian History would have been different. The Sayyid brothers had certain qualities of their own. To quote Khafi Khan, “Both the brothers were distinguished in their day for their generosity and leniency towards all mankind. The inhabitants of those countries which were innocent of contumacy and selfishness made no complaints of the rule of the Sayyids.
In liberality and kindness to the learned men and to the needy, and in protection of men of merit, Husain Ali Khan excelled his elder brother and was the Hatim suited to his day. Numbers owed their comfort to the cooked food and raw grain which he gave away.
At the time of the scarcity of Aurangabad, he appropriated a large sum of money and great quantity of grain to supply the wants of the poor and of widows. In their native country of Barha, they built Sarais, bridges and other buildings for the public benefit.”
About the rule of the Sayyid Brothers, Dr. Satish Chandra writes, “The Sayyids made a definite break with narrow, exclusionist policies and moved in the direction of establishing a state essentially secular in approach and national in character. Their downfall did not imply the automatic negation of this process which they had stimulated and strengthened, it continued to work apace and influence the political and cultural developments of the succeeding period.”