India's Poor Little Rich Prince

Dec 30, 2008
*Special to asia!

The waxing and waning of the Nizam of Hyderabad reflects the waves of change that have swept the sub-continent since India's independence.

The story of the Nizams is also, in many ways, the story of India. The fall in the family’s fortunes reflects the fading of the age of maharajahs, whose centuries-old relationship with the British had been one of uneasy alliances. The seventh Nizam’s dilemma with his money holds up a mirror to the suddenness and arbitrariness that was Partition. In his dithering figure we see the tussle between religion, culture and personal benefit that must have been felt by millions of others at the time.


They spent money like water, and were terrible, irresponsible landlords, but they could be very charming and sophisticated as well.


Even today, the many theories as to why Osman Ali Khan had to transfer the money to the UK in the first place, shows how this era still grips our imagination and stirs our emotions. It speaks of our interpretation of the past. Some say the Nizam was trying to keep his money safe during a time of political turbulence. Some say he intended to join Pakistan; some say, India. Some say that the money was actually to buy millions of rifles, to raise an army fit to fight for Hyderabad as an independent entity.

The very receptacle that has held the Nizam’s money for six decades has changed. The Westminster Bank merged with National Provincial Bank in 1968 to form National Westminster Bank. During Thatcherite deregulation of the 1980s, which culminated in the Big Bang of 1986, the bank entered the securities business and the NatWest Bank of today was born. Welcome to the world of global finance and investment banking.

What should happen to the money once it comes out? Some speculate that 20% of the £30 million will go to the Nizam’s relatives; the rest will be shared equally between India and Pakistan. Bloggers point out that the money should be poured back into the state for development of public projects. The seventh Nizam “never bothered to take any measures to develop his kingdom, he was just collecting taxes,” sniffed one commenter on the website HelloJi.

India has been independent for 60 years. Great inequalities and discrimination still exist, but it is often also touted by the press as the world’s largest democracy. The nouveau riche is rising, the middle classes swelling. The nation is getting wealthier, and there’s a growing sense that this wealth must be shared.

Perhaps the re-opening of the Chowmahalla Palace to the public is a fitting ending, at least for now. The grand old days of yore are now available for public delectation, though of course only rich individuals and corporations can afford to hold events at the palace. India’s history and culture unfolds before a parade of foreign visitors. Capitalism, business and tourism rule the day.


Lim Jin Li contributed to this story.






clarissa tanClarissa is a journalist who focuses on travel and the arts. As a desperately hopeful author, she writes short stories and is working on a novel. Clarissa won the Spectator’s final Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.

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