‘The Loharu Legacy’ by Rakhshanda Jalil speaks about the resilience and survival of the dynasty : The Tribune India

Join Whatsapp Channel

‘The Loharu Legacy’ by Rakhshanda Jalil speaks about the resilience and survival of the dynasty

‘The Loharu Legacy’ by Rakhshanda Jalil speaks about the resilience and survival of the dynasty

The Loharu Legacy: A Saga of Generations by Rakhshanda Jalil. Roli Books. Pages 274. Rs 695

Book Title: The Loharu Legacy: A Saga of Generations

Author: Rakhshanda Jalil

Salil Misra

India’s transition to modern times was laced with nuances of its own political and social structure. The book on the rulers of Loharu, by Rakhshanda Jalil, highlights two important features of this transition, as it tells the story of the ruling dynasty of the Loharu state in present-day Haryana.

The town of Loharu formally became a part of Alwar state in 1803. Later, the British made it into a separate state and gave it over to Ahmad Bakhsh Khan of the dynasty. First, the transition took very different forms in areas governed directly by the British (British India) and the 565 princely states that were notionally sovereign, but under the direct gaze of the British. The main profile of this transition was different in each princely state. Second, the transfer of power from the Mughals to the British was fairly simple and direct at the top. But at the lower levels of power, it was much more complex, diffused and prolonged. Often the patronage network of the Mughals passed on without much turbulence to the British. The princely state of Loharu was an example of continuation rather than rupture. The book under review tells the story of the Loharu dynasty from the beginning till the merger of the state into the Indian Union after Independence.

The story begins from the mid-18th century when three brothers — Qasim, Arif and Alam — travelled from Central Asia to India in search of wealth and fortune. The brothers were well-trained in the art of warfare and this became the key to their initial success. They were patronised by Mughal emperor Shah Alam, who relied upon them to lead some of his military campaigns. Successes in warfare brought greater recognition and patronage. Once they made it to the top echelons, they remained there during the next centuries without being unduly affected by the tectonic shifts in the power equations at the top. They also emerged unscathed by the upheaval of 1857, in which most of the Muslim rulers of north and central India came under heavy punishment by the British.

It was, however, in the 20th century that Loharu, under its last ruler, Aminuddin Ahmad Khan, took tentative steps forward — water tanks, canals, irrigation facilities, a large grain market, motorable roads, telephone connection and a railway line in 1938. The most dramatic, of course, was the building of an aerodrome, which arrived well before motorable roads and the railway line. Loharu was connected with the outside world first through air before rail and road. Its young ruler, Nawab Aminuddin Ahmad Khan, was passionate about flying and had a pilot’s licence. The first plane carrying the Nawab from Delhi to Loharu landed in 1931. The momentous event was described by the Nawab in the following words: “The event had brought the journey from Delhi to Loharu from an all-caravan journey during the middle of the 19th century to a three-day rail caravan journey from Delhi to Bhiwani to Loharu by later 19th century, and from a five-hour car journey from Delhi after 1928 to one-and-a-quarter of an hour in 1931.”

From the 1930s started a new process in which nationalisation of Indian politics appeared imminent. This created a new predicament for the princely states, big and small. Creation of a federal structure, in which princely India would be a major constituent, was one option. It was proposed by the British but was not pursued further. Most of the princely states, Loharu included, had constituted a solid bulwark behind the British against the rebellious forces of anti-imperialism. They had also contributed enormously to the British war effort in both the wars. However, in the 1940s, as the possibility of Indian Independence loomed large, the British completely abandoned their support system, which included the princely states in a big way. Left without any political patronage, initially smaller states joined the big ones. Loharu was integrated with the state of Bikaner. Finally, it merged into the Indian Union after 1947. The rulers of Loharu had shown great resilience in accommodating themselves in the midst of greatly contrasting situations.

Patronised initially by the Mughals, they also found favour with the British and survived the destruction of 1857. They also escaped any major calamity at the time of the next big transition, in 1947. Just as they had adjusted to the Mughals and the British, the erstwhile rulers of Loharu adjusted well to the new democratic regime of Congress and remained a part of the ruling political class in Independent India. The Loharu story is one of resilience, accommodation and survival against all odds.

The book, apart from telling the story of the Loharu dynasty, also offers a piece of cultural history. In particular, it highlights the predicament of the Muslim elite of North India caught in the grips of major economic and political changes from the mid-19th century. They faced the dilemma of how to respond. Opting out carried the risk of isolation. Joining the mainstream, on the other hand, carried the risk of losing all the privileges they had enjoyed. For this class, ‘culture’, therefore, became a very important instrument. It became the means through which an elite status could still be preserved at a time when neither economy nor politics could be relied upon, to ensure the continuation of their elite status. The transition to modernity is a merciless process. It is merciless, above all, as it seeks to flatten out the distinctions between the beneficiaries and the victims.