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Bharat Ratna to Bahadur Shah Zafar: A Joke on the Nation

By: B Shantanu
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Amidst all the recent brouhaha around Bharat Ratna nominations, someone conveniently forgot the “truth” about some of our nominees. I am thinking of Bahadur Shah Zafar who was proposed for the award as a champion of India’s freedom and someone who actively opposed the British.

The demand was made by Delhi Assembly Deputy Speaker Shoaib Iqbal…(who reportedly said that)… it was unfortunate that Emperor Bahadur Shah II, also known as Zafar, whose martyrdom and national stature rank among the highest in India’s freedom struggle, had not so far been conferred with the Bharat Ratna.

”Bahadur Shah Zafar was the leader of the freedom fighters of the entire sub-continent. He could have compromised with the British and lived a life like the royal family of England but chose to sacrifice his sons, pomp and grandeur - all for for the sake of the honour and independence of India and its people,”

The facts are somewhat different (and inconvenient).

The reality was that the Emperor did not think much of the Sepoys who had marched to Delhi to ask him to be their leader. He viewed them as “rustic, uncouth and ill-mannered”.

His support (for the revolt), when it came…was far from being decisive…”He vacillated, but overcome by the desire to reclaim his inheritance, he assented” (from Requiem for Mughal Delhi by By Muneeza Shamsie, a review of William Dalrymple’s book “The Last Mughal”).

And yet,

“…he was never quite in control. His page, Zahir Dehlavi, who later wrote an invaluable memoir, Dastan-e-Ghadr, described Bahadur Shah’s horror when he learnt the sepoys wanted to slaughter the British families held prisoner in the fort. He pleaded with them.
He asked the sepoys, Hindus and Muslims, to consult their religious leaders if they had the authority to massacre helpless women and children. “Their murder can never be allowed,” he added. But in the end, he failed to prevent it.” (from Muneeza Shamsie’s review)

So much for leading the freedom fighters.

The end of his leadership was also far from heroic: “When the victory of the British became certain, Zafar took refuge at Humayun’s Tomb, in an area that was then at the outskirts of Delhi, and hid there. British forces led by Major Hodson surrounded the tomb and compelled his surrender.”

Will the Honorary Dy Speaker admit that he may have been mistaken?

For some extra “fun”, read this leftist interpretation of Zafar’s life from an article written for CPI(M)’s newspaper last June. I thought this bit was the funniest:

“One should not take too literally Zafar’s statement at his so-called "trial’ in which he projected himself as a mere prisoner of the sipahis.”


B Shantanu

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