Syed Reza Ali Meerza or Chhote Nawab is angry with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The descendant of Mir Jafar, the commander-in-chief of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah’s army, says he has made up his mind never again to vote for the Trinamool Congress, the party he and most of family have been staunch supporters of. The reason is embedded in history.
The legend goes that during the Battle of Plassey between the British and Siraj-ud-Daulah in 1757, the East India Company cosied up to Mir Jafar to ensure the defeat of the nawab. Siraj-ud-Daulah had allied with the French and the English were determined to defeat him. The East India Company’s army had only about 3,000 men while Siraj-ud-Daulah had over 50,000. But the biggest weapon for the British was Mir Jafar who, it is believed, held back the nawab’s forces so the English army had an advantage in the battle. Siraj, the last independent nawab of Bengal, was soon captured and executed. Mir Jafar became the first dependent nawab in what soon became British India. And his name has now become a pejorative, synonymous with being a traitor.
Chhote Nawab is indignant with this perception of Mir Jafar and calls it a distortion of history. But what has angered him more is the fact that in rally after rally for the ongoing Bengal assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee has referred Suvendu Adhikari, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy, and all others who quit the TMC to join the BJP, as “Mir Jafar", suggesting that they are traitors.
“This is most unfair. The British have called him a traitor. All the history books have been written by the British, including this incorrect version," Meerza told News18. “Mir Jafar was not a traitor. If he were, do you think we would have been allowed to be around?"
Chhote Nawab lives in Murshidabad, on the top floor of an old, faded, blue house, not too far away from the Hazarduari Palace or “the palace with a thousand doors" that was built for the nawabs. This palace has now been converted into a museum and is the most glorious and striking landmark of this old town. Not too far away from the palace is the mausoleum of Mir Jafar. Next to his grave is that of his begum. These are the only two graves that have fresh flowers on them. It’s Mir Jafar’s family that continues to visit and maintain the graves. Others in the town shun the place as Mir Jafar is considered a British stooge who betrayed his master.
Chhote Nawab, now 85, can barely see without his glasses. But he tells us he has seen plenty of change. His income has trickled down to bare pittance and his son Fahim runs a computer store. “Our mistake is that no one from our family has ever written a book about the nawab days. Whatever you all know about Mir Jafar is from British historians. They have distorted history," said Fahim. “I intend to write a book to reveal the facts."
Fahim also says that he has been a volunteer for the Trinamool Congress but is now having second thoughts. At rally after rally, he heard the chief minister ridicule the TMC turncoats, calling them Mir Jafars whom Bengal will never forgive. “She hasn’t even bothered to acknowledge what we have done for her," said Chhote Nawab. “She too, like others, has listened to the history dictated by the British. We stayed back here unlike the rest of my family who have settled in Pakistan. And this is what we get in return. I feel cheated and we won’t vote for the TMC anymore."
Murshidabad has 22 assembly constituencies, where polling will be held on April 26 and 29. The Muslim population here is more than 69 per cent and the Trinamool Congress hopes to win them over to make up for what it may have lost in the previous four rounds of the eight-phase elections to polarisation. The TMC is also apprehensive of the Congress, led this time in the state by a determined Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, as the area has been a stronghold of the grand old party. It is also wary of Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM and popular cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front cutting its votes, though these two parties don’t pose a serious challenge, according to TMC insiders. The BJP has been hoping to make inroads by capitalising on the substantial number of Hindu refugees from Bangladesh in the area and is optimistic of winning at least two seats. Interestingly, the saffron party has put up 8 Muslim candidates in the district as a representation of its mantra “Sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas" (with all, development for all, with everyone’s trust). Voting in the state will now take place on April 17, 22, 26 and 29, before counting on May 2.
The princely state may have gone. And there is little attachment to monarchy and the nawabs. But the town gets its tourists and fame from its historical landmarks. Plassey, or Palashi, where the battle was fought, is about 51 km away. The town of Cossimbazar, the beautiful heritage site Katra Masjid, the Rajbari, Motijheel Mosque, etc, are all reminders of the fact that despite progress and changed times, Murshidabad can never break the umbilical cord with its past. And as Chhote Nawab seethes in anger over the Mir Jafar taunts, his family hopes Mamata and others get a taste of history too.