Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula – Beyond an Administrator

For two decades in the 18th century, Indian history was plagued with decade-defining events, including two of the most discussed historical wars that specifically involved the district of Awadh. During this time, Awadh had a Nawab, who was fairly successful in the roles he played during these wars. He was known as Shuja-ud-Daula.

He succeeded Safdar Jang, the previous Nawab of Awadh, who was also a Mughal Grand Vizier, until he died in the year 1753, close to his administrative capital, Faizabad.

He was quite famous for his skill of synthesising his subordinates, but what made him seem larger than life was his height! He was nearly seven feet tall, incredibly intimidating in terms of physical strength, and had a reputation for well-oiled moustaches. He also had a reputation for being able to sever a buffalo’s head with a single swing of a sword.

Despite word of mouth preceding him, he was made the Nawab of Awadh in 1753, the same year of his father’s demise. This title was given to him by the Mughal emperor, Ahmad Shah Bahadur. His inane and developed qualities made him a favourite of many, to the point where he was offered his father’s position of Grand Vizier by the next reigning Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II. This promotion has quite a story behind it.

The aforementioned emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur, was notoriously blinded by an ally of the opposing Marathas, Imad-ul-Mulk, efficiently ending Bahadur’s reign. He was succeeded by his son Alamgir II. Alamgir and his son were also victims of Imad-ul-Mulk, who constantly persecuted them, and he was persistently under surveillance due to his tie with the Marathas.

Alamgir’s son, Prince Ali Gauhar, came to know of a conspiracy that was being plotted against his father, that caused him to leave his home in Delhi. He reached Awadh, where he was safely nestled under the protection of Shuja-ud-Daula. The emperor was soon murdered, which was what the conspiracy against him entailed. This led to the prince claiming himself to be Shah Alam II. Under him, Shuja-ud-Daula acted as Nawab and Grand Vizier, as mentioned before.

Then came the famed Third Battle of Panipat. Every move made mattered, especially the ones made by the Grand Vizier himself. The battle saw Afghans cutting the supply lines of the Marathas, which remains one of the defining moments that led to the Marathas losing the Battle due to the exhaustion out of hunger and continued exposure to the Sun. This is why Shuja-ud-Daula’s decision to make the Marathas their ally is praised to this day. Alongside this, he also orchestrated the confrontations that took place between the two sides, as well as exiled the leader of the Marathas, Sadashivrao Bhau.

Shuja-ud-Daula not only participated in one war of such proportions, but two. The Battle of Buxar involved his much-required leadership as well, where he teamed up with his ruler Shah Alam II and the ruler of Bengal, Mir Qasim, to do away with the British forces from the East India Company. He aided the defeat of the British again, this time with the Marathas instead of against them. He signed the monumental Allahabad Treaty, which involved the state of Awadh paying a settlement of 5 million rupees to the East India Company, allowing free trade with Britain in Awadh. This payment drove Awadh to give up three districts, namely Benaras, Ghazipur, and Allahabad, along with the fort of Chunar.

While working under a crumbling Mughal rule, Shuja-ud-Daula was also able to use his limited resources to assist a fellow nawab, namely the Nawab of Bengal, Alivardi Khan from letting his state crumble as well, by defending it from the attacks of the Marathas, who were led by Raghoji I Bhosle of the Bhosle dynasty.

After living a truly remarkable political career and life, in the year 1775, Shuja-ud-Daula met his demise in the city of Faizabad, after having newly turned 43, and was buried in the city, in a tomb now known as Gulab Bari, which translates to “Rose Garden”. This was the same city where his father breathed his last.

His position of Nawab of Awadh was succeeded by Asaf-ud-Daula in the same year.

The Nawab of Awadh has, over time, turned into an iconic title that was reserved for an elite few in history. Shuja-ud-Daula is definitely one of the names that allowed for this to happen, with his pivotal moves changing the course of Indian history.