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Maulvi Ahmedullah: The Unsung Hero of the Revolt

Cover Story


MOHD. ASIM KHAN presents the portrait of a great freedom fighter who fought manfully and valiantly against the British and laid down his life for the country.

"The Maulvi was a very remarkable man…. In person, he was tall, lean and muscular with large deep set eyes, beetle brows, a high aquiline nose, and lantern jaws." Thus describes British historian G.B. Malleson one of the greatest heroes of the first War of Independence Maulvi Ahmedullah Shah of Faizabad. The British considered him a worthy enemy and a great warrior so much so that many a British officer has praised him in flowing words. Thomas Seaton described him "as a man of great abilities, of undaunted courage, of stern determination, and by far, the best soldier among the rebels." The imperialists, however, at the same time were afraid of Ahmedullah and declared a reward of Rs. 50,000 for capturing him alive. The Imperial proclamation reads: "It is hereby notified that a reward of Rs.50,000 will be paid to any person who shall deliver alive, at any British Military post or camp, the rebel Moulvee Ahmed Molah Shah, commonly called "the Moulvee". It is further notified that, in addition to this reward, a free pardon will be given to any mutineer or deserter, or to any rebel, other than those named in the Government Proclamation No. 476 of the lst instant, who may so deliver up the said Moulvee".

The above proclamation is proof enough of how anxious the British were to catch Maulvi Ahmedullah. His actions and deeds, before and during the revolt, extracted praise even from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. "The life of this brave Mohammadan shows that a rational faith in the doctrines of Islam is in no way inconsistent with or antagonistic to, a deep and all-powerful love of the Indian soil," wrote Savarkar.

Maulvi Ahmedullah was a talookdar in Faizabad. His talook was confiscated by the government shortly after the annexation of Awadh. The angered Maulvi vowed to purge his motherland of foreign domination and made it a mission of his life that only ended on June 5, 1858. There were several others who had been equally wronged by the colonialists but Maulvi Ahmedullah proved himself a hard nut to crack for the colonialists. He travelled through large parts of Northern India and visited Agra, Delhi, Meerut, Patna and Calcutta, preparing ground for an enormous revolt. During his travels, he devised a novel scheme known as the Chapati Scheme. It was devised to disseminate the message amongst the rural population of the North India that a great uprising would take place on the first favourable opportunity. The circulation of chapatis from hand to hand was easy and not likely to cause any suspicion. In Savarkar’s words, "Wherever this political saint went there was seen an extraordinary awakening among the people… He was loved by the masses in Oudh". Thus, he worked incessantly preaching freedom and the destruction of the British power.

Maulvi Ahmedullah Shah was a rare combination of both a writer and a warrior. He used his sword valiantly, and his pen effortlessly for awakening and mobilising the people against the foreign subjugation. Shortly after his return, he wrote revolutionary pamphlets and started distributing them. It was too much for the imperialists and they ordered his arrest. He was tried for sedition and sentenced to be hanged. But before the execution of this order the revolt broke out. The Maulvi escaped from the Faizabad prison where he was detained and joined Begum Hazrat Mahal, the wife of the imprisoned Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh, in fighting against the colonialists. Both the Begum and the Maulvi led the rebel soldiers against the English in the battlefield.

In Lucknow Ahmedullah mounted an attack on the defences of Sir James Outram outside Alambagh. The Governor General dispatched Sir Colin Campbell in place of Outram to fight and flush out the rebels. Ahmedullah retreated to Rohilkhand and went on to seize Shahjahanpur. On his way to Shahjahanpur he was joined by the Rajah of Mohamadi and Mian Sahib, one of the chiefs of Lucknow, each heading a considerable body of armed men. Ahmedullah reached Shahjahanpur on May 3, 1858 with nearly eight thousand cavalry. Sir Colin marched to Shahjahanpur and defeated the rebellious troops but Ahmedullah managed to escape and then raided Pali. Sir Colin Campbell called him "a formidable enemy." Ahmedullah Shah created so much terror by his activities in the hearts of the English that Lord Canning had to offer a reward of 50,000 on his head.

It is interesting to note that despite all the means at their disposal and an organised system of intelligence, the British never succeeded in capturing Maulvi Ahmedullah. He continued to elude them and give sleepless nights to his enemies until June 5, 1858 when he decided to go to Pawayan, a few miles from Shahjahanpur in order to solicit the support of Jagannath Singh, the Raja of Pawayan. In fact, the Raja himself had requested him to personally come to the Fort of Pawayan. Ahmedullah approached the fort at Pawayan on a war elephant. The treacherous Raja refused to open the gate and instead opened fire on Ahmedullah and shot him dead. Thus, a great patriot’s story was brought to an abrupt end at the hands of a coward black sheep.

It is said that Jagannath Singh had invited him with premeditated objective of winning the reward. This incident occurred nearly two months after the reward of Rs. 50,000 was announced for Ahmedullah’s capture. However, it is worthy of notice that not a single man fighting under his command was ever induced to kill him for the hefty reward of 50,000, which was then an enormous amount.

Jagannath Singh presented the head of Ahmedullah to the British District Magistrate and claimed 50,000 rupees reward. "Thus died the Moulvee Ahmed Oolah Shah of Faizabad. If a patriot is a man who plots and fights for the independence, wrongfully destroyed, for his native country, then most certainly, the Moulvee was a true patriot," wrote Malleson. He had not stained his sword by assassination; he had connived at no murders; he had fought manfully, honourably, and stubbornly in the field against the strangers who had seized his country; and his memory is entitled to the respects of the brave and true hearted of all the nations.

But alas! In our history textbooks, particularly the ones by which our children are given their doses of history of India, we seldom come across the name of this great freedom fighter who won accolades from friends and foes alike, and even from the likes of V.D. Savarkar. Just a passing reference here, and an odd mention there is all our textbooks offer on Maulvi Ahmedullah Shah of Faizabad, while the contributions of a few others are blown out of proportion. Indeed, he is one of the unsung heroes of our first War of Independence that was fought 150 years from now.¨

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