Sunday 15 May 2022

Mukarram Jah The Last Nizam of Hyderabad- From Richest To Rags: Where all Wealth of Seven Generations Vanished

 Now here's a richest-to-rags story on a truly astonishing scale, have you heard about the Indian prince who lost it all in the Australian outback? His name is Mukarram Jah and he is, or was, the last Nizam—which means he was the last ruler of Hyderabad.


This is story of Last Nizam Mukarram Jah of Hyderabad, From Untold Riches to Total Obscurity.

The Prince Mukarram Jah was born in 1933 in Hilafet Palace in Nice (France). His mother Princess Durru Shevar Sultan was the daughter of the last Sultan of Turkey (Ottoman Empire) Sultan Abdul Mejid II.  She died in the beginning of the 2000s. His father was Azam Jah, the son and heir of Osman Ali Khan, the last reigning Nizam of Hyderabad state. 

Mukarram Jah and Princess Esma at Coronation Ceremony

He was educated in India at the Doon School in Dehradun and in England at Harrow and Peterhouse, Cambridge. He also studied at the London School of Economics and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.


Mukarram Jah was a friend of India's first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and stated in 2010 that Nehru had wanted him to become his personal envoy or the Indian ambassador to a Muslim country.


Like his father, Mukarram was the richest man in India until the 1980s. However, in the 1990s he lost some assets to divorce settlements with his wife Princess Esra. His net worth is nevertheless estimated at $US1 billion.

Mukarram Jah with Princess Esra

Officially He was the Nizam of Hyderabad State, but since 1948 there was nothing to rule over.

Coming at the end of the 40-day period of mourning for Jah’s grandfather, Osman Ali Khan, it should have signified a new era for what had been India’s largest, richest and most powerful princely state. 

Princess Durr e Shahwar  her husband Azmat Jah and sons Mukarram Jah and Muffakham Jah

Jah had just inherited what was probably the largest fortune in the world. The vast estate included a treasury that was said to contain more jewels than those of all the other princely states put together.

 A list of properties including palaces, forts and havelis more than 50-pages long and 14,718 staff and dependents that his grandfather still maintained, two decades after Hyderabad had lost its independence.


The Nizam made his grandson the successor to the gaddi on 14th of June 1954 instead of his first son Mir Himayat Ali Khan alias Prince Azam Jah Bahadur. 


Therefore, Mukarram Jah succeeded as the Eighth Nizam on the passing away of the last former reigning ruler of Hyderabad on 24th February, 1967.


His succession was recognized in principle by the Government of India. He was officially called the Prince of Hyderabad until 1971 when the titles and the privy purses were abolished by the Indian Union.

Coronation Ceremony of Mukarram Jah as the Eighth Nizam

Wearing a yellow sherwani and dastar, Mukarram Jah looks stiff and uncomfortable as he emerges from a silver-blue Oldsmobile bearing the number plate ‘HYDERABAD 1’.


His wife Esra appears more relaxed, dressed in a pale green sari, her hair covered by a scarf.


Inside the Darbar hall of the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad, male guests wearing dastars, fezzes and turbans sit patiently on a white cloth that covers the marble floor while the women watch from the gallery above the audience hall. 

Princess Durr u Shehvar Sultana with father Ottoman Calip Abdul Majeed  and husband Prince Azem Jah in 1931

The Hyderabad anthem is played, followed by prayers in Arabic and an inspection by Jah of the palace troops. Holding a ceremonial sword, he enters the darbar hall as verses are recited from the Koran.

Osman Ali Khan --vii Nizam of Hyderabad

As Jah takes his place on the musnad, the president of India’s two gazettes acknowledging him as the successor of the Seventh Nizam and declaring him the ruler of Hyderabad and the sole owner of all movable and immovable property of Osman Ali Khan’s private estate are read out.


From outside the palace come the sounds of a 21-gun salute and shouts of ‘Long Live the Nizam’ from the tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets.

Captured on grainy 16-millimetre footage shot by a German cameraman on April 6, 1967, the Mughal-style darbar would be the last of its kind not only in Hyderabad but also in India. 

After the coronation he famously told an American reporter that the only pleasure he got from going to Hyderabad was tinkering with the broken-down cars in his grandfather’s garage. “I inherited a scrapyard,” he said. “I have a lifetime’s work before me.”


When the government abolished princely titles, privileges and privy purses, he decided to settle in Australia and become a “farmer”. He rarely visits Hyderabad, and currently lives in Turkey.


Mukarram left the management of his inheritance in the hands of people he thought he could trust. It was a mistake. Priceless antiques were pillaged or sold off at a fraction of their worth.

Princess Durr e Shahwar and Azmat Jah at their Marriage in 1931

Jewels landed up at international auction houses. Palace lands were encroached on. Jah had just inherited what was probably the largest fortune in the world.

And fate had determined that he would never fulfil his dreams of living in Australia. He was a lonely man, cut off from his friends and deeply missing life in the Outback.


He loved the anonymity, the informality, the wide-open spaces of the Australian outback.

It was as far away as one could get from the fawning sycophants who surrounded him whenever he stayed in Hyderabad, and also the Indian tax authorities and the rapacious relatives who felt entitled to a slice of his inheritance.


For the next quarter of a century he tried to carve out a kingdom in the desert, nurturing dreams of retiring quietly and gracefully as ‘an old-fashioned gentleman farmer, who through choice of his own adopted the Australian way of life’, as he once said.

His adopted lifestyle, however, came at a cost. Murchison House Station ran at a constant loss, draining his resources. But the main damage was being done in Hyderabad.


But the property, the precious antiques and so on were vanishing from his palaces. Lots of people were making money and the controlling authority was very weak. Whoever Jah put there was unable to check the slide.”


By 1990 the slide had become a rout. The pain was being felt in Australia where Jah was unable to pay his bills.

An old family friend, the late Hyderabadi jeweler Sadruddin Javeri, lent him money and briefly put his affairs in order, but the damage had been done and in 1996 Murchison House Station and his mansion in Perth were on the market to pay off his debts to Javeri.

Princess Durru Shehvar Sultan in 1999 --London-She died here in 2006 at age of 93

But Jah rarely visits Hyderabad and has never returned to Australia, where he insists he spent the happiest years of his life. At 87, he is in frail health and his memory is fading.


Mukarram Jah Bahadur owns property in Hyderabad such as the Falaknuma Palace, Khilwat Palace, King Koti and Chiran Palace which is located in the middle of KBR National Park in Jubilee Hills. 

Falaknuma Palace

The properties are looked after by his first former wife Princess Esra who occasionally visits and stays in Hyderabad at Falaknuma Palace, which has been turned into the Taj Falaknuma Palace.

Chowmahalla Palace-=(Khilwat  Palace)

No one really knows where all the wealth has gone.

Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad (1911-1967), was considered the richest man in the world with a fortune of $2 billion.

Nizam Hyderabad's Necklace Worn By Queen Elizabeth ii

For long his family wanted to know where all the money had gone. Now they are fighting for what is left.

“The fight is between two grandsons of the Nizam, Prince Mukarram Jah, the crown heir, and his brother Prince Muffakham and the rest of the family,” said Nawab Najaf Ali Khan, one of the grandsons of Mir Osman Ali Khan.


He is also the president of the Nizam Family Welfare Association. The family has nominated him to take care of the legal aspects of the dispute.

Princess Esra with her husband PRINCE Mukarram

Moin Nawaz Jung, who was Mir Osman Ali Khan's finance minister, transferred one million pounds to North Westminster Bank, now called Royal Bank of Scotland. This wealth is also being claimed by the two grandsons and the governments of Pakistan and India.” A day before Operation Polo, the military action that annexed Hyderabad to the Indian Union in September 1948.


Currently the amount has grown to 36 million pounds. “It has been in litigation since 1956,” said Nawab Najaf.


“I look after the untouched issues, which are pending in the form of assets and money,” he said. “I have been given absolute mandate from the 120 or so whom I am representing in the UK High Court, claiming the Nizam's money”.


In 2013, the Pakistan High Commissioner went to court claiming that the money belonged to his country, but the bank said the matter was in dispute.


India has also staked claim for the amount. “We hope for an amicable solution,” said Nawab Najaf. But, considering the adamant stance of the parties concerned, it would be difficult, he conceded.


The Nizam had 18 sons and 16 daughters. “Today, only one son and one daughter are alive,” said Nawab Najaf. “There are 120 grandchildren.


The richest of them are the two eldest grandsons, Mukarram and Muffakham, because all the assets were in their control after the demise of my grandfather in 1967.”


In 1951, Mir Osman Ali Khan formed a trust called The Nizam Jewelry Trust for his vast collection of jewelry and precious stones.


The government purchased it for Rs 206 crore in 1995, after 20 years of litigation. “The family was not allowed to sell the jewelry outside India,” said Nawab Najaf. “It could have fetched Rs 2,500 crore at that time.”


If he had chosen to stay in Hyderabad, a seat in the Indian Parliament would have been his for the asking.


Other maharajahs transmuted themselves into successful politicians and businessmen. So why couldn’t he, whose fortune and status was greater than theirs?


Most of what Mukarram Jah inherited is now gone. The palaces in Ooty and Mahableshwar were sold for a song. The five palaces in Hyderabad—Falaknuma, Purani Haveli, Chowmahalla, King Kothi and Chiran.


As for the famed jewelry collection, those in the know say what the government managed to acquire—the fabulous 173 pieces including the Jacob diamond that were bought by the government for Rs 218 crore in 1995 after nearly two decades of negotiations and court battles.


When Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad died in 1967, his fortune was estimated to be the richest in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Mir Osman Ali Khan with Prince MUKARRAM  Jah

Apart from the taxes that he was allowed to collect of a vast empire that stretched all the way from the borders of the present Madhya Pradesh in the North to Tamil Nadu in the south, Mir Osman Ali had devised other innovative ways to get richer.


Twice a year—on Eid and his birthday—the nobility of the state and government officials had to provide him gifts or Nazar, the minimum of which was one gold coin and four silver.


Noblemen who were granted his audience were expected to bring expensive gifts as a mark of gratitude. Even the famous Falaknuma palace in Hyderabad came to him as a gift from one of his subjects.


So it wasn’t surprising that his fortune was the size it became over the six decades that he was the Nizam.

Mukarram’s problems started at home itself, and that too with his father Azam Jah.


But he was so much in love with his kingdom that he unilaterally declared Hyderabad independent in June 1947, two months before the nation was granted independence.


The revolt was short lived and it did not take more than a police force to subdue his army in the September of 1948.

Princess Esra

He was however allowed to keep his wealth, and along with it the title of Nizam. As a sign of respect to his status he was also given a new title of Raj Pramukh, or the constitutional head of Hyderabad state.


Moharram's problems started at home itself, and that too with his father Azam Jah.


Azam Jah, the Nizam’s elder son, who was to inherit the throne, however proved to be a different kettle of fish. He was by all counts a profligate and rampant womanizer who caused his father a lot of pain.


His wife Princess Durru Shehvar (Mother of Mukarram Jah) was a beautiful European-born and educated royal, daughter of the then Caliph of Turkey and hence the pre-eminent Muslim princess in the world.


The wealth may have been aplenty, but her husband’s harems and lifestyle were too shocking for her European heart to accept. But she kept up the dignity of the marriage in the royal style and Hyderabadis still talk nostalgically about her wonderful grace and beauty with awe.


She packed off Mukarram to Eton at a very young age to make an Englishman out of him.


Mir Osman Ali Khan, who was already upset with the kind of debt Azam, had been running up with his wastrel lifestyle.


The last straw came while he was on his death bed, when Azam, by now desperate to end his father’s long reign, wrote to the government to recognise him as the new Nizam.


A shocked Mir Osman Ali retaliated by writing to the government that on his death Azam be passed over in favour of his grandson Mukarram Jah for the title of Nizam.


Thus Mukarram, then in his 30s, woke up one day to find he had superseded his own parents in royal status and now they had to bow to him as the future king. It may have offered him grim satisfaction, but the rift between father and son was now complete.


Mukarram, despite his British public school education, proved to be too inept to handle the enormous responsibility that was thrust on him. In 1969, the then prime minister Mrs Gandhi abolished all the officially recognized princely titles and two years later abolished the system of privy purses


The tax free annual compensation that was paid to the rulers in exchange for merging their kingdoms into the Indian union in 1948.


This meant that the rulers like him now had to feed and look after their palaces, courtiers and the thousands of retainers with money from their own pocket.


His problems were further compounded by hundreds of family members who moved courts for a share of the fortune. The internecine warfare to grab some of that booty would have tested the strongest of leaders.


So he crumbled. This was not the life of fame and fortune he had expected. He chose to deal with the problem in the only way he knew, by escaping from it. He left his affairs in the hands of courtiers, signing away his Power of Attorney and took to travelling aimlessly around the world.


With no one to manage the vast estates, it wasn’t surprising that the family fortune started dwindling at a rapid pace. While the king was away, it was a free for all at the palaces.


The courtiers, friends and relatives took to plundering the palaces and estates. Anything that they could lay their hands on was taken away to be sold. And whatever could not be taken away was mismanaged.


For example, in the case of the famous Nizam’s jewels, which some value at more than Rs 1000 crore, the family ended up getting very little. It was acquired by the government for Rs 218 crore, of which Rs 183 crore came to the family after taxes.


Of this Rs 25 crore was paid to Mukarram and another Rs 25 crore to his brother Prince Muffakham Jah. The rest of the money is still under litigation with hundreds of relatives claiming parts of it.

Marriages and issue

Mukarram wasn’t as prolific as his grandfather, but he had married five times only, including a former Miss Turkey who was his third wife. His first wife was a Turkish noble woman, Esra Birgin (b. 1936), and they married in 1959.

Mukarram JAH viii Nizam with Princess Esma at HIS Coronation Ceremony

In the family’s tradition Mukarram was married off very young to a Turkish blue blood, Princess Esra, when he was very young. Esra preferred the company of her mother-in-law with whom she had more in common than her taciturn, arrogant husband. 

Mukarram Jah with Son Prince Azmet Jah

Within a few years of taking over as Nizam he took refuge from the home front by escaping to Australia where he fell in love with his secretary Helen, a large, rambunctious, sensuous woman who enjoyed boasting of her many lovers.


She could not have been more different from the stiff lipped aristocratic women in his family and he adored her for it. He married Helen only to regret it a few years later when she contracted AIDS and died.

Helen Simons

The rift with his mother and first wife was now too vast to bridge. They were appalled at his choice and how he had allowed the prestigious 250 year’s old Asaf Jahi dynasty to be associated with a commoner.


After Helen’s death Mukarram got back to his globetrotting ways, moving, finally to Turkey. Istanbul had in any case, right from the beginning, felt more like home than Hyderabad. On a blind date there he was introduced to the charming ex-Ms Turkey Manolya Onur who became his third wife.

Maynolya Onur

Manolya was drawn to what she says was, “the sadness in him. He was so obviously lonely. When I came to know that his mother was our Great Pasha’s daughter, I was shocked.” They got married and on her insistence returned to India.


By then, fortunately for him, his mother and first wife had migrated to London to set up mansions there. For Manolya, India was a dream. She recalls how they came to India to live in unimaginable luxury in his beautiful palace.”


It was like a fairy tale. A palace straight from The Arabian Nights, the most magnificent jewels and clothes to wear, battalions of servants falling over you, a fleet of cars at my disposal.”


But for Mukarram, the nightmare had restarted within a few months. Says Manolya, “Everyday he was having his ears filled by different factions. People kept threatening him with court cases. The government was constantly encroaching on his various properties.


The arguments with everyone over money irritated him. After three months he could not bear it anymore. He decided to escape to Australia once again.


He bought this huge ranch in the outback in Australia and insisted we shift there to live among dingo dogs, cowboys, cattle and snakes. It was a nightmare.


When Mukarram drove out with the cattle I was completely alone. I could have died there and no one would have known we were so far from civilization.”


Shaking her head, she adds, “I begged Mukarram to return to the comfort and luxury of India and the respect of his people. But he loved the outback. He actually enjoyed the loneliness and the tough life.”

Manolya got pregnant and insisted she return to Turkey for the birth of their child. Mukarram now took to taking off on his own. Manolya heard through Turkish papers that he had got married a fourth time.

Jameela  Bourges

A Moroccan lady, Jameela Bourges, was his wife for a very brief period. Six months later she was out of favor.


I could not believe Mukarram had got hitched to her. Mukarram realized his mistake but the lady extracted her pound of flesh, $ 500,000, before she agreed to the divorce.”

Mukarram Jah -- Now lives in Turkey

Currently Mukarram lives in Istanbul with his fifth wife, another Turkish lady Orchid Kapani, (b. 1959).


The biggest mistake of Prince Mukarram Jah was, instead of staying in Hyderabad and sort out his problems, he turned his back on them and left the city of his forefathers.


Jah’s advisor and close friend, Sadruddin Javeri, who managed his estate in his absentia squandered away a huge part of his wealth. It was Javeri’s cupidity that the world famous Falaknuma Palace was sold to the Taj Group of hotels in lieu of unpaid debts. No wonder, the advisor who called himself Prime Minister of Nizams’ was unceremoniously sacked in 1997.


It is not that every thing is over for Prince Mukaram Jah, the eight Nizam of Hyderabad. He still posses’ huge assets in the city. What is expected from him is to stay in Hyderabad and sort out his litigations.


Its any irony that the man who is still being addressed in his native place as; His Exalted Highness, Sultan, Pasha, Huzoor Nizam, Mai-Bap and Sarkar and many such epithets, prefers a life of recluse in a foreign land.


It is indeed a sad story of wealth lost and squandered, the frailty of human vanity and status, the total inability of a man to cope with great historic changes taking place around him.

Today the Prince lives in relative anonymity in Istanbul, only making infrequent trips to Hyderabad when a crisis requires his attention.


Interestingly his first wife Princess Esra, who now lives in London with and two children, has after two decades of frigid indifference, started taking an active interest in the family’s Indian properties. She jets to Hyderabad.

The End


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