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The youthful prince Feroz Shah who fought the British valiantly

A true warrior in the cause of India's freedom

The Central India Campaign of 1857-1859 was significant because of presence of three charismatic figures who caused a lot of trouble to the British. There were the Rani of Jhansi a Hindu contemporary of Hazrat Mahal of Lucknow, Tantia Topi the only sepoy leader who executed an offensive plan of strategic level to sever the British Army's communications with Calcutta and Feroz Shah a Mughal Prince who fought valiantly and also later on managed to escape and survive the rebellion by almost twenty years.

We admire Feroz Shah, Grandson of Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Bahadur Shah Ghazi, because despite being a Muslim he inspired many Hindus to fight for a just cause at a time when Muslims in Muslim majority areas were soldiering for a foreign nation ! After the failure of the rebellion also he did make many attempts to convince many Muslim Kings of martial races like Afghanistan or Iran to resist the British.

Ferozeshah, a direct descendant of Bahadur Shah-I, managed to reach Mandesar in Gwalior state territory with some followers. He was still wearing the ahram which pilgrims on Haj wear. He reached Mandesar on 26 August 1857. There was a detachment of Gwalior troops stationed here. These being mostly Hindus but from Northwest province immediately joined Ferozeshah and raised the standard of revolt in Mandesar!

Feroz Shah in his August 1857 proclamation included some significant points—All trade was to be reserved for Indian merchants only, with free use of government steam vessels and steam carriages. All public offices were to be given to Indians only and wages of the sepoys were to be revised upwards.

"To all Hindoos and Mohemmedans of Hindoostan who are faithful to their religion know that sovereignty is one of God's chief boons...For serveral years, the English have been committing all kinds of excesses and tyrannies being desirous of converting all men to Christianity by force, and of subverting and doing away with the religion of Hindoos and Mahmomemedans..."

These words chosen from a fairly long proclamation (known as Azamgarh Proclamation) issued by Mirza Feroz Shah Shahzadah, one of the important leaders of the revolt of 1857 seem to form the crux of civilian discontent against colonial rule, though the sepoys would have their own distinct grouses. The foundations of British in present day Northern and Ceentral India were shaken to the very marrow.

Only the youthful Shahzada Feroz Shah, managed to slip through the cordon with 2000 followers and join Tantia Topi and Rao Sahib in Central India. Unlike them he was never captured and escaped from India.

Feroz Shah subsequently marched towards Dhar which he occupied on 31 August 1857. Feroze Shah was defeated at Dhar on 22 Oct 1857 by a British force known as the Malwa Field Force. Dhar fort was captured by the British on 31 Oct 1857. From Dhar Feroze Shah marched to Mehidpur which he attached on 8 Nov. 1857. Later on the Malwa Field Force defeated Feroze Shah at Mandisur on 23 November 1857. After this defeat Feroze Shah withdrew to Rahatgarh fort which he left a day before it was captured by Hugh Rose i.e. on 28 January 1858. From here Feroze Shah moved into Rohailkhand. He left Rohailkhand after its clearance by General Campbell in May 1858. In December 1858 he was operating in Etawah area in the Central Doab from where he was repulsed by Mr. Allan Octavian Hume (of All India Congress fame) who at that time was collector of Etawah. On 9 Dec 1858 Feroze Shah crossed the Jamna at Uriya Ghat and moved south into Central India. He was pursued in Gwalior area by General Napier and was forced to withdraw towards Chanderi. From here he kept on running till he joined our Mahratta hero Tantia Topi in January 1859. In an action around 14 January Feroze Shah and Tantia were chased by the British for 25 hours during which they covered 57 miles ! Finally Feroze Shah took refuge in the jungles of Sironj and we hear of him last at Goonah on 15 April 1857 after which he disappeared from India! The last time he revisited India was in 1868 when he entered Swat / Bunner area via Afghanistan.The pursuit of Tantia Topi though militarily insignificant was an inspiring part of the rebellion. The modern guerilla warfare's foundation were laid in the Jungle of Central India by Tantia Topi. The magnitude of Tantia's long marches and counter marches may be gauged from the fact that one of the British force ie the Nasirabad Brigade which was tasked to pursue had to march for some 984 miles and 5 1/2 Furlongs from 18 December 1858 to Ist March 1859. During this period the Nasirabad Brigade failed to capture Tantia. The very fact that an Indian betrayed him proves symbolically that it was not the British who actually won, but the Indians who made their victory possible.

Shahzada Feroz Shah fought a heroic battle against British rule and afterwards roamed the globe drumming up support for the independence of India. But it was all in vain. He died in Makkah.

[Complied from works of Maj (Retd) Agha Humayun Amin, Renu Saran, Saiyid Zaheer Husain Jafri, G. W. Forrest, Moti Lal Bhargava  and Syed Mahdi Husain on  the Revolt of 1857]

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2016 on page no. 22

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