Najib-ud-Daula, a brilliant Yousafzai

(Najib Khan Yousafzai was born about the year 1708 A.D in the village of Maneri in Swabi, about 25 kos from Peshawar. He belonged to the Umar Khel clan of the Sadozi, Utmanzi, Mandanrs)

After the Mughals lost their grip over their empire and before British came on the scene, the only serious attempt to take their place at Delhi was made by the Marathas under the leadership of the Peshwas of Poona, and the only person who had the courage and the determination to stand in their way was Najib Khan, titled Najib-ud-Daula. He had no comparable resources of his own, either in men or money to fight so strong and powerful an enemy. But he depended solely on his own resources of his head and heart and on the resources of the Afghan sovereign, Ahmad Shah Abdali, to stem the tide of the Maratha aggression.

That is the historical importance of Najib Khan. Amongst a host of self-seeking petty Muslim chieftains busy with their own little ambitions , quarreling and squabbling over small things, employing foul means to gain their ends, he alone stands out as a man who could see farther than the others, who didn’t dirty his hands with murder and rapine for private ends, and who was able to rally the strength of Afghans in India under the banner of Ahmad Shah Abdali , in addition, to get even the Persian nobleman Shuja-ud-Daula to march against the common aggressor  and thus give a Muslim colour to the struggle. The Marathas on their side also tried to give Hindu colour to the struggle by getting the Rajput and Jat princes to join with them, though the Jat Raja was as halfhearted ally on their side as Shuja-ud-Daula was on the side of Abdali. Panipat, was therefore, a battle between two cultures and two nations, Muslims and Hindus. The Marathas tried their level best to break up the Muslim unity by diplomatic pressure exerted through their old ally Shuja-ud-Daula, who in his turn got the backing of the Rohilla chiefs under Hafiz Rehmat Khan, who grudged the supremacy of Najib-ud-Daula. They even got around Shah Wali Khan, the Wazir of the Afghan king but they failed to pierce the hard crust of Najib-ud-Daula’s decision and strength of will, and so the battle of Panipat was fought. It became inevitable for Najib-ud-Daula to fight as he could not persuade himself that the Marathas when they asked for peace, had sincerely changed their heart and given up their dreams of an empire and supremacy in Northern India.

The battle of Panipat indeed gave another short lease of life to the tottering Mughal empire with Najib-ud-Daula trying in vain to keep the Jats and Sikhs off from Delhi. But that was not what Najib-ud-Daula desired. He wanted the Afghan king to follow the scattered Marathas to the South and crush their power. He wanted the Afghan king to annex the rich country of Malwa and had Ahmad Shah the political imagination or ambition of Babur, or had he a disciplined following as Babur had, an Afghan dynasty might have been established at Delhi in place of the decadent Mughals.

So, although Panipat stands out as a landmark in the history of subcontinent, it was really an infructuous battle. It didn’t decide anything, and perhaps it helped to bring in a third party – the Britishers. For this Najib-ud-Daula had been condemned as a traitor to India. But to aid the British was not the aim of Najib-ud-Daula. The British didn’t count them as a power to be reckoned with. So, it could not have crossed the mind of Najib-ud-Daula that by the crushing the Marathas, he was helping the British to become supreme. Moreover, at that time neither the Hindu nor Muslim, was moved by what was expedient or served his own interest best at the time. When the Marthas had healed their wounds and surged up again towards the North, they decided not to attack Najib-ud-Daula, but to make him their ally and then to attack the Hindu Raja Nawal Singh. In the battle of Panipat itself, the Marathas had an eminent Muslim general, Ibrahim Khan Gardi, serving under them. Furthermore, the patriotic idea for fighting for one country or nation was foreign to India. At that time, the people of India knew one loyalty – the loyalty to one’s dharma, Iman, or religion. Najib-ud-Daula was true to his own convictions and by no stretch of imagination, can he be called a traitor. His character can be viewed from many angles. He was a skillful general, a shrewd diplomat and statesman and a good administrator. With a small force he dig himself in at Sukkertal and defied a large Maratha force under Dattaji Patel. With greater skill he pushed his troops forward at Panipat against the Maratha barrage of gun fire by raising earthen works from time to time to protect his troops. With great perseverance and endurance, he withstood the onslaught of the Jats, the Sikhs and Marathas under Jawahar Singh at the siege of Delhi. During one of his campaigns, as he was moving forward with shield in one hand and staff in the other, a bullet him on the shoulder, but he didn’t flinch and continued to march forward. Inspite of the nobles warning him against treachery, he bravely crossed the river in a boat and interviewed the Jat Raja Suraj Mal, and made a pact of peace with him. He also intrepidly went over to the camp of Dattaji Patel, the Maratha general, to interview him and to dissuade him from his aggressive designs, and narrowly escaped capture. Instances of Najib-ud-Daula’s tact and diplomacy can be multiplied. Chief of this was the way he persuaded Shuja-ud-Daula to go round to the Abdali side, though the Marathas were pulling him hard the other way, and Shuja-ud-Daula was trying hard to remain neutral at Mehdi Ghat. I have already stated that the Marathas when they came up again, instead of fighting Najib-ud-Daula, made him their ally. It was one of Najib-ud-Daula’s big diplomatic deals. He had already retired from the active life and handed over the administration to his son Zabita Khan, but coming of the Marathas in force, he got up from his sick bed and made contact with his old friend Holkar, the only link which he had in the Maratha camp, and was entirely successful, though his old foe Scindia tried his best to checkmate him. The odds were against him in the conference of Indian Sardars which Abdali called to discuss the Maratha offer of peace before the battle of Panipat. Yet Najib-ud-Daula adroitly turned the tables on Shah Wali Khan, Abdali’s Wazir. One should not run away with the impression that Najib-ud-Daula was a jingo or a war monger. He was all for peace. Throughout his career he never brandished arms in the face of the enemy. He always tried to settle things amicably. Only when negotiations failed did he take up arms to defend himself. He turned his face against peace with Marathas only because he was convinced that the Marathas did not intend to keep the peace. He was never afraid of being in a minority. As a young man, he shocked the old Afghan leaders Hafiz Rehmat Khan and Dundey Khan by pledging support to Imad-ul-mulk in his fight against Safdar Jang. Ragunath Rao flew into a rage because he refused to stop cow slaughter in his camp, but though outnumbered, he stood his ground and but for his friend, Holkar, he might have got into serious trouble with the Maratha general. In his last days, when he was camping with the Marathas, some Marathas looted his Rohilla soldiers. He at once ordered his camp to be struck and gave order to his troops to march back, and it was with great difficulty that Holkar offering apology persuaded him to stay.

This was the make-up of Najib-ud-Daula —a man born to rule and to dictate —-as also to negotiate if it was possible to do so. Though extremely tough, he was at the same time very supple, and a good administrator to boot.

G.R.Williams, a Bengal civilian, in his “Memoirs of Dehra Dun” says, “that in 1757, Najib-ud-Daula crossing the Swalik, entered Dehra Dun (located in Uttarakhand province of India). Pertab Sah, who was in possession of Dehra Dun, offered him very slight resistance. Although at that time owing to the raids of the Sikhs, Najib-ud-Daula could spare very little time for the administration of his faujdari of Saharanpur, yet he managed the Dehra Dun territory so well that the inhabitants appreciated his government. With Najib-ud-Daula came Muslims to live in the valley. But he never gave preference to one community over another. The rights of the older inhabitants were safeguarded by the government. Canals were built and wells were sunk; land came under cultivation. Revenue went up and reached Rupees one lakh and twenty-six thousand. At that time there were 500 taluqas in the valley. Now a good portion of the valley has been overgrown by jungle. But even now in the jungles, one finds broken tanks and mango groves which testify to the prosperity of the olden times. Trade followed in the footsteps of cultivation. Nagola, Rajpur, Bhagwatpuran, Thanoo, and Bharaporo are even now known as Hatnalas. ‘Hat’ was the word denoting market. And this appellation shows definitely that traders passed these places while taking their goods to the hills. But this period of prosperity came to an end in 1770 A.D, for in that year Najib died. After his death, Rajputs, Goojars, Siksh and Gurkhas ravaged this part of the country from time to time.

Faujdari of Saharanpur was administered so ably that the revenue from that quarter came to Rs.75,00,000/. He also manged the King’s domain —Meerut, Sikanderabad, Dasna etc., in a very efficient manner. In those days every village was a kind of fort, and mercenaries moved round from village to village, offering their military aid. Najib-ud-Daula had to take military action against one or two villages to recover the King’s dues. To add to the general turmoil, Sikhs began to try their luck with small roving bands who constantly waged guerrilla war with Najib-ud-Daula and his officers, raiding here and there as they saw their chance and opportunity.  Najib-ud-Daula fought and fought well but he lacked the necessary moral and political support. He lacked the royal prestige. The Mughal king, in his whose name he manged the government, was a mere shadow, and even that shadow was rendered dim, because the king was hundreds of miles away at Allahabad. The real king was Abdali, but he again was an absentee and his soldiers hated to stay in India.  Najib’s natural support were his Rohilla kinsmen. But they were not all of one mind. Hafiz Rehmat Khan was always intriguing against him.  He was jealous of Najib-ud-Daula. It was not Hafiz Rahmat Khan, but Shuja-du-Daula who came to his help when he was besieged at Sukkartal by the Marathas. Hafiz Rahmat Khan placidly looked on and would have been well pleased to see him crushed.  In this state of things, whatsoever success Najib was able to achieve, was remarkable, and to the extent that he failed his failure was quite natural.

Najib-ud-Daula’s place in history

Islamic culture was on the decline when Aurangzeb pulled himself together to re-invigorate it. Instead of using peaceful and diplomatic methods, he used force and thus wasted a lot of imperial strength on the rising Maratha power. After him there came Nadir Shah who gave the coup de grace to the remaining Mughal power. The way was thus cleared for the Marathas to sweep up Northward into the rich Gangetic valley. The small, scattered Afghan settlements across the Ganges could offer no determined resistance. The Rohillas, as these Afghan settlers were called, fell back for help on the leader of their home people at Kabul, Ahmad Shah Abdali. Najib-ud-Daula was the spearhead of the local Afghan resistance, and it was he who induced Ahmad Shah Abdali to come over to Delhi to help the Rohillas against the Marathas. It was Najib again who mobilized the local Muslim chiefs, including the Nawab Wazir of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daula, under the Afghan banner at the Panipat.

Panipat was definitely a great blow to the Marathas, but Ahmad Shah failed to exploit the victory to the full, though Najib-ud-Daula pressed him to do so. Instead of going down south and extinguishing the remaining Maratha power and establishing himself at Delhi in place of the Mughals, he returned to Kabul, leaving Najib-ud-Daulah in charge of Delhi. It was the British who took full advantage of Panipat and established themselves at Delhi instead of the Mughals. For the ten years during which Najib-ud-Daula was dictator at Delhi, he maintained good order and administration at the capital and its adjacent territories. Even the British acknowledged Najib-ud-Daula as a man of great sagacity, integrity and courage.

(Preface by Abdul Wahid Khan of the book “An Account of Najibuddaulah” which is English translation of 18th century biography of Najib-ud-daula by Sayyad Nuruddin Hussain)


“He (Najib) is the only example in Hindustan of, at once, a great and a good character. He raised himself from the command of fifty horse to his present grandeur entirely by his superior valour, integrity, and strength of mind. Experience and abilities have supplied the want of letters and education, and the native nobleness and goodness of his heart have amply made amends for the defect of his birth and family. He is now about sixty years of age, borne down by fatigue and sickness.” (Mr. Verelst, to the Court of Directors, March 28th, 1768, ap. Mill.)

Najibabad, Rohilla city
Najibabad in 1784 (c), a town founded by Najib al-Dawla. Source

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