When you go to Lahore Museum, among so many other historic artefacts, you will find a sketch of one Adina Beg Khan. He is unfortunately little known, although in 1758 he held a great feat in being the first local Muslim governor of Punjab since Delhi Sultanate emerged in India in the early thirteenth century. Before him, during five hundred years of collective reign of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire in India, Punjab had Muslim governors but all belonged to foreign lands, be those Turkic, Central Asians, Persians or Afghans.
His story of rise from almost rags to riches is not just extraordinary but exceptional in that he rose to that level in his times when locals could only aspire for safety and survival patronage from alien rulers of India.
Some may have an impression that a Chiniot born Wazir Khan, who served as governor of Sirhind, built the city of present-day Wazirabad and the majestic Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, was perhaps the first local Muslim who saw such a rise. However, history sources confirm that he actually claimed an Afghan ancestry.
Adina, also called Dina, was born around 1710 into an Arain family of humble farmers in the present day Sharaqpur town of Sheikhupura district in Punjab. Growing up in extreme poverty, he was lucky to have somehow managed to get into the personal service of some Mughal officer in Jalandhar while he was still a teenager. For being in the service of Mughal officers, he dreamed of joining the Mughal army and the dream came true as he not only entered the army but thrived as a promising soldier. But as Rajmohan Gandhi puts it in his book on Punjab, “how high could a local Muslim convert as Dina rise in the Mughal army?” which was dominated by commanders of Turani, Afghan and Irani origins. However, Dina was there to be an exception.
Since soldiers also worked to support the revenue collectors by coercing the agriculturists, traders, and manufacturers to cough up various taxes, Dina succeeded in becoming a revenue collector initially for one village in Sultanpur, Jalandhar. By virtue of his successful stints as revenue collector, his inter-personal skills in cultivating relations and ability to pick only necessary battles on his way to ascension, just in few years he initially became the Faujdar of Sultanpur and then within a decade the Nazim or governor of whole Jalandhar Doab for his exemplary services during and after the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1738-39. In the meanwhile, he acquired Turkic title of ‘Beg’ and ‘Khan’ being the leader, and started being called as Adina Beg Khan.
In years to come he would strengthen his repute and hold over Jalandhar Doab as its Nazim to a level that not only the Mughal viceroys of Punjab but also those appointed later by Ahmed Shah Abdali sought his services as Nazim of Jalandhar for his unmatched ability to collect revenues. He had earned such indispensability for Jalandhar Doab and even up to Sirhind that when Abdali’s appointed guardian of the Punjab’s viceroy, his minor son Taimur, sent an official firman (order) to be present in their service as the governor of Jalandhar Doab, Adina had the audacity to virtually reject that governorship. He could only be persuaded to take this role after Jahandad Khan, guardian to the minor viceroy, threatened to pillage and burn towns and settlements in Jalandhar, which he also started executing. But even then Adina came on his terms that he would be excused from his ‘attendance’ to viceroy’s court in Lahore.
Well-versed with palatial intrigues, later, when Afghan viceroy insisted Adina on ‘attendance’ in his court, Adina avoided that on one pretext or the other. However, eventually he had to refuse ‘attendance’ which invited an attack from the Afghan forces. But he had already developed alliances with local Hindu rajas and Sikhs, which routed the Afghan forces. In the meanwhile, he schemed for an even greater alliance with Marathas who had marched on Delhi in view of almost crumbling Mughal authority. Not all Sikhs supported Adina, but with the arrival of Marathas in Delhi and later their invasion of Punjab, most Sikhs too joined to form a rare army of indigenous Indians.
It is very interesting to note that shrewd Adina had successfully enticed the Marathas to invade Punjab and take it over from Afghans with an incentive of footing the financial cost of the war against Afghans. He offered to pay Marathas a hundred thousand rupees for each day of fight and fifty thousand for every day of rest. The result was that this ‘all Indian’ army inflicted grave losses and fatalities on the Afghan forces. Unnerved and shocked, Afghans had to flee from Lahore and could find a stop only after crossing Punjab westward.
In April 1758, Punjab was formally brought under the Maratha confederacy, and although Adina could not pay for the cost of war as he had promised, Marathas still appointed him as the governor of the whole of Punjab.
So here it was the province of Punjab for the first time governed by its own son of the soil after over five hundred years. For Adina, after years of toil, danger, and anxiety, who knew when to be bold and when to submit or evade, he had realised what constituted as a rare dream for Punjabi Muslims in the eighteenth century. His exceptional rise to such a prominence may not be understood fully unless we know that throughout the reigns of Delhi Sultanate and Mughals the local Punjabi Muslims were not considered for aristocratic roles, such as of provincial governors.
After the death of Aurangzeb, Sikhs were actually the force to be reckoned with in Punjab and not the Punjabi Muslims, who despite being far too many than Sikhs or Hindus had preferred staying aloof from power battles.
Unfortunately, Adina — although not more than in his early fifties — died of some colic ailment within six months of his governorship. He was buried in Dina Nagar, a city he had built and was named after him, which is located in Gurdaspur district in the Indian Punjab.