Muhammad Habibullah

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Khan Bahadur

Muhammad Habibullah
A portrait of Sir Muhammad Habibullah
Diwan of Travancore
In office
Monarch Chithira Thirunal
Preceded by T. Austin
Succeeded by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer
Education Member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India
In office
December 1924 – 1930
Governor General E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax,
George Goschen, 2nd Viscount Goschen (acting)
Preceded by Sir Mohammed Shafi
Revenue Member of the Executive Council of the Governor of Madras
In office
17 December 1920 – 27 December 1924
Governor Freeman Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon,
Charles Todhunter (acting),
George Goschen, 2nd Viscount Goschen
Succeeded by T. E. Moir
Personal details
Born (1869-09-22)22 September 1869
Died 16 May 1948(1948-05-16) (aged 78)

Nawab Khan Bahadur Sir Muhammad Habibullah KCSI KCIE (b. 22 September 1869 - d. 16 May 1948) was an Indian politician and administrator who served as the Dewan of Travancore from 1934 to 1936.

Early life[edit]

Habibullah was born in Madras to Aushukh Hussain Khan Saheb on 22 September 1869.[1] He was a member of the Arcot royal family and closely related to the Nawabs of Arcot.[2] He had his schooling at Zila High School, Saidapet and graduated in law.[3] He joined the bar at Vellore in July 1888.[3]

Local administration and politics[edit]

Habibullah was involved in local boards politics right from the early stages. In 1895, he was elected Non-Official Honorary Chairman of the Vellore Municipality. Habibullah resigned his practice at the bar on being elected Official Secretary of the municipality in September 1901. He served as Secretary till September 1905 when he was elected Chairman. Habibullah served for 14 years (1905–19) as Chairman of the Vellore municipality.

From July 1919 to January 1920, Habibullah acted as a member of the executive council of the Governor of Madras in the absence of P. Rajagopalachari who was on leave.

In the British administration[edit]

Habibullah was India's delegate to the first session of the League of Nations in 1919.[4] On 17 December 1920, he was appointed as the member for Revenue in the Governor's Executive Council for the Madras Presidency, a post he held till 27 December 1924.[5] In 1925, Habibullah was appointed a member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India and served from 1925 to 1930.[4] He was also the leader of India's delegation to South Africa in 1926-27.[4]

Dewan of Travancore[edit]

Muhammad Habibullah was appointed Dewan of Travancore by Maharajah Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma on 15 March 1934. During the two years that he held the Dewanship of the state, many reforms and developments were implemented in the state, particularly in the electorates, the state forces (the Nair Brigade) and the civil services.

Immediately after he assumed office, Muhammad Habibullah appointed a committee for Franchise and Delimitation to determine the question of adequate representation of the many communities of the state in the electorates and state assemblies. Specific numbers of seats were reserved for Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims in the general constituencies. However owing to objections by the Nairs, the issue was reopened many years later in 1939 for resettlement.

During 1935-36 the Dewan appointed a new Public Service Commissioner for the first time in Travancore for recruitment into the civil services of the state, without caste and religious prejudices. For positions in the government service that drew below Rs. 150 per mensem, preference was to be given to weaker sections of society, however for positions above that scale, merit was made the only criterion. To gain employment into these divisions a public service exam was to be passed. Even so, owing to the need felt for communal representation, it was decided that for 60% of the appointments only efficiency based on the exams would be considered, whereas the remained 40% of appointments would be filled by efficient persons with preference on a communal basis along with the exams. However the military and the temple services were excluded from these principles. In 1935 the Pallivasal Hydroelectric Scheme was started for the production of electricity on a large and profitable scale in Travancore.

The next important activity of Dewan Habibullah was with regard to the Nair Brigade. In 1936 Travancore joined the Indian State Forces whereby the Nair Brigade and the Maharajah's Bodyguard came to be known as the Travancore State Forces. So far only Nairs, who were the military caste of Travancore were allowed to join the forces of the state but by new legislation, military service was thrown open to the other communities of the state as well. The Maharajah himself was the Colonel-in-Chief of the forces.[6]

In 1936 Muhammad Habibullah retired from service and was succeeded by Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer.


Habibullah died in Travancore on 16 May 1948.


Habibullah married Sadathunissa Begum.[7]


Habibullah was awarded the title Khan Bahadur by the Government of India in 1905.[1] He was made a Companion of the Indian Empire in 1920 and a Knights Bachelor in 1922.[8] In 1924, he was made a Knight Commander of the Star of India.[8] In the same year, his CIE was upgraded to a KCIE.[8] In 1935 Maharajah Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma conferred the title of Nawab upon Muhammad Habibullah.

Habibullah Road in T. Nagar, Chennai is named after Sir Muhammad Habibullah.


  1. ^ a b Aḥmad Saʻīd (1997). Muslim India, 1857-1947: a biographical dictionary. Institute of Pakistan Historical Research. p. 144. 
  2. ^ More, J. B. Prashant (1997). The Political Evolution of Muslims in Tamilnadu and Madras, 1930–1947. Orient Longman. p. 34. 
  3. ^ a b Nalanda Year-book & Who's who in India. 1947. p. 407. 
  4. ^ a b c Nalanda Year-book & Who's who in India. 1949. p. 453. 
  5. ^ The Times of India directory and year book including who's who. Bennett & Coleman Ltd. 1922. p. 55. 
  6. ^ Travancore State Manual Volume II by TK Velu Pillai 1940
  7. ^ "Arcot (Princely State)". Indian princely states website. 
  8. ^ a b c Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage. Burke's Peerage Limited. 1937. p. 1885. 


Preceded by
T. Austin
Diwan of Travancore
1934 to 1936
Succeeded by
C. P. Ramaswami Iyer