Nawab a designation indicating political rank and power in the Mughal administrative hierarchy. In the British period, the term was used for a state conferred honorary title of rank without any official attachment. 'Nawab' is the plural form of the Arabic word naib (a deputy) but used in singular meaning. In Hindi the word nawab was' [and is] pronounced as nabab and the Anglo-Indians, who were then more influenced by Hindi than any other Indian language, generally pronounced the nomenclature in Hindi style. Among the Bengali writers in the nineteenth century both the forms, nawab and nabab, were current and even now both the words carry the same meaning with the Bengalis.

In the sense of a deputy of the central authority there were offices of nawabs in north and south India. But in the three provinces of eastern India (Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) there was no official post, called nawab. Rather the appellation evolved under some special circumstances. Under the highly centralized government of the great Mughals, two officers mutually independent of each other and enjoying equal political status were there to administer a subah (a province or an amalgam of provinces). One was the subahdar responsible for general administration including justice and defense (together called nizamat and subahdar styled as nazim) and the other was the diwan responsible for revenue administration (styled as diwani). Both of them were appointed by, and responsible to, the emperor directly.

Once there was a serious conflict on the issue of jurisdiction between the nazim or Subahdar azim-us-shan (grandson of the Emperor aurangzeb) and Diwan murshid quli khan (he was given different titles at different times) and at one stage their relationship became so antagonistic that Murshid Quli Khan, with the permission of the emperor, had shifted his daftar from Dhaka to Makhsusabad in 1702 and renamed it murshidabad in 1704 after the new title was conferred upon him. Under orders from the emperor, Azim-us Shan shifted his nizamat daftar to Patna in 1703 and since then his Bengal subah was administered in absentia from Patna.

Henceforth a naib (deputy) had been looking after the nizamat (civil administration) of subah-e-Bangla on behalf of the absentee subahdar, but records are not clear on the appointment and chronology of the incumbents until Murshid Quli Khan was made a naib of the infant Subahdar Farkhunda Siyar, son of Emperor farrukh siyar in 1713. On the death of the infant subahdar the emperor appointed Murshid Quli Khan a regular subahdar of Bengal in 1716 (according to some scholars 1717). The posts of subahdar and diwan were thus combined in one person for the first time. The fact is, Murshid Quli Khan, through his extraordinary ability and networking with the nobility and the commercial elite of the province, could successfully forge into the formidable authority of the subah and the fait accompli was just recognised by the fast eroding central government. Bereft of real power the emperor remained contented with some gifts and tributes, which Murshid Quli Khan used to send regularly.

From Murshid Quli Khan's times the subahdari was no longer an office controlled by the central government. It became a masnad (throne) for the succeeding incumbents like shujauddin khan (1729-39), sarfaraz khan (1739-40), alivardi khan (1740-1756), and sirajuddaula (1756-57). All of them considered themselves independent princes, though for the sake of legitimacy they always tried to receive sanad (viceregal patent) from the emperor on payment.

The period from the times of Murshid Quli Khan to Sirajuddaula is popularly known as the nawabi era, though none of the incumbents during this period had officially styled himself as a nawab. In the darbar, visitors always paid respect to the person on the throne as nazim, never as a nawab. The nazim issued parwana, not farman, which was the prerogative of the monarch alone. All of them had duly obtained subadari sanad from the centre though they were independent of the centre in all intents and purposes. The contemporary writers and witnesses always mentioned him as a nazim or subahdar.

There is strong reason to believe that the title 'Nawab' in the sense of a deputy got currency through the Europeans, particularly the English east india company officials, who always referred to him as nawab or nabab. From the emperor, the English company, for that matter all maritime companies of Europe, had obtained many rights and privileges which the Bengal rulers, to safeguard their own interest, did not mean to implement though the companies always tried to argue in legal terms that as a 'naib' or deputy of the emperor it was mandatory on their part to abide by the imperial sanads and farmans.

After the Palashi episode, robert clive had installed mir jafar on the masnad of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa with the title of 'Nawab', not Nazim/Subahdar as before. His successors were all called nawabs. In 1793, the nawab was stripped of his nizamat duties and was turned into a state pensioner with a new title- 'Nawab of Murshidabad'.

In 1716-17, Murshid Quli Khan became the subahdar of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and from that date a new office of Naib' (nawab) Nazim was created for administering eastern Bengal from Dhaka. The first naib nazim of Dhaka was Khan Muhammad Ali Khan. Until 1757 the naib nazims were appointed by the nazim, but since then the post was held by one favoured by the Fort William Council. jasarat khan was naib nazim for two terms, from 1756 to 1762 and during 1765-78. From 1765, the office of the naib nazim was held hereditarily. From 1793, the family was pensioned off with the royal title of Naib Nazim of Dhaka. The nominal office of naib nazim of Dhaka was formally abolished in 1843. The last incumbent of the niabat was ghaziuddin haider (1834-1843).

The term nawab got widest currency in the nineteenth century. In order to motivate the Bengal ruling classes to participate in the community services the Auckland administration (1836-1842) had introduced a system of conferring honorific titles on the philanthropic and socially leading people. For the Muslim elite titles of varying ranks and status were introduced, such as Nawab, Khan Saheb, Khan Bahadur, etc. Among the noted British made nawabs thus made were Nawab abdul ghani (1813-1896), Nawab abdool luteef (1828-1893), Nawab faizunnesa choudhurani (1834-1904), Nawab nawab ali chowdhury (1863-1929), Nawab syed shamsul huda (1862-1922), Nawab sirajul islam (1848-1923), and so on. The 'Nawab' title was normally awarded to those influential people who had some connection in land control and the title was attached to the name of the concerned estate or village, such as Nawab of Dhaka, Nawab of Dhanbari (Tangail), Nawab of Ratanpur (Comilla), and so on.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a class of Anglo-Indians came to be known as Nabobs (from nawab>nabab>nabob) in the British society. The Anglo-Indians who returned to Britain with fabulous fortunes made in India and who tried to convert their wealth into power and property were ridiculed by their contemporaries as 'nabobs'. Though jeered by general people, the 'nabobs', in fact, formed an important social category, and their influence, as is attested by the contemporary English literature, was reckoned high in the political and financial circles. The nabobs, by virtue of their wealth and experience, found their way into parliament, Chambers of Commerce, shipping, banking, court of directors of the East India Company and all offices which money could buy. [Sirajul Islam]