Who was the richest Indian in history? According to Forbes magazine, it was late Nizam Osman Ali Khan (1886-1967), the ruler of the princely state of Hyderabad, whose wealth, in the purchasing power of the inflation-adjusted US dollar terms of 2008 would have been the stupendous sum of USD 211 billion dollars. The world's richest man living, Bill Gates pales in comparison, as he is worth only USD $56 billion, about one fourth of the Nizam's wealth. By the same yardstick the personal wealth of the present King of Saudi Arabia was a plain USD 30 billion.
Further According to Forbes Magazine which compiles a worldwide list every year, in 2008 US dollar values, the combined wealth of the first 40 richest Indians in 2008 was just USD 139 billion dollars, not even two third of the Nizam's wealth! In fact Nizam Osman Ali Khan was the richest Asian / Indian in history and ranked as the fifth richest man in the world in the recorded annals.
Today 62 years after Indian Independence, we have an avalanche of information about the Nizam, collected by research scholars and historians and it is interesting to consider, as to how he got his fame as the richest Asian/Indian in history.
It is interesting to note, that when Mir Osman Ali Khan became the ruler of Hyderabad in 1911, the state treasury was nearly bankrupt, his father Mahbub Ali Pasha being a profligate. But that was only the finances of the Hyderabad state; and the personal wealth of the Nizams accumulated through six generations remained intact.
Osman Ali Khan was the man who had everything. In his 82 years, he ruled a state of 18 million people, bossed a brilliantly uniformed army of 22,000 men, had a stupendous fortune in his sprawling King Kothi palace, of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and lesser gems are stored in treasure rooms. The meticulous Time news weekly on Feb 22, 1937 published that the total value Nizam's wealth that at the peak of his "earning" period in 1936, to be $2 billion. $5,000 ($ 7,50,000 in 2008 dollar values) was his approximate daily income in 1936, his jewels had an estimated value of $150,000,000, and he had reputedly had salted down $250,000,000 in gold bars and his capital totalled some $1,400,000,000.
Mir Osman Ali Khan, who had been conferred the title of His Exalted Highness by the British ruled over Hyderabad state which at that time sprawled across 2,23,000 square km or the present size of Great Britain and his private estates (jagirs, also called sarf-i-khas land) accounted for a significant 30 per cent of this land mass or he owned nearly as his personal property 75 thousand square kilometers..the size of modern Assam. Further, the most important fact was that he did not have to pay any tax on his vast income.