(Attn Editors: This is the first of a two part series on the churning in the erstwhile Bhopal royal family over the claimants to thousands of acres of land worth crores of rupees. Part I examines the genesis to the dispute and the dramatis personae involved. Part II to be carried on Tuesday will examine how the dispute has moved forward. Editor IANS)
By Chandrakant Naidu
Bhopal, April 22 (IANS) Behind the glitz that surrounds the erstwhile Bhopal royalty, especially with the stardom accorded by Bollywood to its members like Sharmila Tagore and her son, Saif Ali Khan, the family's future role looks uncertain due to differences over some 6,000 acres of property worth thousands of crores of rupees. This includes religious property in the shape of the Bhopal Jama Masjid that itself is estimated to be worrh Rs 1,000 crore.
For four years now, the family has been stressed on two fronts to guard this vast property in the state and elsewhere. Intra-clan disputes stand starkly dwarfed by the Central government's move to control the vest personal properties of the last Nawab of the erstwhile state.
On Feb 24, 2015 Union home ministry claimed control of the personal properties belonging to Abida Sultan, heir apparent and eldest daughter of the last Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan. She migrated to Pakistan in 1950. Two other daughters of Hamidullah Khan - Sajida Sultan and Rabia Sultan had stayed back in India and were to have inherited the property in the absence of Abida. Rabia has been in and out of India. But her son, Nasir Mirza, died in Bhopal in 2014. He was indifferent to the property dispute but his son, Yasir Mirza, made a dramatic entry into the scene two years ago.
Yasir, 31 a dental surgeon, had married former British actor, journalist and teacher Angela Louise Williams in 2015. He claims he left Bhopal about 21 years ago but was always keen to return. He met his lawyers in Delhi in 2017 and was in touch with his Badi Amma (Sharmila) and cousins Saif, Saba and Soha. Is he expecting a family reunion to save some property slipping into the government's hands?
There is the Nawab's personal property, the property that would have been Abida Sultan's. Then, there is Pataudi connection - Sajida and her property (after she was accepted as Nawab's heir by Indian government). That lead to a 1972 suit by other claimants. And, there are public endowments created by the Nawab's government which have been so far handed by the Auqaf-e-Shahi (the charitable trust for religious affairs).
The Union Government's action followed three years' of investigation by the Custodian of Enemy Property of India (CEPI) a division of Home Ministry dealing with properties of migrants to Pakistan. Abida Sultan's son is Shahryar Khan, former foreign secretary and former chief of the Pakistan Cricket Control Board.
The property dispute is not new. Sharmila Tagore, the widow of former Indian cricket captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, is pursuing court cases to establish her late husband as the rightful heir to Bhopal princely state as the grandson of Hamidullah Khan.
Pataudi's sisters, Saleha Sultan and Sabiha Sultan, are engaged in a legal battle with Saif Ali Khan, Karina Kapoor (Khan) and Sharmila Tagore over the division of property.
On her marriage in December 1969 to Mansoor Ali Khan (also an heir to the tiny state of Pataudi in Haryana) Sharmila converted to Islam, changing her name to Begum Ayesha Sultana Khan. Sharmila's efforts for an out-of-court settlement have so failed to end the stalemate.
Saif's Jabalpur-based lawyer Rajesh Pancholi said: "The MP High Court has granted a stay against the CEPI vesting order."
Pancholi had argued that "Sajida Sultan was declared legal heir to the Hamidullah Khan's properties by Indian government in 1961 through a gazette notification".
Saba Ali, the elder daughter of Mansoor Ali Khan, aka Tiger Pataudi, is now the first woman head of the Auqaf-e-Shahi, since the end of royal rule, to govern religious properties worth nearly Rs 1,000 crore, including Bhopal's Jama Masjid.
"Auqaf-e-Shahi" refers to all princely endowments or properties of religious or charitable significance and "Mutawalli" (chief trustee) is responsible for the upkeep of mosques, dargahs and Islamic shrines belonging to the erstwhile princedom.
"I have been fulfilling my duties as mutawalli of Auqaf-e-Shahi, Bhopal. However, I feel the time has come to share my burden" reads the letter written in Urdu and signed by Pataudi, which is in possession of the trustees.
"As per the merger agreement between State of Bhopal and the state government, Saba may be appointed as my deputy so that she acquaints herself with the functioning of waqf during my lifetime." he wrote.
Saba, s jewellery designer, was also nominated the first woman caretaker (Naazir) of the guesthouses (rubaat) set up by the royal family in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Saba's name was accepted unanimously after Pataudi introduced her to religious leaders and eminent citizens in Bhopal in March 2006. Later at the Ahmedabad Palace in Bhopal, Pataudi proposed Saba's name for the post of naib mutawalli or deputy chief trustee of family's properties also.
Under the Defence of India Act, the Union government can take over the properties and companies of such persons who had taken Pakistani nationality. These enemy properties were vested by the CEP.
A CEPI official, based at headquarters in Mumbai had told the media "on paper we have already vested the properties which would have devolved upon (Saba) her had she been the heir. We have sought state government's assistance to trace these properties and take over physical control."
(Part II will run on Tuesday. Chandrakant Naidu can be reached at email@example.com)