On 4 July 1901, Sultan Jahan assumed the title of ruler of Bhopal at the mature age of 43 after serving 33 arduous, harrowing years under Shahjehan as heir apparent. All three preceding Begums had mounted the masnad at a young age – Qudsia was 19 when she became regent of Bhopal, Sikandar was regent of Bhopal at 26, while Shahjehan was titular ruler of Bhopal at the age of seven and full fledged Begum of Bhopal at 30. As she was proclaimed ruler of Bhopal, Sultan Jahan looked older then her 43 years. Immediately after Shahjehan’s death, the British moved quickly to announce her succession as ruler of Bhopal. The Investiture Durbar was held at Saddar manzil of Bhopal, at which Mr Wyndham represented Lord Curzon, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, the first assistant to the resident.
As Sultan Jahan took over the states administration, she found that the cupboard was bare. Shajehan and Siddiq’s henchmen had dissipated the finances to the extent that the state was heavily in debt and only 40,000 rupees were left in the treasury. A fighter by nature, Sultan Jahan resolved to put matters right, rolled up her sleeves and began the uphill task of rehabilitation and revival. For over a year Sultan Jahan built up her own team of upright and conscientious officials who helped her put the ship of state back on an even keel.
Sultan Jahan’s first task was to gain confidence of her rural subjects and helping Bhopal recover from Shahjehan’s lax and divisive rule. Sultan Jahan’s visit to the outlying villages was not simply representational tours, but serious attempts at seeking solutions to agrarian problems. The atmosphere was all work and austerity, with long hours spent listening to the plaints of village folks. There was no shikar, polo playing or midnight revelry as in Shahjehan’s days, but an ambiance of rigorous hard work for herself and her staff. She inducted her grown-up sons, Nasrullah and Obaidullah, into the process of governance and administration and even “little Hamid”, her eight-year-old third son, accompanied his mother to be given a taste of royal responsibility.