Aug 27, 2007

The Bhopal Succession Case

Immediately after Nasrullah’s burial, the knives were out and the battle for succession was on. Sultan Jahan hastily consulted lawyers, advisors and loyalists and ten days after the heir apparent’s death, shot off three letters to King George V, the Secretary of State for India and the Resident informing them that she had decided to ‘appoint’ Hamidullah as her successor in accordance with Muslim law. Habibullah, the eldest son of Nasrullah, also fired off his claim to succession so that both parties had taken up positions in their trenches in anticipation of a protracted war
In a nutshell and over-simplifying an extremely complex legal issue, Habibullah’s case rested on the relatively straight forward claim of primogeniture, recognized by the British in matters relating to succession. Primogeniture had also been adopted in a number of princely states, both Muslim and Hindu, particularly since the Mutiny in 1857.
The Begum’s case in favor of Hamidullah was more complex. It rested on a combination of the following considerations.
  1. The Begum’s right to nominate a successor.
  2. Muslim law, which considered a surviving son to have a superior claim over a grandson from a pre-deceased elder son.
  3. Precedent in Muslim states favoring a son over a grandson
  4. Hamidullah being ‘more capable’ than Habibullah and the Bhopal public’s ‘preference’ for him
  5. The 1818 treaty between Bhopal and the East India Company
  6. The 1862 Canning Sanad – given by Viceroy Lord Canning to Sikandar Begum.
In their reports to Delhi, Glancy and Jelf, the Political Agent, analyzed the competing claims. They came out in favor of Hamidullah, claiming that a decision in favor of Habibullah would play havoc in Bhopal’s political and social balance. They advised that, if Delhi decided in favor of Habibullah, the decision should not be revealed until after the Begum’s death. Glancy ended his letter with following warning:
Unless we wish to face a storm for no reason, I believe we shall be well advised to recognize Hamidullah Khan.
However, after three reviews on requests from the Viceroy, the case was finally decided in favor of Habibullah by the Viceroy’s legal and political advisors, in accordance with the rule of primogeniture. On 10 April 1925, the Viceroy recorded his verdict, the operative paragraph of the note read as follows:
I can find no ground in all the material submitted to me, which I have carefully studied, for Her Highness’s contention that Hamidullah should succeed. I come to the conclusion that the law of primogeniture should be applied and that the heir apparent is the elder son of the deceased Nawab, the eldest grandson of Her Highness.
The Viceroy’s comments along with the document prepared by his staff, were then circulated to the seven-member Viceroy’s Council, comprising three Indians (two Hindus, one Muslim) and four Britons. On 13 May 1925, the Council confirmed the Viceroy’s recommendations, the Chairman, B. N. Sharma, recording laconically, “I am sorry for the Begum, but Fiat Justitia.”

Meanwhile, both the Begum and Hamidullah had their informers hovering around the Secretariat in Delhi. The Begum soon found out that the case had gone against her. She charged out of her thicket like a wounded tigress to fiercely lobby every influential person that she could approach. The included fellow princes, the Aga Khan, British civil servants, her own ulema, jagirdars and gentry whom she began to browbeat into supporting Hamidullah. Eventually, the only concession given to her by the Viceroy, who acknowledged her deep loyalty to the British Crown, was that the Bhopal succession would not be decided in Delhi and was sufficiently important to be referred to London.

The die was cast. The Begum’s case had been rejected, her goose cooked.

Aug 23, 2007

Why not, Shahrukh?

In the eternal quest of the Indian Muslim to find a representative voice, new dilemmas appear to surface everyday. William Dalrymple points out that the Sepoy mutiny of the year 1847 had its religious overtones, with the majority Hindu rebels from the northern parts of India propping up an old and past his prime Bahadur Shah as their ruler. The cruel crushing of the rebel forces by the English forces saw Bahadur Shah being driven through the streets of Delhi in a bullock cart, the journey ended in Rangoon, where he eventually died. The Muslim community went into a sulk, created the Deoband madarsa, which embraced the shariyat, attributing the leaderless directionless movement of the community to divergence from the ways of Allah.

The community waited long, till the Khilafat movement, which was actually resisting the fall of the Ottoman Khalif in Turkey. The Khalif did fall, but the Indian Muslim soon found Mohammad Ali Jinnah as their leader. In a process of political hard bargain, Jinnah called for direct action day, probably to convince the English government his areas of influence. The violent fallout was beyond anybodies control, and resulted in the partition of India, with two flanks being designated the dream home of Muslims. Although a large exodus of humanity took place, many Muslims stayed back. The reasons could be financial or natural resistance of the human for anything new. However, Pakistan after Jinnah disappointed the community, mostly staying back in India, always resisting changes - even to the extent of resisting education. While a small portion of the community moved ahead with the country at large, Muslims in India are in fact at the bottom of the economic heap, as pointed out by Sacchar committee.

After sixty years of independence, the Indian Minister Kapil Sibbal proudly asserted that “India has over 140 million Muslims, and it has the second-highest Muslim population in the world, and yet you will not find even one Muslim joining international terror networks”. The most radical shift in these sixty years of the nation has been the rise of the Hindu fundamentalist. Taking the cue almost all political parties have become self-appointed custodians of the Muslim community. Congress, viewed as the Hindu mouthpiece during the partitions, has become the champion of Muslims. Communist, Samajbadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, the Marxists everybody is a custodian of Muslim cause.
A historic treaty, which could catapult India to the forefront of world economic power, is being sabotaged by the communists on the pretext that “it is against the people (read Muslims)”. The Communist party supports the ruling coalitions with the Communist party members mainly hailing from the two states of West Bengal and Kerala. The Nandigram incidence has already bared the face of Communists love for Muslims in West Bengal, even if one overlooks the fact that the West Bengal Muslims are the most economically backward section even among the Muslims, as per Sacchar committee report. In Kerala, curiously, a Muslim organization is up against the “Communist” scheme of making girls and boys sit on the same bench in the school, as per this report! The Communists are definitely not authorized to represent any of these state Muslims, then which Muslims are they representing? It is hard to believe that the whole Muslim community is apathetic to anything to do with US and Israel. These are just make believes, forced down the throat of nation in absence of an acceptable spokesperson for the community.

In an article in Sunday Times, Sobha De takes an incredible flight of speculation and suggests (strongly) that Shahrukh Khan, the super star of Mumbai film industry, has decided to take up politics. She sites the name Kabir Khan of the character played by Shahukh in Chak De India, and instances where he has started greeting with Salaam rather than the Namaste, as evidence of Shahrukh positioning himself as the representative of Muslim community. His upcoming film with buddy Karan Johar is apparently named “Mera naam hai Khan” in which he plays the role of a Muslim in USA post 9/11. One distinctly remembers Shahrukh reacting to the demonstration of people in front of his house “Mannat” to protest alleged incorrect remarks made towards Amar Singh, in an award ceremony saying, “remember I am a Pathan”. Shahrukh is a heartthrob of Young India, and this is the right time for him to take the plunge. The Indian Muslim community has waited for too long for an intelligent representative. Will Shahrukh bite the bullet? Very unlikely, as he says he has
“no interest, inclination, desire, requirement, feeling or ambition to be a part of politics. Maybe 15 years down the line, you can use this quote again.. when I become the Prime Minister of the country! But at this point of time, no I'm not joining politics.”
That was in 2006, so another 14 years, is it?

Aug 19, 2007

Every dog has its day

We have heard many descriptions before. We have heard the strange juxtaposition of Americans and dogs as in the running dogs of US imperialism, Pakistan described as America's hunting dog, Blair as US President George Bush's poodle. A leader of an Indian Hindu organization, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Praveen Togadia, called the leader of the Indian Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, as an "Italian Dog". Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all see dogs as unclean, scavengers of dead flesh, noisy, greedy, and scaring off people, potential disease carriers, and the like. Religious Hindu's would consider their body unclean if a dog touches them. However, humanity is clearly divided into two diversely opposite camps about the animal.

"Dogs are good guys", Morley said, "No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does". Aldous Huxley corroborated, "To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs." Bhopalis are specially fond of dogs. There is a professional "Home Delivery" food service available for the dogs, where the menu reads Non-veg Biryani, Mutton with Rice, Chicken Soup, and Beef Rice, Mutton Soup! According to the same report the organization even runs a mobile beauty parlor for dogs. The creator of a fascinating character in the Booker Longlisted book Animal's People is also an honorary Bhopali. Recruited by Satinath Sarangi to the Bhopal cause, he was instrumental in raising funds for Sambhavna clinic. As he rightly states in his book, any Bhopali in their right mind would not dare to pity animal (Animal, incidentally, is the name of the main protagonist of the book). In torrents of spectacularly bad language Animal expresses his contempt for those who would label him a victim, mocks the heavy sympathy of visiting western journalists and derides the earnest efforts of his do-gooding activist friends. As any typical Bhopali, Animal cheerfully lies, cheats, peeps at bathing women, thinks unprintable thoughts, dreams wet dreams, verges on betraying the campaign for justice but throughout remains starkly real and immensely lovable.

There is no dearth of critics as well. Edward Abbey said, "When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem." A Karel Caprek quote goes: "If dogs could talk, perhaps we'd find it just as hard to get along with them as we do with people". It appears that politicians at Indian capital, even those with strong Bhopal connections, do not like animals. As per a report,
Packs of stray dogs, which roam the streets of New Delhi, should be rounded up and sent to Korea for making soup, one of the city’s exasperated councilors has suggested. India's capital is suffering from a 300,000 strong plague of feral dogs that scavenge the city's open rubbish dumps, hunting in packs and terrorizing cyclists and pedestrians who venture into the city at night. At a meeting to canvass measures to curb stray dog numbers ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games one local councilor, Mohan Prashad Bharadwaj, ventured the "Korean option" after saying he'd read that nation was fond of dog-meat.
Many are inviting the "Kampany" responsible for "the animals", as in the "Animal's People", to come again and start the process of creation of more such animals. The Kampany computers, meanwhile, have been registered as deleting wikipedia entries about the Bhopal gas disasters.

Aug 9, 2007

Nawabzada Nasrullah and Obaidullah Khan Of Bhopal

By the time Hamid graduated from Aligarh in 1915 and returned to Bhopal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was beginning to channel Indian Muslims towards supporting the independence movement. Hamid was given the special responsibility of acting as Chief Secretary to the begum of Bhopal. Being educated, democratically inclined, outstanding sportsman and shikari, Hamidullah emerged as an outstanding figure. Moreover, his wife, Maimoona Sultan was an accomplished, graceful and urbane lady. Sultan Jahan Begum arranged to teach her English, French, the piano and violin by English governesses. Maimoona Sultan also learnt to ride, shoot and play tennis. Hamidullah and Maimoona made an impressive modern couple. Sultan Jahan gave Hamid full latitude, which led to increasing signs of frictions between the households of the older brothers, Nasrullah and Obaidullah, against Hamidullah. Even the Bhopali public began resenting the influx of Aligarh outsiders to posts that had been traditionally been held by Bhopalis themselves, at the behest of Hamidullah. The mild, obedient heir apparent Nasrullah’s resentment was expressed towards his mother by his withdrawal to his jagirs for months. His sons, Habibullah and Rafiqullah were less restrained and openly expressed their opposition to Hamidulah’s growing influence.

The second son, General Obaidullah, was known as General Saab. Mercurial in mood and frequently breathing fire, he expressed his anger volubly by throwing fits of temper, stopping just short of in subordinating his mother. Birjees Jahan was Sarkar Amman’s eldest grandchild. Daughter of General Obaidullah, she died at the age on ten years, apparently from an operation of appendicitis. However, the palace sources have a different story to tell. Birjees Jahan was mortally afraid of her father. General Obaidullah would ask Birjees Jahan to recite some part of the holy Quran to test her progress. On the last day, he flew into a usual temper as Birjees mispronounced some words of the Quran. He slapped her so hard that she lost her balance and fell. Cursing loudly he left, giving the prostrate figure a parting kick. For a couple of days, Birjees refused all food, complaining of pain in stomach. When her father was informed of her condition, he decided it was appendicitis and dispatched a car to Indore to fetch the Agency surgeon for an immediate operation. Prince Hamidullah was commissioned to administer chloroform. When the surgeon operated and found no appendicitis, he quickly stitched her up and hurried back to Indore. But Birjees Jahan never regained consciousness.

In 1923, General Obaidullah’s eldest son Wahid was married, rather secretively and unceremoniously to a local girl Sheher Bano. Rumors spread that Sheher was pregnant with Wahid’s child and this led to a shotgun wedding. Sheher Bano was imprisoned in a single room in the Shamla kothi, residence of General Obaidullah. She could not survive the horrendous treatment, and was ultimately brought to Sultan Jahan’s residence, where she died. Even Wahid used to get flogged mercilessly by his father even in the presence of outsiders. Sultan Jahan used to restrain from interfering, as Waheed was few days short of turning 18 years old, when he would attain the right to take his own decisions. After a particularly merciless flogging, Wahid ran away to his grand mother who was visiting Chiklod, a suburb of Bhopal known for dense forest and the associated hunting. Sultan Jahan Begum however persuaded him to return with her to Shamla Kothi. On reaching the Shamla Kothi Wahid shot himself with his father’s 450 mm pistol. General Obaidullah sat impassively on his chair, and forbade his wife Shaharyar Dulhan, to ‘shed a single tear for the sinner who had taken his own life’. General sahib had fatwas of the state Qazi and Mufti circulated, declaring participation in his funeral as ‘un-Islamic’. However, General Obaidullah himself died soon after this incidence of liver cancer, on 24th March 1924, just five months before his elder brother Nasrullah Khan died of advanced diabetes in September 1924, at Eidgah kothi.

Death of these two elder sons of Sultan Jahan left the question of hierarchy open to debate, with the Jalalabadi clan and many prominent families of Bhopal supporting the claim of Nasrullah Khan’s elder son Habibullah, while Sultan Jahan and the barru kat pathans supporting the youngest son of Sultan Jahan, Hamidullah Khan.

Aug 6, 2007

Minto Hall Bhopal

Nawab Sultanjahan Begum constructed the Minto Hall of Bhopal in the year 1909, keeping in mind the requirement of a guesthouse near the Raj Bhawan (then called the Lal kothi). The main architect was A. C. Rovan, the main contractors were Armstrong, R. A. Dhondi and Sayyed Ali. A fund of rupees three lakhs was spent over a period of 24 years on this construction. 

However soon the Minto hall was converted to an army cantonment, which was followed by a period of the hall being used as a convention center. Later a Hotel Lake View was established in the vicinity of Minto Hall during the era of Nawab Hamidullah Khan. For some time offices of the Inspector General Of Police, Defense services and Civil services were also established in Minto Hall. Abida Sultan, the heir apparent, discovered and refined the new game of roller skates hockey on the floors of Minto hall. In the year 1946 Minto Hall was converted to a college called the Hamidia College, which later moved to its own building. After independence of India the Vidhan Sabha of Madhya Pradesh was established at Minto Hall. The Vidhan Sabha has been since moved to a new building in the year 1996. Since then Minto hall has been lying mainly unused, occasionally being the venue of some exhibition.

During the year 2005, the central government decided to establish a International Convention Centre hub in view of attracting investment to Bhopal. Bhopal has many plus points which we must leverage -natural beauty, nearness to a major historical site like Sanchi and a hill-station like Pachmarhi. If 'heritage value' can be combined with a 'scenic location', a Convention Centre becomes unbeatable. 

Minto Hall, the old Vidhan Sabha building on the lakeshore, was chosen for the purpose. The Indian trade promotion organization (ITPO) visited Bhopal for an on-the-spot assessment of Minto Hall for this Convention Centre. Linked with this Convention Centre, we also propose to develop exhibition pavilions, so that major Trade Fairs can take place in Bhopal. A competition was organized for the architecture by EPCO for Government of Madhya Pradesh. The Small Scale Industry of Madhya Pradesh has been appointed the nodal agency for the construction of this convention center. A Five star hotel is also to be constructed, for which two sites has been proposed to Indian trade promotion organization (ITPO) - one in the vicinity of the Minto Hall and another at the Hotel Ashoka Lake View.

The ITPO will visit both the locations soon and a venue would be decided upon. A fund of one crore and thirty-four lakhs has been released by the central government for this project as the first installment of the project.

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain, a film on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, was declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj ...