Line of succession to the former throne of Bhopal

The line of succession to the former throne of Bhopal, among the pre-eminent Indian principalities, was, uniquely amongst the Indian princely houses, by male-preference primogeniture in the direct family line. This principle of succession was formally established by the last Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan, upon his confirmation as ruler of Bhopal in 1926. Since his death in 1960, the identity of the present rightful claimant to the former throne remains a matter of contention, though the claim of the descendants of his second daughter Sajida Sultan has been recognised by the Indian government and courts. As the Indian government has discontinued the official recognition of princely families since 1971, however, this question has primarily been examined since then with respect to property inheritance rights.[1][2]




The Bhopal Succession Case, 1926

From the early 19th century, the rulers of Bhopal had been female and in the direct line from the founder of the Afghan Pathan Orakzai dynasty, Dost Muhammad Khan. In 1868, at the coronation of the second Nawab Begum, Shah Jehan, her sole surviving daughter, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan Begum, was recognised by the British government as the heir apparent (rather than as heiress presumptive). This was unprecedented, because it meant that even if her mother gave birth to a son later, he would not get the throne; the existing daughter would supersede her brother. This had been done for a reason: Nawab Shah Jehan Begum had recently taken a second husband (after the death of Kaikhusrau's father); that second husband was a man of low birth, uncouth manners and corrupt habits. Also, he did not belong to the Mirzai Khel dynasty to which all preceding rulers of Bhopal (including women rulers) had belonged by birth. The idea that a son of such a man may one day sit on the throne of Bhopal was anathema to the nobility of Bhopal, as also to the British, and therefore they had taken the precaution of naming the Begum's only child by her first marriage, her daughter Kaikhushrau, as the heir apparent. In other words, the Begum's second marriage had been rendered effectively morganatic. It happened that the Begums's second marriage did not produce a living child, and so the inherent infirmity of the arrangement was never tested. Following the death of Nawab Shah Jehan Begum in 1901, her only surviving child, her daughter Kaikhusrau Jahan ascended the throne as Nawab Begum of Bhopal.[1]

In 1874, Nawab Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan married a distant cousin, Nawab Ahmad ‘Ali Khan Bahadur (1854-1902), a member of a senior branch of the dynasty to which Dost Muhammad had belonged, namely the Mirzai Khel dynasty. Upon her marriage, Kaikhusrau Jahan became a member of that dynasty, which by birth she was not, because her father had not been a Mirzai Khel dynast. The marriage ensured that the same dynasty would continue in the male line. The couple had three sons, Muhammad Nasrullah Khan (1876-1924), Muhammad Ubaidullah Khan (1878-1924) and Muhammad Hamidullah Khan (1894-1960).[1] In 1902, the two elder sons married the daughters of Chanda Begum, their father's only sister, whose husband belonged to the Jalalabadi family, a prominent noble family of Bhopal state. Later, the third son, Hamidullah Khan, married an Afghan princess, Maimoona Sultan. Unfortunately, both of the elder sons died 1924, Ubaidullah from cancer in March that year, and Nasrullah from advanced diabetes in September.[3] Both of them left legitimate male heirs, and by the principle of primogeniture which prevailed in almost every Indian state, the logical heir presumptive to the throne would have been Nasrullah's elder son Muhammad Habibullah Khan (1903-1930).[4]

However, the Nawab Begum of Bhopal had other ideas, which were probably put into her head by her only surviving son, Hamidullah. In 1925, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan formally requested the Viceroy's Executive Council to recognise Hamidullah Khan as the heir apparent, in preference to her senior grandson, Habibullah Khan. She provided five reasons, including the following: firstly, that as the ruler, she had the right to nominate her successor; secondly, that Hamidullah Khan was more experienced and better educated than his nephew; thirdly, that Islamic law favoured surviving sons over any grandsons. Her main substantive argument was that the Islamic system of succession, where the throne passed from brother to brother, and therefore surviving sons were preferred over grandsons (see Rota system and the system of succession in the Saudi royal family) should apply to Bhopal. Supported by the Jalalabadi family, Habibullah filed a counter-claim, saying that there was no precedent for applying Islamic principles to succession in Bhopal and pointing out that the laws of primogeniture which had been prevalent since time immemorial in most Indian states, whether Hindu or Muslim, and certainly since the inception of British rule.[5]

After studying the facts of the case, the Viceroy's legal advisors rejected the Begum's request on 21 May 1925, averring that Islamic system of succession had never been applied in Bhopal.[6] Undeterred, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan appealed the matter to the India Office in London, then headed by the distinguished advocate Lord Birkenhead. Additional research conducted by the India Office found some support for Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan's position. It was determined that under a 1772 decree issued by Warren Hastings, all civil legal proceedings for Muslims were to be dealt with according to Islamic law; this included succession to titles and properties. Several precedents existed, including one concerning the succession of Akbar Shah II to the Mughal throne in 1804, where the succession had been justified by citing the same Islamic rules of succession which the Nawab Begum was now invoking.[7]

Thus, the British authorities agreed that Hamidullah Khan would succeed his mother, if he survived her. This decision by the India Office did not, however, mean that the succession was secured to the progeny of Hamidullah Khan alone. On 7 May 1926, the Viceroy of India informed the Nawab Begum that if Hamidullah Khan predeceased her, the succession would pass to the line of her senior surviving grandson in preference to the children of Hamidullah Khan. This was strictly as per the same principles of Islamic succession which the Nawab Begum herself had strenuously insisted upon. However, the Begum was alarmed because it was entirely possible that her third son would die young, just as her two elder sons had died. She wanted earnestly to ensure that the succession passed only to her third son and then his progeny. There was only one way of ensuring this: she should abdicate and make him the ruler immediately. On 14 May 1926, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan abdicated in favour of Hamidullah Khan. The new Nawab of Bhopal formally informed the Viceroy and his council that his eldest daughter, Abida Sultan Begum, would succeed him unless he bore a male heir at a later date, in which case his son would succeed to the throne. The Government of India accepted his declaration, deciding the issue for the time being. Thus, Hamidullah Khan ascended the throne of Bhopal during the lifetime of his mother, and ensured that his own children would succeed him, rather than the progeny of his two older brothers.

The eldest son of the Nawab Kaikhusrau Jahan Begum, namely Nasrullah Khan, had left three children as his heirs when he died in 1924. All three of them, including the unfortunate Habibullah Khan, died without leaving any children of their own. The second son of the Nawab Begum, Ubaidullah Khan, had issue three surviving sons. His eldest son died childless and the second son had only one daughter, who embraced the Hindu religion and married an army officer. It was the third son of Ubaidullah Khan, namely Rashid Khan, who remains as a putative claimant to the throne of Bhopal. If Nawab Kaikhusrau Jahan had not changed the succession, it is Rashid Khan and his sons who would have inherited the throne of Bhopal. That family today runs the Jahan Numa hotel in Bhopal and the Reni Pani jungle lodge in the nearby forests.


Nawab Hamidullah Khan ruled Bhopal until acceding to the Union of India in May 1949. In 1928, he had designated his eldest daughter, Abida Sultan, as heir apparent; she, however, chose to emigrate to Pakistan in 1948, following which Nawab Hamidullah designated his second daughter Sajida Sultan, the Begum of Pataudi, as the new heiress to the throne of Bhopal.[8] The state of Bhopal became a constituent part of Madhya Pradesh in November 1956, and the former Nawab died in Bhopal in February 1960. Following his death, his decision to designate Sajida Sultan as heiress apparent was immediately contested by two other branches of the family before the Indian government formally recognised the claim of Sajida Sultan in January 1961, with retroactive effect.[1]

Sajida Sultan was recognised by the Indian government as the last Nawab Begum of Bhopal from her accession in 1960 until 1971, when the government formally derecognised the Indian princely houses. She died in 1995, upon which her only son Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, succeeded to the headship of the dynasty and was crowned as the titular Nawab of Bhopal. His maternal aunts Abida Sultan and Rabia Sultan, however, challenged his right to inherit the family properties and filed two civil suits in the Madhya Pradesh High Court in attempts to challenge his "coronation." Other members of the extended family also filed their own claims to various properties in Bhopal, resulting in several ongoing disputes.[8] In 2000, the Bhopal district court issued a ruling which affirmed the Government of India's previous recognition of Sajida Sultan as Nawab Begum of Bhopal over her elder sister Abida Sultan. Abida Sultan herself died in Pakistan two years later, but her son and heir Shahryar Muhammad Khan declined to assert any claims to the family headship or to any properties in Bhopal.[8]

Following the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, the 1968 Enemy Property Act gave the central government the right to appropriate Indian properties held by Pakistan nationals. After Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi died in 2011, his son Saif Ali Khan Pataudi was crowned as the titular Nawab of Pataudi in succession to his father, but he did not formally assume the headship of the erstwhile Bhopal ruling house or hold an investiture ceremony in Bhopal. The office of the Custodian of Enemy Property for India (CEPI) did however issue Saif Ali Khan a notice in December 2014 which recognised him as the successor to the Bhopal estates since his father's death. As of May 2015, the legal process to verify Saif Ali Khan Pataudi's inheritance rights remained an ongoing one.[8]

Claimants to the throne and their descendants

I. Claim of Sajida Sultan Begum (1915-1995)

  • Hajji Nawab Hafiz Muhammad Hamidullah Khan, Nawab of Bhopal (1894-1960; r. 1926-1949)
    • Sajida Sultan, Nawab Begum of Bhopal (1915-1995), m. Muhammad Iftikhar ‘Ali Khan Bahadur, Nawab of Pataudi (1910-1952)
      • Nawabzadi Saleha Sultan Begum Sahiba (born 1940) m. Nawab Muhammad Bashir ud-din Khan Bahadur (born 1931)
        • Nawabzada Mohamed Aamer bin Jung (born 1959), m. Zeba Begum Sahiba (born 1961)
          • Sahibzada Mohammad ‘Abdu’llah Sahir bin Jung (born 1984)
          • Sahibzadi Esra Sahar Jung (born 1987)
        • Nawabzada Muhammad Sa’ad Bin Jung (born 1960), m. Asma Sangeeta Mankani Begum Sahiba
          • Sahibzada ‘Ali Sha’az Jung (born 1988)
          • Sahibzadi Zohar Jung (born 1990)
        • Nawabzada Muhammad Omer Bin Jung (born 1968), m. Anjum Begum Sahiba (born 1968)
          • Sahibzadi Zara Jung (born 1999)
          • Sahibzada Ayaan Jung (born 2004)
        • Nawabzada Muhammad Fateh Faiz Bin Jung (born 1974)
      • Muhammad Mansur ‘Ali Khan Bahadur, Nawab of Pataudi, Head of the Royal House of Bhopal (1941-2011), m. Nawab Ayesha Sultan Begum Sahiba (Sharmila Tagore) (born 1946)
        • Muhammad Saif Ali Khan Bahadur, Nawab of Pataudi, Head of the Royal House of Bhopal (born 1970), m. (1, 1991-divorced 2004), Amrita Virk [Begum Saif ‘Ali Khan] (born 1958), (2, 2012-present). Kareena Kapoor (born 1980)
          • (1). Nawabzada Ibrahim ‘Ali Khan (born 2001, of Amrita)
          • (2). Nawabzadi Sarah Begum Sahiba (born 1994, of Amrita)
        • (3). Nawabzadi Saba Sultan Begum Sahiba (born 1975)
        • (4). Nawabzadi Soha Sultan Begum Sahiba (born 1978), m. Kunal Sharik Khemu (born 1983)
      • Nawabzadi Sabiha Sultan Begum Sahiba (born 1942), m. Sahibzada Mir Arjumand ‘Ali Khan (born 1940)
        • Sahibzadi Zia Sultan Begum Sahiba (born 1965), m. Syed Kamal Fareed
          • Rabia Fareed (born 1989)
          • Nadia Fareed (born 1995)
        • Sahibzadi Samia Sultan Begum Sahiba (born 1966), m. Christopher Hartnett
          • Imaan Hartnett (born 1995)
          • Zara Hartnett (born 1999)
      • Nawabzadi Qudsia Sultan Begum Sahiba (1946-1989), m. Mian Ghulam Fariduddin Riaz (born 1939)
        • Iftikharuddin Riaz
        • Sara Sultan Begum (born 1970), m. Sahibzada Faiz Muhammad Khan (born 1959; see II)
          • Sahibzadi Aaliya Sultan Begum (born 1994)


II. Claim of Abida Sultan Begum (1913-2002)

Abida Sultan Begum was designated by her father Nawab Hamidullah Khan as the heiress apparent to Bhopal from 1928 until 1948, when she opted to emigrate to Pakistan with her family. She briefly considered contesting the succession to Bhopal upon her father's death in 1960, but ultimately declined to assert her claim to the family headship in favour of her only son, who also declined to exercise his claim.

  • Hajji Nawab Hafiz Muhammad Hamidullah Khan, Nawab of Bhopal (1894-1960; r. 1926-1949)
    • Suraya Jah, Nawab Gowhar-i-Taj, Abida Sultan Begum Sahiba (1913-2002), m. (sep. 1934), ‘Ali Jah, Anis ud-Daula, Nawab Muhammad Sarwar ‘Ali Khan Bahadur, Firuz Jang, Nawab of Kurwai (1901-1984)
      • (1). Nawabzada Shahryar Muhammad Khan (born 1934)
        • (2). Sahibzada Faiz Muhammad Khan (born 1959)
          • (5). Sahibzadi Aalia Sultan Begum (born 1994)
        • (3). Sahibzada Omar Ali Khan (born 1962)
        • (4). Sahibzada Yawar Ali Khan (born 1969)
          • (6). Sahibzadi Alina Khan (born 2005)
        • (7). Sahibzadi Faiza Sultan Begum (born 1974)


III. Claim of Rashid uz-Zafar Khan (1907-1961)

Nawabzada Muhammad Rashid uz-Zafar Khan Bahadur (1907-1961), the sole surviving son of Nawab Hamidullah Khan's elder brother Ubaidullah Khan, and thus the senior-most male heir of the dynasty, contested the succession following the death of his uncle in 1960. The Indian government eventually dismissed his claim in January 1961.[1]

  • Hajji Nawab Hafiz Muhammad Ubaidullah Khan Sahib Bahadur (1878-1924)
    • Yamin ul-Mulk, Imad ud-Daula, Nawabzada Muhammad Rashid uz-Zafar Khan Bahadur (1907-1961)
      • Sahibzadi Mahbano Begum Sahiba (1946-1987) m. Sahibzada Faruq ‘Ali Khan (1934-1995)
        • Sahibzada Omar Faruq ‘Ali (born 1968)
          • Sahibzadi Meher-Bano ‘Ali Khan (born 1998)
          • Sahibzadi Zehra ‘Ali Khan (born 2002)
        • Sahibzada Raashid ‘Ali (born 1972)
          • Ryka Ali (born 2004)
          • Zoya Ali (born 2006)
          • Ayan Ali (born 2009)
      • Sahibzadi Niloufer Begum Sahiba, m. Sahibzada Kazim ‘Ali Khan (born 1935)
        • Sahibzadi Farah Begum [Farah Edwards Khan] (born 1974)
          • Sameera Edwards (born 2003)
      • Sahibzada Nadir Rashid Khan (born 1951)
        • (1). Sahibzada Zafar Rashid Khan (born 1986)
        • (2). Sahibzada Fazal Rashid Khan
        • (7). Sahibzadi Aliya Begum
      • (3). Sahibzada Yawar Rashid Khan (born 1953)
        • (4). Sahibzada Faiz Rashid Khan (born 1982)
          • (5). Sahibzada Nael Rashid Khan (born June 2015)
        • (6). Sahibzada ‘Aly Rashid Khan (born 1985)
          • (8). Sahibzadi Alizeh (born July 2015)



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Buyers, Christopher. "Bhopal-India/SALUTE". Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  2. Jhala, p. 74
  3. Jhala, p. 70-71
  4. Jhala, p. 71-72
  5. Jhala, p. 71-72
  6. Jhala, p. 71-72
  7. Jhala, p. 73
  8. 1 2 3 4 "How rich is the Nawab?". India Legal Online. 26 May 2015. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  • Jhala, Angma Dey (2008). Courtly Indian Women in Late Imperial India. Routledge. ISBN 978-1851969418
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