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What more can one do to be Indian? - 'Enemy property' ordinance threatens to nullify inheritance of Bhopal Nawab's estate

Published On : 05 Feb 2016


Bhopal, (The Telegraph): An "enemy property" ordinance promulgated by the Centre has thrown into uncertainty the status of the Pataudi family as heirs to the estate of the Nawab of Bhopal.

The ordinance last month has decreed that the law of succession does not apply to "enemy property" - assets of those who left India to settle in Pakistan after the first military conflict in 1948 and for China after the 1962 war.

"Law of succession does not apply to enemy property.... There cannot be transfer of any property vested in the custodian by an enemy or enemy subject or enemy firm and... the custodian shall preserve the enemy property till it is disposed of in accordance with the provisions of the (Enemy Property) Act" of 1968, according to the ordinance issued on January 7.


It adds that once an "enemy property is vested in the custodian, it shall continue to be vested in him as enemy property irrespective of whether the enemy, enemy subject or enemy firm has ceased to be an enemy due to reasons such as death etc".

The custodian mentioned in the ordinance is a revenue officer based in Mumbai who recently sent a letter to the Madhya Pradesh government seeking information on "enemy property".

Today, the district administration froze registration of 133 properties in Bhopal. These properties, mostly houses and land spread over 1,600 acres, have been identified as "enemy property". Some of these properties were held at one time or the other by the Pataudi family. The transfer and current ownership of the properties will now be subjected to administrative scrutiny.

While the Pataudis hail from Pataudi town near Gurgaon, their Bhopal link was established three generations ago when Nawab Iftekhar Ali Khan Pataudi married Begum Sajida Sultan.

Begum Sajida Sultan was the second daughter of Hamidullah Khan, the last Nawab of Bhopal. Hamidullah Khan's heir apparent was his eldest daughter Begum Abida Sultan as he did not have any sons. Under the succession policy followed by princely states, the eldest progeny is considered the heir apparent. Under personal laws, the property would have been divided equally among the three daughters of Hamidullah Khan although some other relatives had also staked claim, which is the matter of a long-running legal dispute.

Abida Sultan migrated to Pakistan in 1950, which made her properties fall under the Enemy Property Act that was passed in 1968 with retrospective effect. Abida Sultan, the mother of Pakistan diplomat and cricket administrator Shaharyar Khan, was the only ruler or heir apparent of a major princely state to have migrated to Pakistan. Abida Sultan passed away in 2002.

However, in 1961 - seven years before the Enemy Property Act came into being with retrospective effect - Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, had named Sajida Sultan, Abida Sultan's sister who remained in India, as the regent of Bhopal. This gave Sajida Sultan the rights over the estate of the Nawab of Bhopal.

Sajida Sultan was the mother of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, mother-in-law of Sharmila Tagore and grandmother of Saif Ali Khan, Saba Ali Khan and Soha Ali Khan. Saba is the chief muttawalli (custodian) of Muslim places of worship in Bhopal.

After Sajida Sultan's death, the much-admired "Tiger" Pataudi came to be known as "Nawab Sahib of Bhopal".

However, according to the provisions of the ordinance promulgated by the Narendra Modi government last month, any property of the Nawab of Bhopal inherited by the Pataudi family could technically now fall into the "enemy property" category.

What the ordinance does is it threatens to nullify the succession process through which the Pataudis inherited the Bhopal Nawab's estate.

In Bhopal alone, over 10,000 families are expected to be directly affected as the Nawab's properties include residential complexes, shopping arcades, hotels and municipal land. Most of these properties have been sold and resold over the decades.

It is estimated that the country has more than 16,000 "enemy properties". Uttar Pradesh tops the list with 5,000 such properties and Bengal has 2,735. According to some estimates, the central government can raise over Rs 1 lakh crore if these properties are sold at current market prices.

The 1968 law had not raked up the issue of succession because it was felt then that nothing should be done to harass those who chose to remain in India and they should not feel persecuted for the decision of their relatives.

However, succession became an issue in 2005 when the Supreme Court ruled that the India-based son of a royal who had migrated to Pakistan in 1957 can inherit his father's vast property. The father who ruled Mahmudabad near Lucknow had gone to Pakistan but his wife and son had remained in India. When the father died in London in 1973, the son launched the legal battle that culminated in the Supreme Court order 11 years ago.

Since the worth of the properties ran into thousands of crores and any re-transfer would have caused disruptions, the then Manmohan Singh government thought of amending the 1968 Enemy Property Act to prevent the son from taking over the assets.

However, sharp divisions in the Union cabinet ensured that the matter did not make much headway. An attempt in 2010 to issue an ordinance also did not succeed.

The Modi government pursued the issue and promulgated the ordinance last month. It is not clear whether the proposal explored by the UPA and the ordinance issued by the NDA government differ substantially.

Saba Ali Khan had visited Bhopal last month to hold meetings with district and state officials in the light of the ordinance. Later, asked by reporters, she declined to comment on the ordinance.

In December 2014, after the NDA government had taken over and long before the ordinance was promulgated, the custodian of enemy property had sent a notice raising questions about the ownership of the properties. Saif Ali Khan had then moved Jabalpur High Court, which stayed the notice. The stay is still in force.

Bhopal-based historian Syed Akhtar Hussain finds the new ordinance's provisions inconsistent with constitutional rights. He pointed out that for generations, members of the Pataudi family have been Indian citizens. "It was the Nehru cabinet that had named Sajida as legal heir," Hussain said.

Former Union minister and noted lawyer Salman Khurshid had written in his recent book, The Other Side of the Mountain: "The Modi government has sought to reopen the controversial subject by declaring the possessions of the erstwhile Nawab of Bhopal an enemy property, imperiously ignoring the succession recognised by the then Government of India. That such a development should be taking place in the year 2015, decades after the father and son (Iftekhar and Mansur Ali Khan) had played cricket for India and made all of us proud and Begum Ayesha Sultana (Sharmila Tagore), who combines the elegance of Pataudi/Bhopal with the intellectual legacy of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, leaves one perplexed."

Khurshid then asks: "What more can one do to be an Indian?"

Photo credit: The Telegraph







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