KARACHI, May 11: Princess Abida Sultaan, the heir apparent of the Bhopal state, who had migrated to Pakistan, died here on Saturday morning after a protracted illness. She was 89.
She was buried at Bhopal House, Malir, after Zohar prayers. Her Qul will be held on Wednesday between Asr and Maghreb prayers at Bhopal House.
Among the mourners she has left behind, is her only son, Shaharyar M. Khan, who served as Pakistan’s foreign secretary. She was an outspoken leader, who never compromised on principles and had sacrificed her coveted position to serve Pakistan.
Princess Abida Sultaan was born in Bhopal on Aug 28, 1913. She was the eldest of three daughters born to Nawab Hamidullah Khan, ruler of the second most important Muslim princely state in India after Hyderabad.
Princess Abida Sultaan was brought up by her grandmother, Sultan Jahan Begum, the last of the famous Begums of Bhopal who ruled the state for over a century. Sultan Jahan Begum gave her granddaughter a strict religious education that saw Abida Sultaan complete the lafzi-tarjuma of the holy Quran by the age of eight.
After Nawab Hamidullah Khan became the ruler of Bhopal in 1926, Princess Abida Sultaan was formally recognised, in November, 1928, the heir apparent of Bhopal at the age of 15. She was brought up to succeed as ruler of the state and was given a thorough grounding in administration, public dealing and statecraft.
Princess Abida was a noted all-round sportswoman, who was an all India women’s squash champion and regularly played hockey and tennis. Her preferred sport, however, was polo and she became one of the few women handicap players after playing in her father’s famous team. Princess Abida Sultaan was appointed chief secretary to the Nawab in 1930 and subsequently president of the cabinet, at a time when her father was absent on war service and as chancellor of the chamber of princes. An adventure-loving free spirit, Princess Abida learnt flying and received her flying license in 1942. She was also a fearless hunter who shot 73 tigers in Bhopal.
Princess Abida migrated to Pakistan with her only son, Shaharyar M. Khan, in 1950. She was the only ruler or heir apparent of a major princely state of India (17 gun salute or above) to have migrated to Pakistan.
She arrived in Pakistan with only a suitcase in hand, having abandoned, palace, jagir, farms and artifacts to follow the Quaid’s ideal.
She was appointed ambassador to Brazil, a post that she resigned 18 months later. She then joined the Council Muslim League and was a leading supporter of Miss Fatima Jinnah’s presidential campaign of 1964. Princess Abida was a regular writer in the Pakistan press, defending democracy, women’s rights according to Islamic tenets and criticised obscurantist views of the bigoted mullahs through her deep understanding of the holy Quran.
She recently completed her autobiography — ‘Memories of a Rebel Princess’ — which is expected to be published soon.
Princess Abida was particularly well known for her frank, fearless and trenchant views on Pakistan’s politics that were aired on television and printed in the national press. Her son, Shaharyar Khan, joined the Pakistan foreign service and ended his career as foreign secretary. He also served as ambassador to Jordan, UK and France. He was appointed UN secretary-general’s special representative in Rwanda in 1994.