The Begums of Hyderabad are in a battle royale here with the main players, the eighth Nizam of Hyderabad Barkat Ali Mukkaram Jah, his Turkish third wife Princess Manolya and first consort Princess Esra vying for what is one of the world's largest and most fabulous inheritances.
Manolya, a two-time Miss Turkey, recently won Round One of what could be a long, acrimonious legal battle. Demanding maintenance and child support for her 11-year-old daughter Niloufer, she had registered a case in the family court in Hyderabad five years ago. After several adjournments, the court has now said that it's found enough evidence to take the case to trial.
The court also granted Manolya's plea that given her ex-husband's propensity for frittering away his inheritance, there should be a stay on the sale or alteration of his assets till the case is settled.
Taking up cudgels on the Nizam's behalf is first wife Esra. The couple went through a bitter separation three decades ago. But in a surprise move two years ago, Jah gave Esra and their son Azmat Jah general power of attorney (GPA) over his assets, a virtual handing over charge of his properties to them.
Manolya is clearly upset: "It's ridiculous that I must negotiate with another of my husband's ex-wives to get what is my daughter's rightful inheritance. Even his drivers made enough money off him to buy houses and cars. What about us?" She added that Esra's been trying for an out-of-court settlement but says she isn't interested.
Jah's family says he is indebted to Esra after she used her influence to get their children to withdraw a case against him. Azmat and his sister had filed a suit claiming their father was mentally unfit to manage the estate. After Esra got the GPA, there's also been a flurry of activity to try and bring some order to the 69-year-old Nizam's estate. Says Khurdhrat Ali Khan, the Nizam's cousin: "There's no doubt she is a shrewd person. But when matters are this complicated, there's little anyone can do."
Khan says the Manolya case wasn't the only worry. Jah's relatives are also contesting his automatic inheritance, under the traditional succession law, of grandfather—last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan's—properties in 1967. They are also trying to block his inheritance of some Rs 112 crore from the sale of the Nizam's jewels to the government. The relatives feel since Jah has done little to preserve the royal legacy, he doesn't deserve to inherit the assets.
Soon after his coronation, Mukkaram Jah had trans-located to Australia, buying a sprawling ranch near Perth. He currently divides his time between Australia and Turkey. Local gossip has it that the Nizam comes to Hyderabad only when he needs to show off the family's past glory to a new wife. Jah's been married five times but his current marital status is still a hot topic.
Over the years, the dozen or so palaces he owns have been stripped clean by the very people he appointed as caretakers. With no clear plan to organise or sustain his sprawling estates, the often ill-advised Nizam has been bogged down with litigation, tax liabilities and crushing debts.
Many feel that had the former prince stayed on in Hyderabad, he could have cashed in on the traditional goodwill the Nizams enjoyed and carved out a political career like Madhavrao Scindia. "Given the dearth of nationalist Muslim leaders in India, had Jah positioned himself intelligently, he could have even gone on to become president," says Narender Luther, former chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh and author of several books on the Nizams of Hyderabad. Unfortunately, history will most likely now remember Jah as one who presided over the squandering of an estate consolidated over 224 years by his forefathers.