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Mughal 'Heiress' Roots for the BJP

Mughal 'Heiress' Roots for the BJP

Author: Indrani Dutta
Publication: The Hindu
Date: May 4, 2009
URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2009/05/04/stories/2009050455371200.htm

She is a fourth generation `heiress' of the last of the Mughals, Bahadur Shah Zafar, and lives in penury in a slum in Howrah district in West Bengal on a monthly dole of Rs. 400 - and an ardent supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Sultana Begum is wife of the late Muhammad Bedar Bakht, great grandson of Bahadur Shah, who was exiled to Yangon (Burma) by the British.

Her husband used to run his family by sharpening knives and doing odd jobs.

Ms. Sultana, now in her sixties, runs a tea stall at 'Cowies Ghat' area near her home and also makes fake stone bangles to feed herself and her family.

She is peeved that the State government did not give her the protection that she needed for herself and her five daughters, when she was harassed and hounded out of her shelter in Tollygunj by goons.

From then on her home has been a 8x8 feet shanty in the slums of Howrah.

Unexpected help

Help came from unexpected quarters. From L. K. Advani, who heard about her from a 'swamiji' who had visited the Begum's house while carrying out charity work in the area.

Since then BJP parliamentarian Tapan Sikdar also visited her and touched by the BJP's gesture, Ms. Sultana Begum became a BJP member.

The pension, which had been stopped after her husband's death, was resumed although it remained fixed at Rs. 400.

The visit that she cherishes the most is the one from Mamata Banerjee who came calling soon after the 2004 elections. She gave Rs. 50,000 to Ms. Sultana Begum. She has not been in touch since then, but the Begum remains sympathetic.

"Unka kitne kaam hain" (she is so very busy after all?)

"Was Bahadur Shah a traitor, that his descendants are treated like beggars?" she asks, even as her eyes moisten, recalling that the British, who had captured Bahadur Shah and exiled him, gave him a pension of Rs. 500 in those days.

She is thankful to the financial help and support she has received from the Bismillah: The Beginning Foundation, which is trying to rehabilitate her and has given her money to marry off one her daughters.

On May 7, when Howrah goes to vote in the second phase of polling in West Bengal she says that she will vote for the Trinamool Congress candidate Ambika Banerjee, since there is no BJP candidate.

And she lives on with one mission - to bring back someday the soil from the grave of the last Mughal emperor from Yangon and bring peace to his soul.

Corrections and Clarifications

The penultimate paragraph of an article "Mughal 'heiress' roots for the BJP" ("Elections 2009" page, May 4, 2009) said that there is no BJP candidate for Howrah. The BJP's candidate is Ms. Polly Mukherjee.

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