Read to learn about Shah Jahan Begum.
People say great leaders are born. But the antagonist of our story has to learn to be a great leader. Shah Jahan Begum was the only surviving child of Jahangir Mohammed Khan, the Nawab of Bhopal. She was born months after the death of her father. It was a time when the East India Company had deployed the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ law in India. But because of their good relations with Nawab, they didn’t overtake the rule. Instead, they made her newborn girl the official ruler. Her mother, a prominent figure was made regent until Shah Jahan comes of age.
Shah Jahan Begum was a Queen from the moment she opened her eyes. And throughout her childhood, she prepared for this role. She was groomed by the state’s finest warriors, teachers, artists, and ministers.
When she was 14, the British acknowledge her mother as the head of the state and officially declared her the Begum of Bhopal. But unfortunately, her mother’s rule lasted only six years. In 1868, Shah Jahan Begum became Begum for the second time, but this time she was ready.
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Shah Jahan Begum ruled over Bhopal for a magnificent three decades. Her reign was considered the golden period for Islam in Middle India. She worked hard on the religious front, building numerous mosques. She started the construction of India’s largest Mosque ‘Taj-Ul-Masjid’. But the Mosque remained unfinished during her lifetime. Her mother was the first woman from India to visit the holy site of Mecca. Shah Jahan Begum wanted to replicate the journey but her fear of the ocean denied her the opportunity.
A good leader is always tested the hardest. During the rule of Begum Shah Jahan, Bhopal as well as the whole of Asia was under the effects of the Bubonic plague. Millions of people across the globe lost their lives. The following year, the kingdom faced Famine. This was not a natural famine. This happened due to the shortage of crops caused by the loss of lives from the plague.
Begum knew this famine could have been prevented if her kingdom was well connected to other kingdoms. Hence, she was one of the first heads of state to support East India’s construction of railways. When the construction began, she sponsored the cost of the railway construction in her kingdom.
After two catastrophic years, Begum Shah Jahan did a complete census of her kingdom. This led her to assess the situation in a much more detailed way.
This led her to create an artificial lake and a dam to increase irrigational lands.
One of the biggest factors for her long reign was her ability to keep her soldiers happy. She increased the taxes and used them as an increment for soldiers. The only black spot in her perfect reign was her relationship with her own daughter. Her daughter named Sultan Jehan lost her child of 10 months. Shah Jahan blamed her daughter for ignorance and neglect. Since then both were on Non-speaking terms.
Even on her deathbed, Begum Shah Jahan refused to forgive her. She passed away in the year 1901. Her daughter succeeded to the throne.
Begum Shah Jahan’s life is a lesson for countries across the globe. While some skills of a leader can be considered God-gifted or natural, preparation and learning of new skills should not be ignored. It was her preparation and grooming that took the kingdom out of two calamities. And then continued to grow at its best.