BHOPAL The capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal (population 1.4 million in 2001) was founded by the Afghan Dost Mohammad in 1709, and was attacked by the Marathas in the late eighteenth century. The local Muslim ruler, the nawāb of Bhopal, entered into an alliance with the British in 1817, shortly before they defeated the Marathas in 1818. The small state, which had only about 730,000 inhabitants in 1931, survived under British rule. For several decades it was ruled by a succession of remarkable ladies. In 1926 Sultan Jahan Begum abdicated in favor of her son, Hamidullah, who then played a very active role in Indian politics prior to independence. In 1931, before Mahatma Gandhi left for London to attend the Second Round Table Conference, Hamidullah tried his best to promote a Hindu-Muslim compromise, with Gandhi's blessing. He could not achieve much at that time; he was later eclipsed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who after 1938 emerged as the sole spokesman of the Indian Muslims. In 1947 the princely state of Bhopal acceded to the Indian Union, and in 1956 it was integrated into the new central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
The area around Bhopal is known for its rich historical heritage. The famous Buddhist stupa of Sanchi, built in the third century b.c. and embellished in subsequent centuries, is situated at a distance of about 12 miles (20 km) from Bhopal. The old capital of this region, Vidisha, where the Mauryan emperor Ashoka served as viceroy in his youth, is located about 30 miles (50 km) to the northeast of Bhopal.
In independent India, Bhopal became an industrial city. The U.S. company Union Carbide built a major factory for chemical pesticides there. The plant attracted worldwide attention in 1984, when thousands of people died due to a leak of its poisonous isocyanate gas, and thousands more became ill. Union Carbide was sued for damages, and it was requested that Warren Anderson, the chairman of the company, be extradited to India to be tried for homicide. (The Bhopal city court based the request for the extradition on Section 304, Indian Penal Code, which refers to "causing death by rash or negligent act." The U.S. government rejected the request on technical grounds.) Union Carbide argued that the leak was caused by the negligence or even "sabotage" of its Indian workers, but those accusations could not be proven. The case dragged on for years and was finally settled out of court, but the meager compensation paid by the company hardly reached those who were actually affected by the disaster. Thus Bhopal became a symbol for the carelessness with which multinational companies handle their operations in Third World countries. The Bhopal disaster has tended to make people forget that this city is currently a thriving industrial center that manufactures a great variety of products, including cotton textiles, electrical goods, and jewelry. It is also known for its cultural activities.
Begam, Sultan Jahan. History of My Life. 3 vols. London: John Murray, 1910–1927.
Morehouse, Ward, and Arun Subramaniam. The Bhopal Tragedy. New York: Council on International and Public Affairs, 1986.
Bhopal (bō´päl), former principality, Madhya Pradesh state, central India. A region of rolling downs and thickly forested hills, it is predominantly agricultural. Its Buddhist monuments include the famous stupa (3d cent. BC) at Sanchi. Bhopal was founded in the early 18th cent. and was ruled from 1844 to 1926 by the begums of Bhopal, famous women leaders. Although the population was mainly Hindu, the princely family was Muslim. Bhopal became part of the state of Madhya Pradesh in 1956.
The city of Bhopal (1991 pop. 1,062,771), the former capital of the principality and now the capital of Madhya Pradesh, was founded in 1728. It is a trade center with manufactures of cotton cloth, jewelry, electrical goods, and chemicals. Bhopal has a very modern section and an old city, and hills and lakes give the environs much scenic beauty. The city is the seat of several institutions of higher education and a large mosque, the Taj-ul-masjid. There are many sites of historical and archaeological interest in Bhopal and nearby.
In Dec., 1984, a cloud of methyl isocynate gas escaped from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. An estimated 3,000 to 7,000 died immediately, 15,000 to 20,000 died from the effects in the years after the disaster, and 50,000 to 100,000 suffered from serious injuries as a result of the world's worst chemical disaster. The Indian government sued on behalf of 570,000 victims and in 1989 settled for $470 million in damages and exempted company employees from criminal prosecution. The Indian judiciary rejected that exemption in 1991, and the company's Indian assets were seized (1992) after its officials failed to appear to face charges. The chairman of Union Carbide's Indian branch and seven other of its Indian employees (one deceased) were convicted of death by negligence in 2010, and later that year the Indian government sued to increase the damages paid to $1.1 billion.