Hyderabad: August 15 this year marked the conclusion of year-long “Azadi ka Amrut Mahotsav” (Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Indian independence) in the country, because if it was on this day in 1947, India attained independence from the British raj after decades of struggle.
But, not Hyderabad. Though it was geographically part of India, Hyderabad was an independent princely state. It got “independence” only a year and a month later, following a “police action” by the Indian military forces on the then autocratic and adamant ruler, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the 7th Nizam-ul-Mulk, who refused to merge his mighty Hyderabad state into Indian dominion.
It was a war that lasted five days — between September 13 and 17, 1948 — and in the present-day parlance, it was a “surgical strike,” as the then Union home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel described the idea of having an independent nation of Hyderabad as an “ulcer in the belly of India which needed to be removed surgically.”
This Saturday, as the erstwhile Hyderabad state, the second largest princely state in the British India only after Jammu and Kashmir, comprising the entire present-day Telangana state and parts of Karnataka and Maharasthra, is entering the diamond jubilee year of its being part of the rest of independent India, it is caught in a controversy – whether it should be called “Vimochana” (liberation) celebration or “Vileena” (integration) celebration.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is calling it as Hyderabad Liberation Day, to project it as a day when the region was liberated from the autocratic rule of the Nizam, who, they argue, had made every attempt to establish an Islamic state within in India with the support of Pakistan and the United Nations.
The BJP-led government at the Centre has announced year-long celebrations of Hyderabad state liberation from September 17, 2022 to September 17, 2023. The celebrations will begin with a parade and huge rally at Secunderabad parade grounds on Saturday, which would be attended by Union home minister Amit Shah.
“It is a unique opportunity to pay a befitting tribute to the sacrifices made by the previous generations to achieve independence to the Hyderabad state. The objective is to make the current generation, both from the region under consideration and the rest of India, aware of the story of resistance, valour, and sacrifice,” Union minister of culture and tourism G Kishan Reddy said.
But the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and its friendly party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), prefer to call it an “integration,” as it was on this day in 1948 that Hyderabad had become an integral part of independent India.
The TRS government led by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has chosen to conduct parallel celebrations at NTR Stadium in Hyderabad in the name of “Telangana Jateeya Samaikyatha Vajrotsavaalu (Diamond Jubilee of Telangana national integration). Needless to say, KCR wants to cash in on the Telangana sentiment, which led to the formation of Telangana state and brought the party to power in 2014.
Historians, however, dismiss both the theories – of liberation and of integration. “Both are misinterpretation of the history. On September 17, 1948, the Nizam only surrendered to the Indian government, but he continued to be the titular head of the Hyderabad state. Though the Indian government had a de facto control over Hyderabad through the military administration, the Nizam was the de jure ruler, as every farman (order) was passed only by him. It was only on January 26, 1950 that the Nizam relinquished all the authority and it was then Hyderabad was formally integrated into the Indian Union,” said eminent historian and 1965 Indo-Pakistan war veteran Capt L Panduranga Reddy, a member of Royal Historical Society of London.
According to Prof Adapa Satyanarayana, professor of history in Osmania University, it was a liberation in the sense that the people of Hyderabad state were jubilant, as they felt liberated from the tyrannical Razakar atrocities. “But technically, it was not a liberation from anybody. The last Nizam wanted Hyderabad to be an independent state, but he had to surrender to Indian military. So, where is the question of liberation?” he said.
Reddy also found fault with the argument of Telangana integration with India, as being projected by the TRS government. “There was no concept of Telangana those days, as it was only a part of the Hyderabad state. So, it cannot be called Telangana liberation or integration,” he said.
On the claims of the BJP and other Hindu groups on Hyderabad liberation, Satyanarayana said the religious dimension was deliberately added to the event because the ruler happened to be the Muslim and the ruled were Hindus.
“It was true that the Hindus, who were in a majority in Hyderabad state, wanted to join the Indian mainstream, but they had no disregard for the Nizam. In fact, Hyderabad was not a theocratic state and the Nizam never wanted to make it an Islamic country even when he wanted it to be independent. He never wanted to join Pakistan, though he sought help from that country,” Satyanarayana said.
There is also another dimension to the Hyderabad integration or liberation theories. According to Satyanarayana, the proponents of minority communal perspective described it as a “tragedy” and a “destruction.” Historians like A G Noorani described the military action of Indian government on Hyderabad as “invasion” of Hyderabad.
What exactly happened
After India gained Independence on August 15, 1947, all the princely states had acceded to Indian Union, except three – Jammu and Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad. While the first two states had been annexed to India in the next few months, the Nizam-ruled Hyderabad continued to be defiant.
Renowned military historian and former director of National Archives of India, Dr S N Prasad, in his book – “Operation Polo – The police action against Hyderabad, 1948,” said the Nizam issued a farman (royal decree) on June 26, 1947 that announced his intention not to join either India or Pakistan but to resume the status of an independent sovereign from August 15, 1947.
“He also tried diplomatically to secure Dominion Status for Hyderabad within the Commonwealth. But the British government did not care to displease the new Indian government and did not want any further involvement in the country, and the Nizam’s request was turned down,” he said.
With the end of the British rule, there was a legal stalemate over the control of several institutions like the post, telegraph, telephone, railways and the meteorological organisations in Hyderabad, which were under the control of the Government of India. So was the case with Indian military troops located within Hyderabad. Matters regarding currency and trade, passports and dealings with foreign powers had to be provided with some new legal basis. So, the Nizam government was asked to sign a Standstill Agreement with Indian government to continue the existing position and maintain the status quo.
Though the Nizam agreed to sign the agreement after prolonged deliberations till October 27, 1947, the Razakars, the private army of the Nizam led by MIM leader Kasim Razvi, did not allow the agreement to be signed in the existing form. Razvi strongly resisted any agreement with the Indian government, which he thought, cannot dare take any action against Hyderabad, as it was too preoccupied with resolving the Kashmir issue. Razvi also forced the Nizam to appoint his nominee Mir Laik Ali as the Prime Minister of Hyderabad in place of Nawab of Chhatari, who resigned later.
The defiant attitude of the Nizam angered Sardar Patel, who insisted that the Nizam had no option but to sign the agreement with the existing conditions. “After trying in vain for some further concessions, Laik Ali had to accept it and the agreement was finally concluded on November 29, 1947,” Prasad said.
Subsequently, Indian government sent senior Congress leader, K M Munshi, as India’s Agent-General at Hyderabad in terms of the Standstill Agreement.
The next few months witnessed a turbulent period in the Hyderabad state, due to eruption of Telangana armed rebellion by the Communists, who were waging a war against the feudal rule of the Nizam. Initially, targeting zamindars and deshmukhs, the Communists soon launched a full-scale armed struggle against the Nizam.
With the Nizam’s armed forces unable to subjugate the armed struggle, he had to depend on the Razakars. According to Prasad, the Razakars of the MIM were devoted to the cause of maintaining and enlarging Muslim supremacy in Hyderabad and the Nizam had given them encouragement and help in the beginning, probably in order to acquire a better bargaining position vis-a-vis the Government of India.
“But Kasim Razvi, the Razakar leader, soon became too powerful for the Nizam. His crude and violent methods in unleashing a reign of terror in the rural areas had led to a violent situation in the Hyderabad state,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Nizam government started violating the Standstill Agreement signed with the Indian government in many ways: foreign affairs, defence, and communications, interfering with border and railway trade, and secretly lending Pakistan 15 million pounds.
“Naturally, the Indian government was apprehensive of India becoming Balkanized if Hyderabad remained independent. While Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought of resolving this secessionist effort through negotiations, Sardar Patel took a firm position and had no tolerance for negotiations, ordering the seizure and annexation of Hyderabad,” Osmania University history professor Satyanarayana said.
There were clear signals to the Nizam that India was planning to launch a military operation on Hyderabad. He started strengthening his own army, apart from large-scale recruitment by the Razakars. He was seeking support from the Portuguese administration in Goa and Pakistan.
During this period, communal clashes broke out in different parts of the Hyderabad state, leading to killings in Marathwada region and parts of Telangana under the Hyderabad state.
These developments hastened the Indian government for a forcible accession of the Hyderabad state. “In the summer of 1948, Indian officials, especially Patel, signalled an armed action against Hyderabad. Though Britain encouraged India to resolve the issue without the use of force, it refused Nizam’s requests for help,” Satyanarayana said.
The Nizam also made unsuccessful attempts to seek intervention of the United Nations. Nizam by a cablegram dated August 21, 1948 approached the United Nation’s Security Council, seeking interference. The UN was getting ready to take it up in the subsequent month but withdrew after Indian forces took over Hyderabad.
Hastened by the developments, the Indian military launched “Operation Polo,” which was also referred to, at a later date, as Operation Caterpillar, on September 13, 1948. An economic blockade was enforced, preventing entry of all essentials into the Hyderabad state. Emergency was declared when 36,000 Indian troops entered Hyderabad because the government was apprehensive about how the rest of India would react.
The troops were commanded by Major General J N Choudhary. It was a two pronged attack, the main force moving along the Sholapur-Hyderabad road covering a distance of 186 miles, while another division commanded by Major General Rudra marched along the Vijayawada-Hyderabad Road.
The Indian Air Force resorted to aerial bombing at Bidar and Gulbarga, inflicting several casualties. Similar bombing was done on Warangal airstrip, Naldrug, Jalkot, Kodad, Suryapet, attacking the enemy positions. “State troops and Razakars ran for the nearest shelter as soon as IAF aircraft appeared overhead,” Prasad said in his book.
The Indian Army under the overall supervision of Lt. General Rajendra Singh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command, entered into Hyderabad on the morning of September 13.
“After a little resistance during the first two days, the Razakars and Nizam’s forces fled from the field. On September 17, 1948 the Nizam’s forces under the command of Syed Ahmed El-Edroos surrendered to the government of India. The Nizam accepted his defeat and Hyderabad became a part of Indian Union,” Satyanarayana said.
It was estimated that 32 were killed and 97 injured on the Indian side and 490 killed and 122 wounded from Hyderabad.
The final call
At 4.30 pm on September 17, 1948, Nizam’s Prime Minister Mir Laik Ali made a statement from the Nagpur station of All India Radio (Akashwani), declaring ceasefire and announcing the resignation his cabinet, besides banning of the Razakars. Immediately afterwards, the Nizam issued a “farman” (order) over the radio, ordering a ceasefire with effect from 5 pm that day. He expressed his desire to “open a new chapter of friendliness” with India, and wanted his people to live in “integrated harmony” with the people of India.
The Nizam also disclosed that the complaint against India in the UN would not be pressed. On September 22, 1948, he informed the UN Secretary-General by cablegram that he had withdrawn the complaint and that the delegation to the Security Council, which had been sent at the instance of his former government, had ceased to have any authority to represent him or his State.
With the surrender of Nizam and Hyderabad state, the last and the biggest princely State of India had become an integral part of the Indian Union.
The Operation Polo, or the police action, was also not without a controversy. The operation was marred by allegations of massive excesses and atrocities perpetrated against the innocent Muslims of the Hyderabad state on and after September 17.
“The ruthlessness displayed by the military forces and mass encounters led to massacre of thousands of people and great human tragedy. Many others were killed in the hands of then Hindu communalists,” Satyanarayana said.
A three-member delegation of Congress leaders, consisting of Pandit Sunderlal, Kazi Abdul Ghaffar and Moulana Misri, toured Hyderabad for three weeks in December 1948 and submitted a report from ground zero. “According to this report, which was brought to light only in 2013, around 27,000-40,000 Muslims were killed by the Hindu fanatic elements, mainly in the Kannada and Marathwada regions,” Satyanarayana said.
Capt Reddy said they were more of revenge killings and loot. “But it is better not to rake up the old wounds. Hyderabad remained a peaceful state in the past and will continue to be one,” he added.