The Nizam who was a Muslim ruler—administered over the majority Hindu subjects—conferring enormous powers to feudal landlords, who in turn exploited the masses. Urdu was encouraged over native Telugu as medium of instruction and in administration, making education and jobs inaccessible to locals.
The freedom movement too had an impact on the Hyderabad state as the Congress and the Communists became politically active opposing the Nizam’s rule. The Communists led a popular resistance called Telangana peasants’ armed struggle starting from 1946 against the feudal landlords and the Nizam’s rule.
India gained independence from Britain on 15 August, 1947, and the Nizam, already weakened by the peasant revolt was under intense pressure by India to accede Hyderabad.
Qasim Razvi, an Aligarh-educated Muslim fanatic, who became increasingly influential during the last years of Nizam’s rule organized private militia called Razakars. The Razakars, who feared end of Muslim rule in Hyderabad, terrified people by looting, killing and rape for speaking-up against the Nizam’s rule.
The Razakars further alienated people from Nizam’s rule making it fittest case for India to intervene and liberate Hyderabad on 17 September.
The “police action” was followed by an unprecedented killings, loot and rape targeted against Muslims mainly in the stronghold regions of the Razakars
K.M.Munshi Indian Government’s envoy and Agent General to Hyderabad, received the invite for a meeting at 4PM with last Nizam Asaf Jha VII. Time magazine in it’s February 1937 edition, had put him on the cover page and called him the world’s richest man, a man who used the 100 million $ worth Jacob’s Diamond as a paper weight, and whose personal fortune ran into billions and presided over a kingdom that was around 215,339 sqkm in area, the largest of all the princely states in India. The State of Hyderabad covered the present day Marathwada in Maharashtra, Northern Karnataka, and the Telangana region. It had a population of 16.34 million as per the 1941 census, the majority of whom were Hindu, around 85%, with Muslims making up 12% and the rest being Christians, Sikhs, Parsis. Though predominantly Telugu speaking around 48%, it had significant population of Marathi(26.4%), Kannada(12.3%) and Urdu(10.3%) speakers.
The bespectacled, unassuming lawyer on the other hand hailed from a relatively humble family, in Broach, Gujarat, and was educated in Baroda, known to be excellent at academics too. Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, aka K.M.Munshi, was a student of Aurobindo Ghosh, at Baroda, later made a name for himself as a successful lawyer, in Bombay, and was also a well known writer too. Starting off as a revolutionary, he later took active part in the Bardoli Satyagraha along with Sardar Patel, and one of his more well known achievement was founding of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1938.
It was a vindication of sorts, for Munshi, that the Nizam who till then had ignored him, was now seeking to have an audience with him. The day before, the Nizam had demanded the resignation of his Prime Minister, Laik Ali and his entire cabinet. And when Munshi met him, the world’s richest and till then one of the most powerful men, declared with an air of resignation and helplessness “The vultures have resigned, I don’t know what to do”.
The Laik Ali Ministry at Hyderabad resigned, and on the same day at 5:00 pm, the Nizam broadcasted on his Deccan Radio that he was ordering the cease-fire, announced the state’s capitulation, welcomed the ‘police action’ and informed the people of the withdrawal of Hyderabad’s representation before the security council.
UN refused to pay heed to the Nizam Surrender, arguing that the withdrawal was under duress and kept it alive for another 50 years.
Pandu Ranga Reddy believes that it was because of the case still being alive at the UN that Hyderabad state was merged with Andhra state to form Andhra Pradesh in 1956.
"The idea was to remove Hyderabad state as an entity from the map. I believe that in 1969, when the demand to form Telangana came up, (then Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi did not agree to it because she knew a case was on in the UN and it would not be prudent to create Telangana which was the same geographical area as old Hyderabad state," says Reddy.
September 18, 1948, General Choudhary entered Hyderabad and arrested Laik Ali and his colleagues, and the Nizam's private army Chief (called as the Razakaars) Kazim Razvi.
August 15, 1947 - India had become independent, and the Hyderabad State Congress leaders celebrated it by hoisting the national flag, they were promptly arrested by the Nizam’s police. The Nizam had earlier requested the British Government for Hyderabad State to be an independent constitutional monarchy, under the Commonwealth, which however was rejected. The Nizam refused to sign the Instrument of Accession, and instead declared Hyderabad as an independent nation. For Sardar Patel, the existence of an independent country right in the heart of India, was too great a risk, he could never allow it, he was determined to integrate it, even if force was needed. Lord Mountbatten advised Sardar to avoid force, and try seeking a peaceful solution to the issue.
November, 1947 : It was then that the Central Govt came up with the Standstill Agreement, in November,1947, which only sought an assurance, that Hyderabad would not accede to Pakistan, and status quo would be maintained. In accordance with the Standstill Agreement, K.M.Munshi was appointed the Indian Government’s envoy and Agent General to Hyderabad. There was a good reason why Sardar had choosen Munshi for the responsibility, he had earlier been the Home Minister in Bombay from 1937-39, and handled the communally charged situation there well. Munshi had been living in virtual house arrest, was treated with disdain and suspicion by the Nizam’s Government and was living in some buildings that belonged to the Indian Army. The major issue though was something more serious, hardly was the Standstill Agreement signed, when the Nizam, passed two ordinances in quick succession. One was the restriction on export of precious minerals from Hyderabad to India, and another was declaring Indian currency as not legal tender in the state, both of them in violation of the Standstill Agreement.
Nizam used this Standstill Agreement to request world leaders, the UN and other Muslim nations to intervene and assist in Hyderabad’s independence attempts. He requested for intervention of UN, and also arbitration by the US President Harry Truman, both the efforts in vain though. While Churchill and the Conservatives supported the Nizam, the then Labor Govt headed by Clement Atlee decided to keep a hands off approach on the whole issue. The tipping point however came when the Nizam’s Govt, advanced a loan of Rs 20 cr to Pakistan, in form of Govt of India securities.
Razakars had become a law unto themselves, carrying out a terror campaign of ethnic cleansing, torture, rape, loot and arson, against Hindus and Muslims who were in favor of integration with India.
“In November last , a small group which had organized a quasi-military organization surrounded the homes of my Prime Minister, the Nawab of Chhatari, in whose wisdom I had complete confidence, and of Sir Walter Monkton, my constitutional Adviser, by duress compelled the Nawab and other trusted ministers to resign and forced the Laik Ali Ministry on me. This group headed by Kasim Razvi had no stake in the country or any record of service behind it. By methods reminiscent of Hitlerite Germany it took possession of the State, spread terror … and rendered me completely helpless.”–The Nizam in his radio speech, Sept 23,1948.
To understand the genesis of the Razakars, one needs to go back further to the Telangana rebellion, that broke out in 1946. For a long time, the rural parts of Hyderabad State, were divided into what was called as Samsthanams, essentially pieces of feudal territories, who ran a brutal and often oppressive rule. They owned most of the land, and collected the taxes from the poor peasantry, and keeping them in perpetual bonded labor( called as Vetti Chakiri). These landlords were the masters of their own land, and had a good bonding with the Nizam and his nobles.
The Nizam on the other hand, hardly had any control over these lands, and let the Doras run it as per their own free whims, it was pretty much a quid pro quo arrangement.
It was an unlikely person,who would spark off the Telangana revolt, a doughty woman activist called Chakali Illamma, who fought against the local Zamindar’s attempt to take over 4 acres of her land. That sparked off a revolt all over Telangana, with the communists jumping into the fray, and liberating many villages from the feudal lords.
The revolt against the Telangana doras, that essentially was against bonded labor and exploitation, saw the Nizam himself become the target. To the villagers and activists, the exploitative landlords, were essentially stooges of the Nizam himself.One of the more popular revolutionary songs of that period was “Bandenaka Bandi Katti, Padaharu Ballu Katti, Nenosthanu koduka ra Nizam sarakaroda”. Loosely translated it means “Tying one cart after another, and 16 carts in tow, I am coming for you stooge of the Nizam”. Rural discontent was high against the Nizam, on one side the Communist leaders like Sundarayya, Ch.Rajeswara Rao , on the other side, Congress leaders like Swami Ramananda Teertha, P.V.Narasimha Rao, rising up against his rule. There was another reason too for the simmering discontent, in spite of the fact that Hindus constituted 85% of the population in Hyderabad State as per 1941 census, with Muslims making up 12%, they were severely under represented in the Government. The Army had 1268 Muslim officers and only 421 Hindu officers, in a strength of 1765, most of the highly paid officers were Muslim, and the Nizam and his nobles owned 40% of the land. Faced with growing discontent, and also the fear of a Hindu uprising, the Nizam gave a free hand to Qasim Rizvi to set up the Razakars,to counter it.
Qasim Rizvi, an advocate from Latur, had joined the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen(MIM), which was founded by Nawab Mahmood Nawaz Khan Qiledar, on the advice of the Nizam himself, and it’s first meeting was held in 1927. The aim of the MIM was to establish a Muslim dominion rather than integration with India, it was however under Bahadur Yar Jung, that it acquired the radical character. Yar Jung wanted Hyderabad to be a separate Islamic state independent of India, governed by Sharia. Known for his oratory, and a close friend of Mohd.Ali Jinnah and Mohd.Iqbal, he was one of the leading advocates of Pakistan. Rizvi by then had already risen in the ranks, and was a close confidante to Bahadur Yar Jung, and when the latter died suddenly in 1944, he took over the MIM. He then set up the Razakars, a fanatic, dreaded militia, that was the equivalent of Mussolini’s Black Shirts and Hitler’s Storm troopers, and this had the blessings of the Nizam. The Nizam encourages Rizvi and the Razakars, in order to counter the rising discontent among the rural population, and also the protests by the Communists and the Hyderabad State Congress.
The Razakars unleashed a reign of terror in Hyderabad State, with their storm-trooping acts. Villages were attacked in the middle of night, and after rounding the mostly Hindu residents up, they were massacred en masse. There have been eye witness accounts from some villagers, who managed to escape the Razakar’s by playing dead,often having to lie still on a pile of corpses. In some cases, the villagers fled to the nearest jungle or one of the numerous uninhabited mud forts to escape the Razakars. Rape, arson, torture, looting, were common tactics by the Razakars to intimidate the population. Much as the Nizam later protested he was a mere pawn, in the hands of the Razakars, the fact is that he was responsible for funding them, and also providing them arms. It was a Frankenstein he had created, with encouragement from Jinnah, Qasim Rizvi soon became more powerful than the Nizam. He was not just against Hindus, even those Muslims who did not favor integration with Pakistan, and wanted to be a part of India were targeted. A young Muslim journalist Shoebullah Khan who favored integration with India, was murdered. The Nawab of Chattari, Mir Mohd Said Khan was forced out by Rizvi in favor of the more fanatical Mir Laki, and also a close friend of Rizvi. Sir Walter Monckton, the advisor to the Nizam, resigned, in protest against the Razakar attacks on him. It was not for nothing Sardar Patel told the Nizam, after his surrender, when the latter said “To err is human”, “Yes it may be true, but errors always have consequences”.
Operation Polo code name for The Hyderabad Police Action was a military operation from September 13 to 17 1948 in which the Indian Armed Forces invaded the State of Hyderabad and ended the rule of Nizam, annexing the state into the Indian Union.
September 1948 : After a stalemate in negotiations between the Nizam and India, and wary of a hostile independent state in the centre of India and when the Nizam’s Govt, sent their external Affairs Minister, Nawab Moin Nawaz Jung to the UN Security Council, in September 1948, Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel decided to annex the state of Hyderabad.
After making a careful study, the decision was finally communicated to the Southern Command, who recommended September 13 as the best date to start the operations. The official Hyderabad State Army was actually more or less a sub unit of the Razakars, consider this, the total strength of the Nizam’s Army was 22,000 while the Razakar’s made up around 200,000, clearly a case of the tail wagging the dog. The Army was led by El Eldroos, a close confidante of the Nizam, of Arab Hadrami origin, who had fought in both the World Wars, however an utterly inept commander and strategist to boot. The Hyderabad Army actually was more a collection of mercenaries, which included Arabs, Rohillas, Pathans and Muslims from Uttar Pradesh. Though the Razakars made up the bulk of the Army, only 25 % of them were armed with modern weaponry, the rest used swords and outdated equipment. What it meant is that while the Razakars could harass and bully, hapless, defenseless civilians, they just were not equipped for actual combat.
The Indian Army was commanded by Gen. Jayanto Nath Chaudhari, a graduated from Kolkata’s St Xavier’s nicknamed as Mucho, and who had fought in the deserts of Africa as well as the Middle East during WWII. The final plan for Operation Polo (so called because of the large number of polo grounds in Hyderabad then), was formulated by Lt.Gen. Eric Goddard, GOC of the Southern Command of India and named after him. It was however Lt.Gen Sri Rajendrasinhji Jadeja, who belonged to the Jamnagar Royal family, who actually supervised the operation when he took over as GOC of the Southern Command, from Goddard. The plan envisaged two thrusts into Hyderabad, one from the Western side by Gen. J.N.Chaudhari , that would begin from Sholapur, and had 2 infantry brigades, one armored brigade and a strike force. The other thrust from the Eastern side, would be led by Gen.A.A.Rudra that would start from Vijayawada, which consisted of the Gurkha Rifles, 4 Infantry Battalions, and one squadron of the Poona 17th Horse.
On Day 1, September 13th, a fierce battle was fought at Naldurg Fort near Solapur, where the 2nd Sikh Infantry, managed to secure the fort, after resistance from 1 Hyderabad Infantry. There was resistance in the towns of Jalkot and Tuljapur from the Razakars, the latter town saw a 2 hr long battle, that finally saw the Razakars losing out. On the Eastern front, there was major resistance from two armored units of the Hyderabad State Army, consisting of Humbers and Staghounds, before they were overpowered and managed to reach the town of Kodad in Nalgonda district. From the other end, Hospet was captured from the Razakars, while the 5/5 Gurkha Rifles managed to secure a vital bridge over the Tungabhadra River.
September 14, 1948 : On Day 2, Osmanabad faced an attack from the Gurkha Rifles and an 8th cavalry squadron, as they attacked the city. There was heavy street to street fighting between the Indian army and the Razakars, who put up a fierce resistance, before the own finally fell. Aurangabad was attacked by six infantry and cavalry columns under Maj.Gen.D.S.Brar, and soon the civil administration surrendered.
September 15, 1948 : Jalna fell on Day 3, Sept 15, while air strikes by the Indian Air Force, cleared the town of Suryapet in Nalgonda, which fell to the Indian Army.
September 16, 1948 : Zahirabad fell to the Indian Army on Day 4, Sept 16, though they still kept facing ambush attacks from the Razakars.
September 17, 1948 : Finally on September 17th, 1948, the Indian Army entered the town of Bidar now in Karnataka, while another column took over the town of Chityal, in Nalgonda district, around 60 KM from Hyderabad. With Hingoli in Maharashtra, also falling to the Indian Army, the Nizam knew he had lost the game. The Hyderabad State Army was utterly routed, with 490 dead and 122 injured, and around 1647 becoming prisoners. The Razakar’s fared even worse, they lost 1373 of their men, and 1911 were captured, and with it their pipe dream of hosting an independent Hyderabad too. The Nizam announced the ceasefire, at 5 PM IST, disbanded the Razakars and allowed the Indian Army entry into Hyderabad. On September 18, El Edroos, met J.N.Chaudhuri and surrendered to him, while Qasim Rizvi was arrested by the Indian Government. Laik Ali was kept in house arrest, at Begumpet, from where he managed to escape in 1950. It also effectively ended the 235 yr old rule of the Asaf Jah Dynasty, which at it’s peak had extended from Malwa in the North to Trichy in the South, and was the last vestige of the Mughal rule in India.
The Nizam after Operation Polo, quite often positioned himself as a helpless victim of the Razakars, a quasi military organization, founded by Qasim Rizvi, that wanted to integrate Hyderabad with Pakistan, and run it as per the Sharia. Some others too have come up with the position, that the Nizam was essentially a decent, well meaning man, who was helpless before the Razakar’s storm trooper style tactics. While there is some amount of truth in that, the fact is that the Razakars were the Nizam’s own creation, or as some one put it his “Frankenstein creation”.
Why did the Nizam and his men have so much confidence on themselves?
Firstly they felt that even if India were to resort to an economic blockade, Hyderabad State had enough capability to stand on it’s own. They felt that a newly independent India did not have enough military firepower to undertake any action. Also even if India, did take action, all the Muslim nations would automatically come forward to help it, and the UN would be forced to intervene. Hyderabad state radio, announced that if India were to invade Hyderabad, some thousands of Pathans would come to the rescue of Hyderabad. And above all, you had Qasim Rizvi, the Razakar’s chief, who declared that if India were to attack Hyderabad ” Nothing but the bones and ashes of 10.5 million Hindus would be found”. Sardar Patel categorically replied back “If you threaten us with violence, swords will be met with swords”. There was a section in the Indian Govt too, that was apprehensive of retaliatory large scale communal violence, against Muslims in other parts of India, should the Hindus face the brunt of any communal violence in Hyderabad. Also fears of Pakistan attacking India, and the Nizam’s own air-force bombing other cities in India, were there. The Nizam too was busy arming himself, with the help of the Portugese in Goa , Pakistan and a certain Australian arms dealer called Sidney Cotton, who ran missions into Hyderabad. Lord Mountbatten in the meanwhile had left India in June, 1948, and that was a huge blow to the Nizam, who was hoping he would somehow help him out. Matter of fact, years later, after Operation Polo, when the Nizam’s daughter in law Durrushevar, met Mountbatten at a party, she coldly fired at him “You have let us down”. There still was resistance to Patel’s idea, from the then Commander in Chief of the Indian Army, Sir Roy Bucher, who felt that Hyderabad would be an additional front for the Indian forces already facing a conflict in Kashmir, but Sardar put his foot down.
Pandit Sundarlal Committee Report
A confidential government report said at least 27,000 to 40,000 people lost their lives during and after Indian troops entered Hyderabad state to force the ruler to surrender.
"There were more like revenge killings as well as loot. More so of Muslim traders particularly in the districts that today are part of Karnataka and Maharashtra,"' says Captain Pandu Ranga Reddy, a researcher.
It is a significant fact that the four worst effected districts (Osmanabad, Gulburga, Bidar and Nanded) had been the strong hold of Razakars.
A three-member delegation of Congress leaders, consisting of Pandit Sunderlal, Kazi Abdul Ghaffar and Moulana Misri, toured Hyderabad for three weeks from 29 Nov to 21 December, 1948 and submitted a report from ground zero.
A request by Pandu Ranga Reddy to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teenmurti House in New Delhi asked for the Sunderlal report on Hyderabad, through the RTI Act. The library replied to Reddy that the said report was not available. However, historian Md Safiullah, using his influential contacts, could finally procure a copy of the report.
The report under a heading 'Killing and Looting' states: "We can say at a very conservative estimate that in the whole state at least 27,000 to 40,000 people lost their lives during and after Police Action".
Historians say the then government was not pleased with the work done by the committee, with Patel personally chiding the members. "I have copies of the letters written by Sardar Patel to Kazi Abdul Ghaffar asking him who asked you to go to Hyderabad. Who asked you to report all these things about the Government of India?' says Safiullah.
Interestingly, the first Emergency of independent India was declared in September 1948.
A state of Emergency was declared when 36,000 Indian troops entered Hyderabad because the government was apprehensive how the minorities in other parts of India would react to this takeover.
The Sunderlal team visited dozens of villages and at each one they carefully chronicled the accounts of Muslims who had survived the appalling violence: "We had absolutely unimpeachable evidence to the effect that there were instances in which men belonging to the Indian Army and also to the local police took part in looting and even other crimes.
"During our tour we gathered, at not a few places, that soldiers encouraged, persuaded and in a few cases even compelled the Hindu mob to loot Muslim shops and houses."
The team reported that while Muslim villagers were disarmed by the Indian Army, Hindus were often left with their weapons. The mob violence that ensued was often led by Hindu paramilitary groups.
In other cases, it said, Indian soldiers themselves took an active hand in the butchery: "At a number of places members of the armed forces brought out Muslim adult males from villages and towns and massacred them in cold blood."
The investigation team also reported, however, that in many other instances the Indian Army had behaved well and protected Muslims.
The backlash was said to have been in response to many years of intimidation and violence against Hindus by the Razakars.
In confidential notes attached to the Sunderlal report, its authors detailed the gruesome nature of the Hindu revenge: "In many places we were shown wells still full of corpses that were rotting. In one such we counted 11 bodies, which included that of a woman with a small child sticking to her breast. "
And it went on: "We saw remnants of corpses lying in ditches. At several places the bodies had been burnt and we would see the charred bones and skulls still lying there."
From the depressing picture presented, only silver lining to the dark clouds of communal strife, instances in which Hindus defended and given protection to there Muslim neighbours, men and women even at the cost of their own lives.