Hyderabad’s Road to Freedom

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    It’s hard to imagine today, but it took a whole year for a large swathe of land in the South West region of India - the erstwhile state of Hyderabad, stretching from Aurangabad in Maharashtra to Raichur in Karnataka- to become part of a united and free India. The Nizam of Hyderabad was one of the three Indian Princes, along with those of Junagadh and Kashmir, who refused to sign the ‘Instrument of Accession’ and join India. While Pakistan sponsored raids forced the Maharaja of Kashmir to turn to India for help and a popular revolt forced the Nawab of Junagadh to flee to Pakistan leaving his kingdom behind, it took the Indian Army and a major offensive called ‘Operation Polo’, to mark the end of the Asaf Jahi Nizam of Hyderabad in 1948.

    Hyderabad, at that time, represented the most prominent Muslim state in India and so it was not surprising that it received a lot of support from Pakistan’s Muslim League and Jinnah himself. The Asaf Jahi Dynasty of Hyderabad traced its origins in 1712 CE, when Mir Qamar-ud-Din Khan Asaf Jah I, a noble from the Mughal court who was appointed the Governor of the Deccan. It was a powerful job, as it gave him jurisdiction over all of peninsular India from the Narmada to Kanyakumari. There is an interesting story of how Qamar-ud-Din went on to start a dynasty. His spiritual guide, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aurangabadi played a critical role in seeding the idea in the most unique way. On a visit to him, the holy seer had predicted that Asaf Jah’s family would rule for seven generations after he had eaten seven kulchas given to him by the saint. It was an eerie coincidence that in 1948 when the dynasty fell, it was Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh descendant of Asaf Jah I, who was ruling the throne.

    Not that Osman Ali Khan was perturbed by the prophecy. In 1947, while other princely states had joined the Indian union, he was already dreaming of turning Hyderabad into an independent country. Larger in size than Ireland at that point, Hyderabad was India’s biggest princely state with its own army, air force, currency, telegraph, railways and even its own airlines called Deccan Airways (not to be confused with the Deccan Airways of recent times). The only thing that was missing was a seaport. Bizarre as it may sound, the Nizam of Hyderabad was actively considering buying Goa, across the other end of Peninsular India, from the Portuguese! In parallel, the Nizam’s government was also planning the expansion of its territories. It wanted to lease all the valuable coal mines of Bastar and take control of Bastar state, located close to Hyderabad. While these grand plans were being made in the palaces of Hyderabad, there was one thing that the Nizam desperately needed to be independent, the support of his people. Something he just didn't have!

    The Nizam of Hyderabad was considering buying Goa from the Portuguese

    Despite all the fabulous wealth of the Nizams and the grandeur of the Hyderabad state, the majority of people in the kingdom were desperately poor and backward. A small section ofjagirdars or landlords owned most of the land. Such was the brutal oppression of the peasantry that in 1946, a large section of peasants in Telangana took up arms against the landlords and the Nizam’s government. This came to be known as the ‘Telangana Rebellion’.

    Around the same time, a more sinister force was gathering power in Hyderabad state. 90% of Hyderabad’s population comprised of Hindus but the majority of the ruling elite were Muslims. In the 1940s, a Muslim political party known as Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party had gained great power in Hyderabad. Its leader was a man named Qasim Razvi, who was notorious for his vitriolic and inflammatory speeches. Razvi had organized a private militia called the ‘Razakars. Over time, the militia grew into 2,00,000 armed men and they wanted to establish an independent Islamic state in Hyderabad- referred to by some as ‘Osmanistan. The Razakars carried out terrible atrocities on the Hindu population, which forced them to flee the state. The Razakars even murdered moderate Muslims, like the fearless journalist Shoebullah Khan who was killed and his hand cut off as a warning to other moderates, who dared to lift their pen against the Nizam and the Razakars.

    Razvi had organized a private militia called the ‘Razakars

    Initially, Nizam Osman Ali Khan provided tacit support to the Razakars, thinking they could be used as pawns. However, the Razakars soon got out of hand. Qasim Razvi forced the Nizam to appoint his nominee, a businessman named Laiq Ali, as Prime Minister of Hyderabad. With this appointment, no government official or policeman could go against the Razakars. They had taken complete control. Razvi boasted that he would plant the Hyderabadi flag on Red Fort in Delhi.

    While the Razakars were carrying out atrocities against the locals, hectic discussions were taking place in Delhi about what was to be done to get the situation in Hyderabad under control. In an attempt to pre-empt a dangerous confrontation and prevent a repeat of the bloodshed that had been seen following the partition, India and Hyderabad had signed a ‘Standstill Agreement’ in 1947. Under this agreement, it was decided that a status quo would be maintained between the two and there would be no military action. However, Hyderabad kept violating this.

    The Razakars were carrying out atrocities against the locals

    The Nizam’s government gave Rs. 20 crore to Pakistan as financial aid in violation of the agreement and also banned Indian currency in its territory. Arms and ammunition were being smuggled into Hyderabad through secret flights.

    Razakars were attacking villages in Indian territory and even Indian trains passing through Hyderabad. India’s Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who had successfully brought all of the over 500 Princely States within the folds of India, famously described Hyderabad as an ‘Ulcer in the heart of India’. This, he believed would have to be removed surgically.

    On 12th April 1948, Qasim Razvi, the head of the Razakars gave a fiery speech. In this, he warned that if the Indian Army ever attacked Hyderabad

    it will find nothing but the bones and ashes of the one and half crore Hindus.’

    On May 8th, 1948- the threat was partially carried out. The village of Gorta in the Bidar district of the state witnessed a horrific massacre. As the village had resisted the advances of the Razakars, on May 8, 1948, a large group of these militias entered the village and killed all the villagers. Around 200 people are said to have died in the massacre.

    With things spiraling out of control, the Indian Government stepped in

    In another incident in July 1948, a large number of villagers in Gundrampally village of Telangana were rounded up and shot by the Razakars and their bodies dumped in a well. In August 1948, almost every able bodied man was killed in Bhairanpally village of Telangana, which had resisted the Razakars. The violence was increasing at such an alarming rate that refugees were pouring into Indian territory, fleeing Razakar atrocities.

    With things spiraling out of control, the Indian Government stepped in. Sardar Patel along with the head of the 1st Armored Division, General J.N Chaudhari, planned a military operation to take control of Hyderabad state and put an end to the atrocities of the Razakars. On 13th September 1948, it was announced that the Indian Army would occupy the Secunderabad Cantonment. This is how military action began days after Jinnah’s death in Pakistan on 11th September 1948.

    Code-named ‘Operation Polo’, the Indian army entered Hyderabad through two main thrusts, one from Solapur in Maharashtra and the other from Vijayawada. The aim was to take control of Hyderabad city as soon as possible.

    The first battle was fought at the historic Adilshahi fort of Naldurg near Solapur. The Hyderabadi army came under heavy fire and had to retreat. On the second day, 14th September 1948, the city of Aurangabad had been captured. This was a bitter blow to the Nizam as it was the second largest city in the kingdom. Now the Indian Army was marching rapidly towards Hyderabad.

    Rare footage of the surrender of Hyderabad to the Indian Army and the public jubilation that followed

    Hyderabad radio meanwhile was falsely broadcasting news of victories against the Indian Army. So it came as a huge shock to the Hyderabadi establishment that the Indian Army had reached Zahirabad, just 115 kms away from Hyderabad city. A shaken Nizam called for the Prime Minister Laiq Ali and asked him to resign. On 17th September 1948, the Nizam asked Kanhaiyalal Munshi, the Indian Government’s representative in Hyderabad to come to his palace. The Nizam, records claim, was so shaken up that he had no idea what to do. Munshi advised the Nizam to surrender unconditionally. The Nizam promptly ordered the Commander-in-Chief of the Hyderabad army to surrender immediately. The Nizam then drove to the Hyderabad Radio Centre, where he made a broadcast announcing his willingness to join the Indian union. On 18th September 1948, a formal surrender ceremony was held in which the Hyderabad army surrendered to the Indian Army.

    A wave of jubilation spread across Hyderabad. Huge crowds took to the streets with Indian flags to celebrate and a new era was ushered in. Hyderabad was placed under military administration under General Chaudhari. The administration carried out several reforms including the abolition of the Jagirdari system and curbed the atrocities of the Razakars. In 1950, an ICS officer named, M.K Vellodi was appointed as Chief Minister of Hyderabad State by the Indian Government. In 1956, the erstwhile Nizam's domains were reorganized on linguistic lines. The Hyderabad state was divided between Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

    Thus ended the saga of the liberation of Hyderabad. One of the bloodiest and lesser-known episodes of modern Indian history.

    Cover Image: Major General El Edroos offering his surrender of the Hyderabad State Forces to Major General J. N. Chaudhuri at Secunderabad/ Wikimedia Commons

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