Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It Was 60 Years Ago Today

One of the most fascinating chapters in recent history is the sequence of events that led to the integration of the Nizam’s state of Hyderabad with the Indian Union. It’s odd that in all the years I’ve lived in Hyderabad, it never occurred to me to ask what precisely its 400 year old history was. Talking recently to a friend, a 70 year old gentleman whose family held various semi-official positions during the Nizam’s time, it occurred to me that the generation that lived through what is euphemistically called The Police Action of September 1948*, will soon no longer be able to share its stories.

Roughly, this is what happened. A whole year after Indian Independence, the fate of Hyderabad was still undecided. In November, the Indian Government had persuaded the Nizam to sign the Standstill Agreement, which gave him a year before he had to choose between accession and war (though the British Government had stated that all princely states could choose either to join India or Pakistan).

The Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, wealthy beyond belief and famously parsimonious,** had no idea what he wanted to do. Ideally, he would have liked the State of Hyderabad to be entirely Independent but this was something the British flatly refused to consider. He had to choose and it was a hard choice to make.

Sardar Patel, whose task it was to persuade the princely states to join India, had no intention of letting Hyderabad become a part of Pakistan; to have a large portion of the Deccan belong to another country – a newly created and hostile one at that – was simply not an option. Patel sent K M Munshi, freedom fighter, confidant, fellow-Gujarati (and – though this was slightly relevant in that it indicated his position on the political spectrum - founder of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), as Agent-General to the state of Hyderabad. For ten months, Munshi tried to persuade the Nizam and his Prime Minister, Laiq Ali Khan, of the wisdom of joining India.

Hyderabad, at the time, was curiously divided: there were the usual communal tensions that affected the rest of the sub-continent before, during and after Partition; the Razakars, led by Qasim Rizvi (a man who was usually described as ‘charismatic’), became an informal private army to the Nizam, and terrorised the Hindu population. Simultaneously, the The Telangana Rebellion – where farmers of the Telangana region were led by the then undivided CPI in an armed rebellion against the Nizam in order to obtain the redistribution of land – threatened the tenuous stability of the State of Hyderabad. Daily life, in the one year since Independence and the ten to eleven months since The Standstill Agreement, was uncertain and full of strife.

In August, when it became clear that India would not countenance an Independent Hyderabad or one that was a part of Pakistan, the Nizam began to simultaneously move his assets out to England*** and prepare for war.

July and August 1948 was a period of high intrigue, with spies and secret informants from the Nizam’s army****, aircrafts flying out in the dead of night, bounties and rewards offered. Frantic phone calls and telegrams flew between Munshi and Patel. These are excerpts from Munshi’s diary of the time*****

August 31, 1948:

Have sent a wireless to Sardar pressing for early military action, if not, at least for the complete sealing off of Hyderabad.

The Nizam’s Legislative Assembly started yesterday with all the pageantry of an independent parliament.

September 2, 1948:

Brown of the Daily Telegraph has sent a most vicious telegram about the situation comparing India with Nazi Germany, me with Ribbentrop and Hyderabad as the happy land of peace.

September 4th, 1948:

Very much perturbed at the excellent international propaganda which Hyderabad is conducting.

September 5, 1948:

Laik Ali’s speech delivered yesterday is a declaration of independence. Though couched in polite terms there is a note of defiance throughout. Evidently, he is smarting under Sardar’s comparison of the Hyderabad delegation [to the UN] with the Zamindars of Madras.

September 7, 1948:

Panditji announced in Parliament the final demands made on the Nizam: (a) banning of the Razakars, and (b) reposting of army to Secunderabad.

At 4pm the Nizam signed a mobilisation order,

Later, another wireless from the States Ministry about the incident near Kodada. Indian Army men have been captured by some men of the Nizam’s Army and the Razakars. Sent a protest to Laik Ali at 9pm.

September 8, 1948:

Hyderabad is in a panic.

On 13th September 1948, the Indian Army entered Hyderabad territory. Operation Polo had begun. In five days, the Nizam’s army and the Razakars, were routed and at 4pm the Nizam sent for Munshi, indicating the Laiq Ali had resigned and he himself was ready to surrender. In his broadcast that evening, the Nizam said he had ‘ordered a ceasefire to [his] troops’, banned the Razakars and allowed ‘the Indian Union to occupy Bolarum and Secunderabad.’ Later, on the 22nd, in an address to the Muslim Nations, he gave the world to understand that he had been put upon and had the Laiq Ali Ministry thrust on him; that he was helpless to prevent the excesses of the Razakars; that though he was a Muslim, his ‘ancestors never made any difference between the 86% Hindus and the 14% Muslims in the State’.

It took one day for Major-General J.N.Chaudhury to reach Hyderabad (he had to get past the mines that had been salted around the city; the person who was responsible for it said that he didn’t have a map of the mines and so had to lead the surrendering contingent past the mined area as punishment). On the 18th, At Hyderabad Army surrendered, though the Nizam had already done so publicly on the 17th.

There was looting and rape and the Indian Army’s hands were not especially clean at the end of it – whatever Munshi’s memoir says (Munshi’s memoir is by turns pious, self-serving, gossipy and illuminating. It is essential reading.)

Hyderabad was now a part of India. Eight years later, with Potti Sriramulu’s agitation for the reorganisation of states into linguistically determined entities, the Hyderabad of the Asaf Jahi dynasty ceased to exist: the Marathi, Kannada and Telugu speaking regions were reorganised, with Hyderabad City becoming the capital of Andhra Pradesh. The Telangana movement was postponed for five decades.


*The police had nothing to do with Operation Polo; the Indian Army, led by J.N.Chaudhury, invaded the Nizam’s territories and the Nizam finally surrendered on the 17th of September, 2008 – 60 years ago today.

**One story goes that he refused to have his private rooms dusted. This way, he would know if any article of vertu precious to him went missing. Another story alleged that the money he received on his birthday – which the Nizam traditionally touched as a mark of acceptance and returned – he kept.

***A battle to recover these assets is still being fought in the courts, with both India and Pakistan claiming ownership of the money.

**** The ‘Sound Silent’ of the Nizam’s Army, it turned out, was one Reddy who knew what the Indian Army was trying to do and fed it exaggerated reports of the Hyderabad Army’s strength, with the consent of Major-General El Edroos.

***** from The End of an Ear: Hyderabad Memoirs. K.M.Munshi. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 1957.

Other essential reading/viewing:

From Autocracy to Integration

Gautam Ghose’s Maa Bhoomi


Banno said...

Though I didn't think much of the film, 'Sardar Patel' by Ketan Mehta, one of the most powerful scenes in the film is between Liaq Ali Khan and Patel over the issue of Hyderabad. (I think it was Patel in the film, and not Munshi)

Also, KM Munshi is one of the most powerful writers in Gujarati. His historical novels are really well-written. Wonder when he had the time.

??! said...

There's a whole segment devoted to his idiosyncracies in Freedom at Midnight, which may or may not be true. But I always remember the bit about him having this silver toy-train, through which meals were served at dinner tables, and how he would whizz the dishes past someone he wanted to snub.

What a wonderfully weird man.

Space Bar said...

banno: he spent a large part of his ten months in hyd writing Deval Devi. :D

??!: Heh! Gravy train, huh?

km said...

Fascinating stuff.

//Though I am shocked that not one telegraph makes a mention of mirchi ka salaan or qurbani ka meetha.

Space Bar said...

km: er...that 'qubani'. though sweet fruit of sacrifice also sounds good.

km said...

Freudian slip. Of course it is qubani. And here's looking at Zeenat.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting - thanks for sharing.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Fascinating, as km says.

Did you come across this article some time ago, by William Dalrymple, on what became of the Nizam's riches? I found the story of the Turkish daughter-in-law who finally took their finances in hand amazing.

But it remarks of the last days of the Nizam's rule: "He was as mad as a coot and his chief wife was raving," I was told by Iris Portal, sister of the British politician Rab Butler. She had worked in Hyderabad before independence: "It was like living in France on the eve of the revolution. All the power was in the hands of the Muslim nobility. They spent money like water, and were terrible, irresponsible landlords, but they could be very charming and sophisticated as well. They would take us shooting, talking all the while about their trips to England or to Cannes and Paris, although in many ways Hyderabad was still in the middle ages and the villages we would pass through were often desperately poor. You couldn't help feeling that the whole great baroque structure could come crashing down at any minute."

Space Bar said...

ano, rahul: thanks.

Rahul: Thanks for the link - I hadn't read it.

??! said...

Looking at that article, I was trying to imagine how he possibly thought buying Goa would make sense.

I found this map online, and you can clearly see how a large of the then-state of Bombay would be in the middle.

Although, if he had succeeded, it would certainly have made things a little more interesting.

gaddeswarup said...

Did you try totranslate 'bandenuka bandi gatti'?
I vaguely remember this period ( Iwas born in 1941) from the coastal side. Years are a bit blurred now. Some relatives were killed or went underground. One Moturi Hanumantha Rao(?) went underground and his children shifted to the village where my father was a headmaster. I remember one night he came and stayed with us and the next morning brushing his teeth with vepapulla. By next year he was gone. His daughter changed her name to vijayalakshmi. Very pretty girl but had problems with marriage and finally married an uncle. Malabar police came and people were scared. They used to come, rummage houses, took people to the sands of Krishna river and we heard of various atrocities and some villages burnt. They visited one of my uncles' houses in Pesarlanka. No traumas there but I remember my aunt throwing away the glass tumblers after they left because they were supposed to be of low castes. Names like Ravi Narayana Reddy, Chandra Rajeswara Rao, Puchalapalli Sundarayyya were part of the folklore and we children used to talk of their fighting abilities in karrasamu. Burrakatha exponent Nazer was very popular. By 56, I essentially left Andhra but even now whenever that period is mentioned, those names and Katuru, Yalamarru immmediately come to mind. Later I became friends with Perepa Joshi whose father Perepa Mrityunjayudu was killed during that time. Apparently he was tortured but did not give out the hiding places of his colleagues like Sundarayya and Rajeswara Rao and they seem to have taken care of him later on. I meet Joshi (named after P.C. Joshi) whenever I visit Hyderabad and so memories of that period continue. Joshi now publishes books (Prachee publications) from Kachiguda and he will be able to tell you more about that period.

Space Bar said...

??!: That's a very interesting map - thanks! (I can pore over maps for ages.)

swarupgaru: I wish you will do a post about the time - from whatever perspective your memories give you. It's the details - like the ones you mentioned - that are lost in the popular histories.

And I know Prachee Publications - but didn't know about the connection with the rebellion. Should go and visit Mr. Joshi some time. We tend to forget that Hyderabad's history is not located only in the city (though there's enough here that is now forgotten).

Thank you.

gaddeswarup said...

A few years ago I was in Hyderabad staying with relatives in Jubilee Hills. There are a few relatives and friends in that area. Most of us originally came from coastal villages and middle class families. Many now seem to be living in relative prosperity with modern western facilities ( bath rooms with marble floors) and Indian service (lots of servants..). One morning I was out of cigarettes and walked to the main road to get some. It was probably around 5:30 in the morning and drizzling. I saw a woman on the road side selling tea, cookies and cigarettes. She had a plastic sheet to cover her cart but she was out in the rain and I bought a packet of cigarettes. I think that she was used to selling one or two cigarettes and for her, that day, the very first transaction was a big one. She touched her eyes with the money. I went back in tears. Many of us came from lower middle class families and after independence, things improved for us and we did not have to go through the same struggles that our parents did ( My father told me that when he studied in Masulipatam, the bus fare was about one and half rupees. To save money, every semester, they used to walk taking a short cut of 30 miles from Avanigadda, carrying their lentils etc.). Since that incident, poverty and development started bothering me and that is what I am trying to understand. I have a blog but it is mainly a sort of links to a collection of articles to which I may want to go back. Coming back to the Telangana struggle, for many from that period, communism has become a sort of family tradition. In place where there is a lot of poverty and injustice, it gives a quick world view and many once they get in to it, they do not seem to get out of it. I had a cousin and classmate, M.L. Narayana, who after finishing a Ph.D. joined Naxalites and particpated in fights in Srikakulam area. I visited him in Rajahmundry jail in 1970 and later in Repalle jail. He could not get a job later but married a dentist and survived. His children as well as most of his nieces and nephews are in USA now. There are interesting transformations of this kind. Makineni Basavapunniah's son became a doctor ( I heard that he got a seat in a medical college with Jyoti Basu's help) and started a people's clinic with a cousin Venkataratnam. Venkataratnam's gaughters are all in USA now. I notice some of these transformations in family circles but do not know what to make of these.
I used to think that with all these new technologies, people could just work a few hours a week and follow their interests and passions. But for many, it seems to be becoming more difficult again. My superannuation seems to be taking a pounding now.

gaddeswarup said...

Another possible source. The novelist Chandralata's father Kota Rao was 6 years senior to me in school and lives in Hyderabad. He moved to Telangana and farmed. He has a seed company and lives in Bharkatpura now and may be able to provide some information.

??! said...

I can pore over maps for ages
Oh yes? Well, here's another one for you.

This is going to add further delays to your Things To Do list, isn't it? One is mean.