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Painful memories for erstwhile Hyderabad State

By Mohammed Shafeeq, IANS

Hyderabad : It’s a bloody chapter in Indian history that still rankles those who lived through it. Real freedom for the erstwhile Hyderabad state came 13 months after the country’s independence Aug 15, 1947, and that too through a military operation.

Unlike hundreds of other princely states, which immediately merged with the Indian Union after independence, the Nizam or ruler of Hyderabad sought to keep the state independent.

Despite 85 percent of its 17 million population wanting to merge with India, the Nizam was carried away by the rhetoric of a few and decided to take on the might of the Indian Army without realising the consequences for his people.

The climax came to be known in popular parlance as “police action”, also called “operation polo”. And it is still fresh in the minds of many in the erstwhile Hyderabad state – comprising the Telangana region of the present Andhra Pradesh as well as the Kannada and Marathi-speaking regions of the present states of Karnataka and Maharashtra.

“Hundreds of people were killed in police action. Many districts witnessed the worst communal riots. Wells and fields were filled with bodies. More people were killed in police action than at the hands of (pro-Nizam) ‘razakars’,” said Jamalunnisa, a freedom fighter belonging to the Communist Party of India (CPI).

An official report said that at least 27,000 people were killed during and after the ‘police action’.

With an area of 223,000 sq km, Hyderabad was the largest and perhaps the most developed of all princely states in pre-independence India. Its ruler, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was said to be the richest man in the world.

Osman Ali, who began his reign in 1911, was the seventh and last Nizam of the Asafjahi dynasty (1724 to 1948). Following India’s independence and partition, he sought freedom for his state after his proposals for recognition of Hyderabad as an independent constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth or merger with Pakistan were rejected.

Almost the entire population of the state’s 2.5 million Muslims were for merging with Pakistan while the 15 million non-Muslims, barring a few who enjoyed high positions in the government, were for integration with India.

At that time, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), a Muslim party, had become a dominant force. Its paramilitary wing, made up of the ‘razakars’, was blamed for repression on Hindus, especially in remote districts.

“The razakars were also involved in converting Hindus to Islam through allurement,” said Narayan Rao Pawar, an Arya Samaj activist who is now 82.

The Nizam had banned political parties but organisations like the Andhra Mahasabha, Arya Samaj, the Hyderabad State Congress and the CPI were carrying on covert activities for the state’s merger with the Indian Union.

The peasants of the state had also revolted against the Nizam, who tried to suppress their armed struggle against landlords.

“The razakars used to attack and loot houses and rape women,” said Konda Lakshman Bapuji, who was part of the Andhra Mahasabha.

MIM leader Qasim Razvi had become more powerful than the Nizam and his fiery speeches against the Indian Union and its leaders added fuel to fire. Thousands of Muslims who were victims of communal violence took refuge in Hyderabad.

“They were not ready to listen to the voice of nationalist Muslims like Shoiabullah Khan, editor of the Urdu daily Imroz. He was stabbed to death by razakars,” said Bapuji, who was then a lawyer in his early 20s.

The repression by the Nizam’s Army and razakars forced Arya Samaj activists like Pawar to hatch a plan to kill the Nizam.

“It was around 5 p.m. Dec 4, 1947. His convoy had emerged from his palace King Koti and I hurled a bomb which hit the rear side of the car but exploded only after the car had zipped past the place,” he said.

Pawar was tried and after four to five months, the sessions court awarded him the death sentence. He recalled that the Nizam was gearing up for a battle with the Indian Army.

“It was not mere rhetoric by Qasim Razvi. The Nizam was procuring sophisticated weapons. Sydney Cotton (a pilot and arms trader from Australia) used to airdrop weapons in Hyderabad and Warangal. The Nizam was also getting arms from Goa which was under the rule of Portugal,” he said.

On the intervening night of Sep 12 and 13, 1948, the Indian Army finally attacked Hyderabad state from five sides. The Indian Army made rapid progress from all sides and on Sep 17, the Hyderabad Army surrendered.

After these events, the Nizam was appointed ‘rajpramukh’ (constitutional figurehead) of the state by the government of India. He continued in office until 1956, when the state was dismembered pursuant to the linguistic reorganisation of states.

Jamalunnisa, 90, one of the few Muslim women political activists in those days, recalling the ‘police action’, said: “It was gloom for hundreds of families. Many felt betrayed by the razakars. Several youths recruited for fighting lost their lives.

“The economy was destroyed and hundreds of people fled their villages to save themselves. Many migrated to Pakistan.

“The large-scale communal riots in the north also created a gulf between the two communities which were living in harmony.”

Sums up Bapuji, who became a minister after the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956: “The Nizam was not a bigot but wanted to protect his rule at any cost. He always sided with the British and when the British left he wanted the state to remain independent.”