“The vultures have resigned, I don’t know what to do”
Sept 17, Hyderabad– The bespectacled and unassuming lawyer received the invite for a meeting at 4PM, and he broke out in a wry smile. He could afford to do so, the man who had called him for the meeting, was no ordinary person. 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. Along with Baroda, Mysore, Gwalior, Jammu and Kashmir, he was one of those princely rulers, who had the privilege of receiving a 21 gun Salute. His Exalted Highness Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi GSCI, GBE Asaf Jah VII as he was officially called, 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 stretched from Aurangabad in the North West to Mahbubnagar in the South East, from Adilabad in the North East to Raichur in the South West. It 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. A great admirer of Sardar Patel, after independence he was appointed as Agent General to Hyderabad State, to negotiate it’s accession to the Indian Union. 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. 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”.
“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.
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”. 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, under the oppresive rule of the Reddy, Velama doras in Telangana, the Deshmukhs in other regions, 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”.
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. 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. I had already mentioned how Munshi was treated by the Nizam’s Government, not even getting a proper accommodation. 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.
Meanwhile, the Government of Hyderabad had not implemented a single undertaking given by them. No announcement with regard to the loan to Pakistan as promised by Laik Ali had been made; the Currency Ordinance had not been modified, while the ban on the export of precious metals and oilseeds continued to operate. No step, as promised by Laik Ali, in respect of the reconstitution of the Nizam’s Executive Council had been taken. The Razakars, so far from being banned, had become an intolerable nuisance. Border raids showed no signs of abatement. Up to this time we had only tried to press our point of view informally upon the Government of Hyderabad. But now the Government of India decided that we should bring the breaches of the Standstill Agreement to their notice officially. Accordingly, on 23 March, I addressed a letter to the President of the Nizam’s Executive Council which was sent to Munshi to be delivered personally to Laik Ali.- V.P.Menon.
On the other hand, the 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. In effect, the Nizam egged on by Rizvi and Laik Ali, was openly cocking a snook at the Indian Govt. On the other hand, the 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.
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.
Finally when the Nizam’s Govt, sent their external Affairs Minister, Nawab Moin Nawaz Jung to the UN Security Council, in September 1948, Sardar felt that there was no other alternative but to invade 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. 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. 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. Zahirabad fell to the Indian Army on Day 4, Sept 16, though they still kept facing ambush attacks from the Razakars.
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.