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Home / Politics / Policy /  Operation Polo: How the princely state of Hyderabad was annexed to India 69 years ago

Hyderabad: 22 August 1948, is a date Burgula Narsing Rao, 85, will never forget. Little did he expect that his farewell that fateful day to journalist Shoaibullah Khan would be the last one. Minutes after their exchange, Khan, a journalist who supported the idea of the erstwhile state of Hyderabad joining the Indian Union, was shot dead for his stance. It had set the tone of political unrest that followed till the princely state was finally annexed to India later on 17 September in Indian Army's Operation Polo. 

“Shoaibullah Khan used to run Imroz, an Urdu daily from our house in the Kachiguda locality. He had supported the idea of Hyderabad joining India and was murdered by the Razakaars (a Muslim militia) for it. I was a witness. Not only that, they had even cut off his hand as a symbolic way to show others what would happen to them if supported the same idea," recalled Rao.

Rao, who was then an intermediate (11th and 12th) student in the Nizam’s College, said that Kasim Razvi, head of the Razakaars, had let loose his men on the local populace. Within less than a month of Khan’s murder, the three-day military action named Operation Polo would commence, ending in the princely state of Hyderabad being brought under the Indian Union on 17 September 1948. This year marks 69 years of the event.

The 1947-48 period was tense in the Hyderabad state, which comprised some parts of present day Maharashtra, Karnataka and the entire Telangana region, as Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and last monarch, was deliberating between joining India or running an independent state. It gave Razvi the chance to take over the political vacuum and to unleash a reign of terror, especially on Hindus.

In 1944, Razvi had taken over the Majilis-e-Itteahadul Muslimeen (which is today known as the All India Majilis-e-Itteahadul Muslimeen headed by Hyderabad Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi), after the death of Bahadur Yar Jung, the MIM’s president, in 1944. It had begun as an Islamist organisation in 1927. After Operation Polo, Razvi was jailed till 1957 and then left for Pakistan, following which in 1958, Owaisi’s grandfather Abdul Wahid Owaisi took over the reins of the MIM, and added the ‘All India’ prefix. 

While there are accounts of killings by the Razakaars, particularly of Hindus, the Sunderlal Committee was formed in 1949 by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to look into alleged atrocities like rape, murder and looting of Muslims committed by the Indian Army after Operation Polo. The report, which was made public a few years ago, gives an account of these alleged atrocities in parts of the princely state of Hyderabad along with names.

Each year since Telangana’s formation in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been demanding that 17 September be declared ‘liberation day’ (from the ‘tyrannical rule of the Nizam’, as the party has been claiming). The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has, however, remained mum on the issue.

“The Razakaars also had many Hindu landowners amongst them. Vishnu Ram Chandra Reddy was one who was killed by the communists and B. Dharma Reddy was also another Razakaar. Muslims are simply blamed for what had happened, but  the truth is that the militia was created to protect the feudal lords," said 90-year-old M. K. Moinuddin, who had joined the Communist Party of India in 1948 and took part in the Telangana armed struggle as well.

Being a Desmukh (landlord), Moinuddin said he had given up his ancestral property in Mangol village, Siddipet district, where he was born, and joined the CPI and later the Telangana armed struggle (which took place from 1946-51 in the state). That struggle started when peasants took up arms against the Jagidaars (landlords who gave revenue to the Nizam’s administration). “I went underground to escape from the army later for two years," he recalled.

Both Moinuddin and Rao said that what had transpired then was tragic. “It could have been avoided had the Nizam showed some foresight," Rao mentioned, and added that most of the trouble and killings by the Razakaars had taken place mainly in the Marathwada areas.

Mohan Guruswamy, whose father Major N. K. Guruswamy (IAS) was an official in the Nizam’s administration and had also joined the Indian Army later (during World War two), said that the annexation of Hyderabad to India was not a significant event. “There was an attempt to set up an independent state (by the Nizam).It is not something that one should celebrate," he added.

Guruswamy, who heads the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent think-tank, also said that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s call to celebrate 17 September as ‘liberation day’ is an attempt to communalise Hyderabad.

“When the BJP says liberation day, it means liberation from Muslims (the Nizam). There are no illusions of what it was. The administration comprised of Muslims majorly and it was an extension of the Mughal kingdom. But it was not a bad government, as the income was good and it was a benign rule," he added. 

I. Lakshmi, former head of the history department, Osmania University, lamented the politicization of historical incidents. “It was never a communal issue. The feudal system was opposed also by Muslims. Getting a democratic government should be appreciated," she said, and added that present day values cannot be used to judge what had transpired in the past.

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