Hyderabad: Lamakaan to hold events to commemorate Operation Polo

Hyderabad: Cultural space Lamakaan is hosting a few events to mark the anniversary of Operation Polo, the military offensive against the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad, with which it was annexed to merged with India on September 17 in 1948.

At 4 pm, the Telugu film ‘Maa Bhoomi’ will be screened. It is based on the Telangana peasant armed struggle (1946-51), against feudal landlords under the Nizams of Hyderabad, and the militia Razakars. It also depicts how the armed struggle was repressed by the Indian army following Operation Polo, after Hyderabad’s last Nizam Osman Ali Khan, surrendered and the state was formally annexed to the Indian union.

At 8: 00 pm, a discussion will be held on the topic of ‘Hyderabad Liberation Day’, a term coined by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre to mark the occasion. The discussion will shed light on various aspects of Operation Polo, the peasant uprising, the political turbulence of 1948, Razakar atrocities, and subsequent atrocities Muslims suffered as well in the state.

B K Gupta, a teenager and a native of Pedpalli in 1948, will be the chief guest and speaker. A memorial will also be held for the late Burgula Narsing Rao, a former CPI member who was one of the core student leaders of his time in 1948 during the Armed Struggle and Operation Polo.

What is Operation Polo? Why is Sept 17 important?

The term Liberation Day is a recent that has been coined to politicise the last Nizam’s rule. September 17, 1948, marks the day when the erstwhile state of Hyderabad, which comprised Telangana and parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka, was annexed to India through the military action called Operation Polo or Police Action. 

However, the irony of the BJP’s demand is that it was literally a non-player in 1948 and in state politics then. Its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had been active, but its role was very limited given the fact that in Telangana it was the Communist Party of India (CPI) which had taken over most of the rural areas. The CPI in fact organised the ‘Telangana Armed Rebellion’ against state-appointed Jagirdars, the landholding class that comprised both Hindus and Muslims.  

It was essentially an uprising against feudal landlords by peasants in Telangana. “The flip side of it is that the Telangana Armed Rebellion, which continued till 1951, is another reason the army had stayed back in Telangana, as the then Indian government headed by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru, were wary of the communists, who refused to lay down their arms

That resulted in the army going after the communists, due to which over 4000 CPI cadres were sent to jail until 1951. However, the matter was resolved after the CPI decided to call off the struggle on October 21, 1951 (Telangana People’s Struggle and its lesson: P. Sundarayya) and contested the first general elections. 

But there is a lot more to Police Action, given that at least 27000 to 40,000 Muslims died due to targeted communal killings in the Hyderabad state. So what started it all? Essentially, the problem started after Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of the Hyderabad state, wanted to stay independent and not join the Indian union. Here is the entire event in sequence.

Nizam and his independence bid 

Though the British formally left India in 1947, it, however, gave princely states and their monarchs the option to join India or Pakistan or to stay independent. Osman Ali Khan was one of the handful of kings, like Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, who wanted to stay independent. After all, he was the king of the largest princely state, Hyderabad, which comprised 16 districts in 1948 (8 in Telangana, 5 in Maharashtra and 3 in Karnataka). 

It may be noted that Osman Ali Khan was also one of the richest men in the world, and was the king of a relatively peaceful state. However, the underbelly of it, especially in Telangana’s districts, was that of extreme oppression by state-appointed Jagirdars (landlords), whose main task was to collect revenue (taxes and rent) from farmers and give it to the state. The landlords were anything but benevolent. 

The emergence of Qasim Razvi and the Razakars

After independence, Osman Ali Khan’s government and the Indian union began negotiating, with the latter being adamant about letting the Hyderabad state, which was surrounded by India, staying independent. The last Nizam on the other hand did his best to do exactly that. It led to both sides signing the ‘Standstill Agreement’ on November 29, 1947, for a year, to negotiate the issue at hand. 

Also Read

Sept 13 1948, Operation Polo: When the Army marched into Hyderabad

However, a separate parallel political power emerged in the Hyderabad state, in the form of Syed Qasim Razvi, a lawyer from Latur (Marathwada region in Maharashtra), who took over the reins of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (started in 1927) in 1946, after the death of Bahadur Yar Jung in 1944. Jung was one of the MIM’s most powerful leaders and was a respected figure. It is hard to say what would have happened had he not died under suspicious circumstances (suspected poisoning). 

One of the major reasons behind Police Action is believed to be the fanatical Qasim Razvi, who started the Razakar (volunteers) militia and indulged in atrocities. The issue with Razvi was his violence. The late author Omar Khalidi in his seminal book ‘Hyderabad: After The Fall’ notes that, “Under Razavi’s charge the organisation (MIM) fairly quickly became a militant and somewhat frenzied party, accused, not without cause, of being fascist in both spirit and structure.” 

End of Telangana Armed Struggle

Vetti Chakiri (bonded labour) was also commonplace in rural Telangana, wherein lower-caste folks were forced to service the higher castes and the landowning class. More than that, the Nizam (of Hyderabad) himself had directly owned 10% of the state’s lands, while 60% of it were revenue lands (Diwani), and 30% were under the Jagirdars (Telangana People’s Struggle and its lesson: P. Sundarayya). 

Bonded labour and forced collections are believed to be the main reasons behind the uprising, which began in 1946, and officially ended in 1951, till the communists decided to contest elections. Some of the tallest CPI leaders from Telangana then were Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Ravi Narayan Reddy, Arutla Kamala Devi, Ch. Rajeshwar Rao, etc. 

Also Read

Centre to hold year-long ‘Hyderabad Liberation Day celebrations’ from Sept 17

Many CPI leaders from Andhra, like P. Sundarayya and D. Venkateshwar Rao, also led the movement, which continued after Police Action. The older generation of the CPI believes that Police Action in Hyderabad state was initiated more to target communists then than actually the Nizam. “We were the ones fighting the Razakars, and later the Indian army had come. Patel and Nehru were more worried about the Communists,” said M K, Moinuddin (93), a former Jagirdar and CPI legend who went underground in 1948. 

Massacre of Muslims

While the annexation of Hyderabad itself is not an issue perhaps, the unfortunate fallout of it was the targeted killings of Muslims in the districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka. According to the Sunderlal Committee report (Pundit Sunderlal was appointed by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru to look into atrocities), 27000-40,000 Muslims had been killed in communal violence in districts like Gulbarga, Osmanabad, Bidar, etc. 

This is the harsh reality of Police Action, which scarred generations of Muslims in Hyderabad city and other districts of the Hyderabad state. Mass displacement, led by discrimination followed. The best example is cited in the book October Coup, which details how the author, a civil servant, had to fight for his innocence.