In this game of chess between the new Indian government and the wily Nizam, there was smoke and mirrors. Adding to the hype, there was also some propaganda to the effect that Hyderabad aircraft would bomb cities like Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and even Delhi. This propaganda caused a certain amount of apprehension among the people of the neighbouring provinces. Meanwhile, Mir Laik Ali, prime minister of Hyderabad, was pressing that the issue be taken to the United Nations.
The American Charge d’Affaires in New Delhi apprised the Government of India of the fact that the Nizam had written to the President of the United States requesting that he should arbitrate and that the latter had refused. The Razakars did not spare even missionaries and nuns. Early in September the States Ministry received complaints that some foreign missionaries had been assaulted and some nuns molested by the Razakars.
The military view was that the campaign could not last beyond three weeks. Actually, everything was over within less than a week. On September 9, 1948, after a careful evaluation of all the considerations and only when it was clear that no other alternative remained open, the Government of India took the decision to send Indian troops into Hyderabad to restore peace and tranquility in the state and a sense of security in the adjoining Indian territory.
This decision was communicated to the Southern Command, who ordered that the Indian forces should march into Hyderabad in the early hours of Monday the 13th. The Indian forces were commanded by Major-General J.N. Chaudhury under the direction of Lt-General Maharaj Shri Rajendrasinhji, who was then the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command. This action, euphemistically called ‘Police Action’, was given the name ‘Operation Polo’ by the Army Headquarters.
There was some stiff resistance on the first and second days. After this, resistance petered out and virtually collapsed. On the Indian side the total casualties were slight, but on the other side, owing to scrappy operations and lack of discipline, the Irregulars and the Razakars suffered comparatively more casualties. The number of dead was a little over 800. It is unfortunate that so many should have died in this action, though the number is insignificant when weighed against the killings, rape and loot inflicted by the Razakars on the Hindus of the state.
On the evening of September 17, the Hyderabad army surrendered. On the 18th, the Indian troops led by Major-General Chaudhuri entered Hyderabad City. The operation had lasted for barely 108 hours. On September 17, Laik Ali and his cabinet tendered their resignations.
The Nizam sent for K.M. Munshi (who had been under house arrest ever since the Police Action began) and informed him that he had given orders for his army to surrender; that he would be forming a new government; that Indian troops were free to go to Secunderabad and Bolarum; and that the Razakars would be banned. Munshi communicated this to the Government of India.
Major-General Chaudhuri took charge as Military Governor on September 18. The members of the Laik Ali ministry were placed under house arrest. Rizvi was arrested on September 19.
There was not a single communal incident in the whole length and breadth of India throughout the time of the operation. There was universal jubilation over the swift and successful ending of the Hyderabad episode and messages of congratulation poured in to the Government of India from all parts of the country.
The Hyderabad operation was very much controlled by Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon, it was not that Nehru remained oblivious to the developments there. He was fully involved in the run-up to the ‘police action’. There was a degree of vacillation, but he left it to the Home and States Minister Sardar Patel to react with his typical spring-loaded action. The wide and varied correspondence on Hyderabad proves that.
In a letter to Sardar Patel, Nehru (his letters to different people are courtesy of different sources) wrote:
“We do not want to impose our will on any State and it is our earnest desire to avoid conflicts and quarrels … We therefore concluded the Standstill Agreement with Hyderabad last year with the hope that in the course of the year, the people’s desires would be fulfilled. But no sooner the ink in which the agreement was signed was dry, the Hyderabad government violated the agreement.
“Hyderabad is the only State where so far there has been no change in the nature of the government … The Ittehad Muslemeen and its volunteers are committing violence on the people, trying to overawe and coerce them with bullets. The present state of affairs definitely cannot be allowed to go on.”
In a speech at a secret session of the AICC, Bombay, on April 16, 1948, speaking of the policy on Hyderabad, Nehru said:
“I would like to assure the AICC that the Government of India are fully alive to the seriousness of the situation developing in Hyderabad State. … If the Nizam’s government or the Razakars take any aggressive action, the Government of India will certainly take steps to safeguard the interest of the people concerned.”
Again, speaking at a public meeting, in Udhagamandalam (Ooty) on June 2, 1948, Nehru stated:
“We have made it perfectly clear to Hyderabad that there will have to be a solution to this problem and that ultimately there must be accession. There is no other way, and it is not possible for Hyderabad to walk out of the Indian Union. Responsible government is inevitable because in the modern world we cannot allow a feudal government as in Hyderabad to continue.”
Writing to Vallabhbhai Patel on June 6, 1948, Nehru had stated a similar view:
“To come back to Hyderabad we have to view Military Action from the point of view of our present capacity as well as from the other consequences flowing from it. These consequences may well be far-reaching to various parts of India as well as Pakistan. … I arrived at the conclusion therefore that Military Action should only be indulged in Hyderabad when the Hyderabad government or their Razakars etc make it impossible for us to desist from it. Of course in such circumstances we have to take action because inaction may produce worse results.”
Nehru also took certain Interim Defence measures. There were instructions to Army commanders around Hyderabad and to the local governments concerned. The instructions were as follows:
“With the exception of articles of food, salt, medical stores and chlorine for purifying the water supply, all other articles should be denied entry into Hyderabad state and strict blockade should be maintained in regard to these other articles.”
On the other hand, Hyderabad was making frantic efforts to purchase arms. For this purpose, Major-General Syed Ahmed El Edroos, Commander of the Hyderabad State Forces, was sent to London and his mission was to get automatic weapons and anti-tank guns. He makes his views abundantly clear in the book he authored, ‘Hyderabad of the Seven Loaves’.
Even regarding the position of the Hyderabad Army, he writes, “I realised the hopeless situation which we were in and any clash by our troops with the advancing Indian Army would have only led to ill-feelings and probably harder terms of surrender. A copy of my plan was submitted to the Hyderabad Government.
“But the Government under the influence of the Prime Minister Mir Laiq Ali returned the copy with the remarks that he was the best authority in this vital matter and he was to hold the Indian Army at bay for about three months and by that time, help from Pakistan would come. He found it almost impossible for Hyderabad to purchase arms and ammunition from abroad as Hyderabad was not recognised as an independent country.
“Even if arms and ammunition were purchased from Europe or the Middle East, it would be impossible to import them into Hyderabad. Bombay, Madras and other sea ports were all closed to Hyderabad traffic. And it was next to impossible to get them through Goa due to the land route between Goa and Hyderabad being watched by the Indian authorities. But the Hyderabad Government totally ignored the clauses in the Standstill Agreement.”
The leaders of Ittehad were delivering speeches that there would be a bloodbath in the whole of South India if accession to the Union were effected. Qasim Razvi also made many irresponsible speeches. He threatened, “If the Indian Union ventures to enter Hyderabad, the invaders will see the burning everywhere of the bodies of one crore and sixty-five lakh. The Muslims will not spare others when we ourselves are not allowed to exist.”
With the atrocities continuing unabated, the Government of India issued a White Paper on Hyderabad on July 26, 1948. Sardar Patel declared in the Constituent Assembly that Hyderabad had become an ulcer in the heart of India and this ulcer had to be operated on. The White Paper made it unequivocally clear and without mincing words that:
“The Government of India cannot afford to be a helpless spectator of orgies of misrule in Hyderabad. If the law and order situation there, which already shows signs of collapse, further deteriorates and thereby imperils peace and good order in India, the Government of India would unquestionably be involved.”
When on September 10, 1948, the Nizam appealed to the UNO to intervene, the Government of India was prepared for this move of the Nizam as it is indicated in a letter of Nehru to Patel on July 23, 1948.
He says, “You are aware of the fact that there is every chance of the Hyderabad State Government referring their dispute with us to the United Nations. We should not wait for this reference and then think about it. We should therefore take immediate steps to prepare our answer and to clear up our own minds as to the attitude we should take. I hope therefore the States Ministry is thinking about this and preparing for it.”
In September 1948, the Nizam sent a delegation to the Security Council with a complaint that the situation between Hyderabad and India had become grave and constituted a threat to peace. The delegation left via Karachi. It was now time for decisive action by the Indian Government.
On September 10, 1948, Nehru issued an ultimatum: “With great regret we intend to occupy Secunderabad.” The same day England evacuated British subjects from Hyderabad and ordered all British officers to resign from the Hyderabad Army, so that they would not be forced to fight against an erstwhile British dominion (India).
Jawaharlal Nehru, in his letter to V.K. Krishna Menon, India’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, dated August 29, 1948, clearly pointed out that a military action against Hyderabad was becoming a must. He stated thus:
“I am convinced that it is impossible to arrive at any solution of the Hyderabad problem by settlement or peaceful negotiation. Military action becomes essential, we call it as you have called it ‘Police Action’. … The reported reference of the Hyderabad issue to the U.N. produces a certain complication, but that is hardly a reason for our holding up any action that would otherwise be justified. There is no point in holding it up because, if the U.N. goes into this matter, it will be a somewhat prolonged affair as it usually is. A prolonged postponement would certainly have very bad results in many ways.”
It is interesting to note that Nehru for a long time was reluctant to solve the Hyderabad Problem at one go by Police Action in September 1948. Durga Das, a former editor of the ‘Hindustan Times’, narrates in his memoirs titled ‘India – From Curzon to Nehru’:
“There were days of tenseness and high drama in New Delhi, particularly in the Cabinet. Pt. Nehru still wanted a peaceful solution, for fear of Pakistan’s reaction while Patel was pressing for Police Action soon after Mountbatten left.
“The hurdle for Patel was removed when Mountbatten, who was trying for special status for Hyderabad, left on June 22, 1948. After Mountbatten left when Nizam still talked of further agreement, Patel publicly declared, ‘Agreement has gone to England.’
“Twice, Sardar Patel had fixed the Zero Hour for action against Hyderabad and on each occasion he was compelled to cancel it. When the Zero Hour was fixed for the third time (September 13), he was determined to see it through. He announced that the army had already moved into Hyderabad and nothing could be done to halt it. Nehru was worried whether it would provoke retaliation by Pakistan.”
On September 12, Jinnah died and Nehru was sure that there would be no interference from Pakistan.
Since the Nizam and his government refused to disband the Razakars and other private armies and to facilitate the return of Indian troops to Secunderabad, where they used to be stationed before, in order to restore law and order. Indian troops entered the Hyderabad Territory at 4:00 a.m. on September 13 from three sides: West, South and North.
Nehru held a question-answer session at a press conference in New Delhi on September 10, 1948, three days before the Police action. He followed it with his own statements. One of the most important aspects, he stressed, was the Razakar menace:
“There is no doubt that the state of affairs in Hyderabad has been very bad and progressively worsening. Any person who does not openly submit to any demands from the Razakars plays with his life. You might have in mind at least two cases — that of a young Muslim editor of a paper who was shot down and of another young Muslim, you may have noticed, whose hands were cut off. So you see the state of affairs in Hyderabad is sinking into a state of barbarity.”
In his speech in Bombay on September 15, 1948, Nehru explained that Police Action was initiated to end terror.
He said: “Our first year of freedom has seen much sorrow and suffering through out the country. During the critical period, the Father of our Nation was snatched away from our midst leaving us in deep anguish and sorrow….In Hyderabad our army is doing a magnificent job. They are rapidly advancing on all fronts. This is an indication of our strength. I hope the operation will end soon…”
The final plan for the Operation Polo was based on the ‘Goddard Plan’, named after then then GOC-in-C, Southern Command, Lt-General Eric Norman Goddard. There were two major thrusts — a Western thrust through the Sholapur-Hyderabad axis and the Eastern thrust along the Vijayawada-Hyderabad axis.
Thrusts were also to be made from the South to protect the railway communications and from the North in the Jalna area. The Indian Task Force commanded by Major-General J.N. Chaudhari led the thrust from Sholapur.
The first obstacle to overcome was the Naldurga Fort, which stood on the Sholapur-Secunderabad Road, about 19 km from the state border. City after city was captured; all Razakars who resisted were quickly overpowered. The unit heading northward met no resistance of any kind. They safely entered the town of Osmanabad after intense bombardment and continued northwards with the objective of turning east towards Latur.
While varying reports were pouring in from different fronts, the worst fate appeared to be that of the airfields and landing strips all over Hyderabadi territory. The airfields of Warangal, Bidar, Raichur, Adilabad and Aurangabad were being incessantly showered with heavy bombs by the Indian Air Force. They were all so defenceless and yet the bombing was so frenzied.
On day two of the operation, by the afternoon, Aurangabad was captured. The only link that the Hyderabad Government had with the outside world was through the wireless and that was with Mushtaq Ahmed, the Agent General of Hyderabad in Karachi.
Another authentic version comes from journalist Pran Seth, who had earlier reported on Kashmir and then subsequently was present at ground zero in Hyderabad. His words reveal the canvas:
“On his induction as a Razakar (volunteer), a Muslim was asked to take the following oath. Only Muslims could join it. ‘In the name of Allah, I do hereby pledge myself to fight to the utmost to maintain the supremacy of Muslim power in the Deccan’.”
“Originally, the Nizam encouraged the Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen to keep the Hindu subjects under check, but as Partition became inevitable, the Nizam, too, became its prisoner as he was helpless before its dictates. It became very powerful. It forced its own decisions on the Nizam i.e. who should be the President of the Executive Council of the Hyderabad Government or who should be made the members of the Executive Council, etc. It had become a Frankenstein’s monster.
“The ruling Nizam’s full name was Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur — seventh in the line of succession since the establishment of the kingdom. He was a diminutive old man who succeeded to the throne in 1911. He was very proud of the special title given to him by the British Emperor — ‘His Exalted Highness’. Later, the King conferred on him another title in an autographed letter — ‘The Faithful Ally of the British Government’ — which was even more valuable to him.
“The Nizam had a standing Army of 20,000 — all Muslims permitted by the British Government, which exercised paramountcy on the ruler through a British Resident in his Court. However, the Nizam was able to add another 20,000 irregular Force on his pay roll on one pretext or the other. Moreover, his Police Force exceeded 25,000 and was practically all-Muslim. The civil services too were two-thirds Muslims.
“In the Legislative Assembly, which Nizam was forced to set up by the British in 1946, the number of Muslims members was ten more than that of non-Muslim members out of a total of 132. The majority in that state was at the mercy of the minority. The majority community, however, was waking up to its rightful place in society. And the Razakar Force was a way devised by the Nizam to keep them under check.”
(Sandeep Bamzai is the Editor-In-Chief of IANS and author of ‘Princestan: How Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten Made India’ (Rupa), which won the Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF) Book Award 2020-21 in the non-fiction category.)