How the Liberation of Hyderabad Aborted a Pakistan in the South

The first episode of a new series analysing the historical importance of the liberation of Hyderabad
How the Liberation of Hyderabad Aborted a Pakistan in the South


THE TEASER OF THE upcoming Telugu movie, Razakar is on expected lines. In less than two minutes, it showcases graphic clips of the Razakar atrocities against the Hindus in the dominions of the Nizam of Hyderabad. It closes with a shot of Sardar Patel’s back, a clear cue that the movie is themed on the liberation of Hyderabad. Razakar is a really welcome addition to the corpus of Indian cinema based on historical themes. It is coming about half a century too late but better late than never. I would rate the movie highly if it succeeds in capturing the complex and protracted phenomena that necessitated its liberation in the first place. It would be an underwhelming experience if Razakar merely captures the widespread anti-Hindu terror that the Nizam’s fanatical squad unleashed — this sort of cinematic treatment will place it just a step higher than a documentary. The converse is also true: a truly well-made documentary on historical events is one which is imbued with literary and dramatic elements. 

A Historical Phenomenon

On the broadest plane, the story of the liberation of Hyderabad illustrates a familiar historical phenomenon which is rooted in a psyche which travelled to Bharatavarsha with Muhammad Bin Qasim’s raid, congealed during the Mughal rule and created Pakistan in the 20th century. Pakistan is the only Islamic state which was won not through traditional warfare but through street violence and… Mohandas Gandhi. Indeed, by the Nizam’s own tacit admission, it was the conceding of Pakistan that gave him the confidence to get a private Pakistan for himself in the Dakkhan. 

The other facet of this historical phenomenon tells us that among all the Muslim-ruled Princely States, only Hyderabad,  the last remnant of the Mughal Empire, was fully dissolved on November 1, 1956

K.M. Munshi, who officially presided over the liquidation of the Nizam’s decrepit “empire” phrases this memorably: “From a long term point of view, the collapse of Hyderabad was a significant event in the history of India, for the Nizam’s rule was the last and the most outworn relic of the Mughal Empire.” 

Maratha Shortsightedness 

But the story dates back to a much earlier period. The untrammelled supremacy of the successive Nizams of Hyderabad substantially owes to the civilisational myopia of the Maratha Power which was at its peak well beyond the mid  18th century. At that peak, any Maratha ruler could have swatted out the current Nizam and annexed his territory to the engorged Maratha dominion. Sadly, the Marathas fell for the Nizams’ booty, flattery and guile and allowed them to continue their tyrannical regime. The East India Company and later, the imperial British crown, used the Nizam for its own subversive purposes. We turn to Munshi again: 

The Nizams would have been thrown on the scrap-heap of history by the Marathas long before the end of the 18th century… After 1857, the British Crown kept them… in power as a potential reservoir of strength in the event of a country-wide anti-British outburst. Later, the Nizams were the most glittering pendants to the Imperial Crown, as also counter-weights against mili­tant nationalism. The Nizam’s Hyderabad had, therefore, lived because the British rulers were interested in main­taining them, though the people of the State had to pay a heavy price for it. 

Oppressing the Hindu Majority

For all practical purposes, the Nizam dynasty was a British puppet but a deadly puppet that was free to inflict its will. And so, here was an alleged “kingdom” ruled by a tiny Muslim minority which had full despotic sway over its Hindu majority populace. It had a standing army, a police force, a quasi-independent economy… in short, the entire administrative machinery at its disposal. Almost all Nizams used this machinery to terrorise their Hindu subjects in a multi-pronged fashion. 

The case of Kashmir where a Hindu King — Maharaja Hari Singh — ruled over a Muslim majority populace presents a stark contrast with the Nizam of Hyderabad.

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How the Liberation of Hyderabad Aborted a Pakistan in the South
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How the Liberation of Hyderabad Aborted a Pakistan in the South

The oppressive Sarf-i-khas system is an illustrative example of Hindu oppression. This was a large chunk of land that the Nizam treated as his private property (which in reality, belonged to the Government). He extorted twenty-five million rupees annually from this. Let’s put this in real numbers to understand the magnitude of the extortion.

The total extent of the Nizam’s territory was 82,698 square miles. Of this, 8,109 square miles were treated as the aforementioned Sarf-i-Khas

Apart from this, there were the Jaghir villages, totalling 25,629 square miles — that was a whopping 1500 Jahgirs and 6,500 villages encompassing one-third of the Nizam’s territory. They were manned by officials titled as Jaghirdars, Paigas, and heads of Samsthanams. All of them owed their position and succession to the whim of the Nizam and were obliged to keep him happy. A substantial portion of the income from these lands landed directly into the Nizam’s pocket. This was the second major source of his income. A more anachronistic, unjust and repressive system of land ownership was hard to find even in Feudal Europe. Yet, it had thrived for more than two centuries in the Nizams’ regimes till the Liberation of Hyderabad. All this under the active watch (and in many cases, with the encouragement) of the British.     

Mir Osman Ali’s Delusions

AND SO, WHEN THE BRITISH LEFT IN 1947, it was precisely this license-to-oppress that expired. But Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan’s delusions were made of sterner stuff. He was technically an “independent” ruler and thought he possessed all the elements that constituted a nation — army, police, administration, banking, economy, communications, airplanes, etc. He counted on waging war against the Indian Union based solely on this strength. Months later, he would realise to his damning humiliation that all these were worthless minus the backing of the British hand.  

The Nizam’s intransigence against merging Hyderabad with the new Indian Union was impelled by three major factors.

The first was also the primary source of his delusion: like every two-bit Muslim ruler in South India, Mir Osman Ali assumed that he was the overlord of the Dakkhan. He had inherited this psychological chimera from, for example, the Bahamanis and Tipu Sultan. As we shall see, this powerful delusion played out on the ground throughout the months that culminated in Operation Polo. 

The second was another alluring fantasy. Months ago, the Islamic State of Pakistan had become a reality. That new country was a geography that included minor Princely States and parts of British India. And here, the Nizam had an entire Princely State continuously in existence for two centuries. A Pakistan in the Dakkhan was an eminently achievable prospect.

The third was his confidence at securing external help. Throughout the one and half years before Operation Polo, the Nizam had established a vast and reliable communications network with Pakistan — the comms were headquartered in Karachi. This apart, from as early as the end of 1945, the Nizam had cultivated Walter Monckton, an astute British diplomat who was close to the British Conservative Party. On multiple occasions, Monckton had pleaded the Nizam’s case in London. And Monckton was also a close personal friend of Mountbatten. Mir Osman Ali had counted on this friendship the most.

Stoking Islamic fundamentalism amongst his Muslim populace was the practical method that would enable the Nizam to realise his dream of a Pakistan in South India. 

The leader he chose for this barbaric task was the arch fanatic and fiend, Kasim Razvi (Rizvi).

To be continued 

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