Off-centre | ‘Hyderabad Liberation Day’ and the spectre of Muslim separatism
Of the 565 princely states that made up 40 per cent of the territory of undivided, pre-Independence India and 23 percent of its population, Hyderabad was the richest, most-populous, and, after Jammu and Kashmir, the largest in size
On 17 September, also celebrated as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 72nd birthday, there were two parallel, one might even say opposed, events to mark “Hyderabad Liberation Day”. Home Minister Amit Shah used the Secunderabad Parade grounds, which are under Army, not Telangana state control, to mark the 75th anniversary of the merger of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad with the Indian Union in 1948. This was an enforced integration, which some call “annexation”, following a five-day “police action” codenamed “Operation Polo.”
Police action refers to a military operation without a formal declaration of war. Of the 565 princely states that made up 40 percent of the territory of undivided, pre-Independence India and 23 per cent of its population, Hyderabad was the richest and, after Jammu and Kashmir, the largest. With a population of over 16 million, its size was 212,000 sq km, comparable to Britain itself if its overseas territories and Northern Ireland were excluded. Ruled by Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, the last Nizam of Hyderabad, more than 80 per cent of its population was Hindu. It was spread across what are today Karnataka and Maharashtra, in addition to Telangana and Andhra, with Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, and Deccani Urdu being spoken throughout the realm.
With the prospect of India’s Independence soon to turn into reality, the princely states, whose very existence was guaranteed by the British, were, in effect, abandoned. The treaty of subsidiary alliance that the princely states had entered into with the colonial power was superseded by the Indian Independence Act 1947, enacted so that the British could vacate India. Technically, the princes had the option to accede either to India or Pakistan or opt for full independence. The latter was only a pipe dream, given that the princely states had small, irregular armies, with the British retaining real power, in addition to extracting a sizeable revenue.
The Nizam, pressurised by a section of the Muslim nobility and gentry led by the Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM), did not wish to accede to India. In June 1947 he issued a firman or royal order announcing that Hyderabad would resume independence after the British transferred power to India and Pakistan. The Nizam was also beset by the Telangana rebellion, a Communist peasant insurgency, which he had been unable to suppress. Now, the Razakars, led by its founder and president of MIM, Qazim Razvi, began a terror campaign to suppress the Hindus in the state and try to keep Hyderabad independent.
The Indian government rejected the Nizam’s firman, dubbing it a “legalistic claim of doubtful validity”. Instead, citing reasons such as its location, its overwhelmingly Hindu majority, and the threat to India if it were allowed to become independent, the Government of India effectively required Hyderabad to integrate into India. The Nizam reluctantly agreed to accede to India, but with special provisos, such as the right to maintain neutrality should there be a war between Pakistan and India. India, obviously, rejected such a concession, which resulted in a “Standstill Agreement” signed between Hyderabad and the Indian Union as a stopgap arrangement.
Given the ongoing Razakar atrocities in the state, India mounted an unofficial blockade on Hyderabad, which was supplemented by a popular political agitation led by the Congress demanding liberation and integration with India. Pushed into a corner, Hyderabad appealed to the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice to safeguard his dominion. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s home minister and deputy prime minister, realised that if India did not act post haste, matters might slip out of control.
He ordered “Operation Polo” to commence on 13 September 1948. Within five days, Hyderabad capitulated. Unfortunately, not before huge communal riots and carnage caused largely by the Razakar-led anti-Indian lobby, which was now infiltrated by looters and criminal elements. Many people lost their lives and property, but because the accession had taken place, the full extent of the communal conflagration has neither been studied nor publicised. According to some estimates, casualties were as high as 40,000.
Given this history, it is no surprise that while Amit Shah unfurled the tricolour to commemorate “Hyderabad State Liberation Day” in Secunderabad Cantonment parade ground, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao hoisted the Indian flag in the Public Gardens in Hyderabad to mark “Telangana National Unity Day”. MIM, as we have seen in the earlier columns in the series (https://www.firstpost.com/india/off-centre-sar-tan-se-juda-and-the-persistence-of-the-two-nation-theory-11234031.html), is the reincarnation of the Muslim separatist party that Qasim Razvi led, in addition to the notorious paramilitary Razakars, against Hyderabad’s integration with India.
BJP Telangana chief Bandi Sanjay Kumar alleged, “It is only after the Centre’s announcement that the state government decided to celebrate it. Not only the TRS, the Congress and the AIMIM have also been forced to acknowledge it. It is the BJP that has been demanding for many years that this event should be celebrated as Telangana liberation day.” The MIM, which is an ally of TRS, has been accused of trying to hide its sordid communal past, but even today, its primary appeal in the Deccan is in the Muslim pockets of the erstwhile Hyderabad state, once ruled by the Nizam.
It is in this light that we must try to understand the politics of the present MIM led by the London-returned barrister, Asaduddin Owaisi. When it comes to matters that touch the faith of Hindus, whether it is Ayodhya or Gyanvapi Masjid, as MIM party spokesman and lawyer Waris Pathan insisted on national television, India is ruled by the Constitution, not by astha (faith). But in the same breath, he can claim that once a mosque, always a mosque ba-qayamat (till Judgement Day).
The same party, we should recall, was involved in the “sar tan se juda” slogans, which supposedly arise not only out of faith, but from Pakistan, and are blatantly against the law of the land and the Indian Constitution. On 19 February 2020, this selfsame gentleman, Waris Pathan, in an anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) rally, reportedly threatened, “Remember we are 15 crore but can dominate over 100 crore.” After an FIR was filed against him, he said that the “100” in his statement referred to only to “100 people… engaging in anti-Muslim politics.”
Doublespeak, equivocation, constitutional communalism — or blatant falsehood, prevarication, denial, taqiyyah (concealing one’s beliefs), even when there is no risk to life or limb. Call it what you will. Not only radical jihadism, but is it is also this version of modernist political Islamism that should worry us.
[To be continued]
The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.
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