Apples in the Basket

The state of Hyderabad also had a Muslim ruler and a mostly Hindu population, but it was a prize by far greater than Bhopal or Junagadh. Hyderabad ran right across the Deccan plateau, in the centre of the subcontinent. Its area was more than 80,000 square miles; its population was more than 16 million, distributed among three linguistic zones: Telegu, Kannada, and Marathi. Hyderabad was surrounded by Central Provinces in the north, by Bombay in the west, and by Madras in the south and east. Although landlocked, it was self-sufficient with regard to food, cotton, oilseeds, coal and cement. Gasoline and salt, however, had to be imported from British India.
Hyderabad began as a Muslim vassal state in 1713. Its ruler was conventionally known as the nizam. Of its population, 85% were Hindus, but Muslims dominated the army, police and civil service. The nizam himself owned about 10% of the land of the state, much of the rest was controlled by large landowners. From his holdings the ruler earned 25 million rupees a year in rent, while another 5 million rupees were granted him from the state treasury. There were some very rich nobles, but the bulk of the Muslims, like the bulk of the Hindus, worked as factory hands, artisans, labourers, and peasants.
In power in 1946-1947 was the seventh nizam, Mir Usman Ali, who had ascended to the throne as far as 1911. He was one of the richest men in the world, but also one of the most miserly. He rarely wore new clothes, his preferred mode of dress being unironed pyjamas, a shirt, and a faded fez. He “generally drove in an old, rattling, tin- pot of a car, a 1918 model; he never offered any kind of hospitality to a visitor.”
The nizam was determined to hang on to more than his personal wealth. What he wanted for his state, when the British left, was independence, with relations forged directly between him and the Crown. To help him with his case he had employed Sir Walter Monckton, a King’s Counsel who was one of the most highly respected lawyers in England. [Among Monckton’s previous clients was King Edward VIII, whom he had advised during abdication] For Monckton’s services the nizam was prepared to pay a packet: as much as 90,000 guineas a year, it was rumoured. In a meeting with the viceroy, Monckton “emphasized that His Exalted Highness would have great difficulty in taking any course likely to compromise his independent sovereignty.” When Mountbatten suggested that Hyderabad should join the Constituent Assembly, the nizam’s lawyer answered that if India pressed too hard his client might “seriously consider the alternative of joining Pakistan.”
The nizam’s ambitions, if realized, would virtually cut off the north of India from the south. And, as the constitutional expert Reginald Coupland pointed out, “India could live if its Moslem limbs in the north- west and north- east were amputated, but could it live without its midriff?” Vallbhbhai Patel put it more directly, saying that an independent Hyderabad constituted a ” cancer in the belly of India.”

In the face- off between the nizam and the government of India, each side had a proxy. The Indians had the Hyderabad State Congress, formed in 1938, which pressed hard for representative government within the state. The nizam had the Ittihad- uL- Muslimeen, which wished to safeguard the position of Muslims in administration and politics. Another important factor was the Communist Party of India, which had a strong presence in the Telengana region of the state.
In 1946-1947 all three voices grew more strident. The State Congress demanded that Hyderbad fall into line with the rest of India. Its leaders organized street protests, risking arrest. Simultaneously, the Ittihad was being radicalized by its new leader, Kasim Razvi, a lawyer who had been trained in Aligarh and believed passionately in “Muslim pride.” Under Razvi the Ittihad had promoted a paramilitary body called the Razakars, whose members marched up an down the roads of Hyderabad, carrying swords and guns.
In the countryside, meanwhile, there was a rural uprising led and directed by the communists. Across Telengana, large estates were confiscated and redistributed to land- hungry peasants. The insurrection first seized all holdings in excess of 500 acres, then brought the limit down to successively 200 and then to 100 acres. They also abolished the institution of forced labour. In the districts of Nalgonda, Warangal and Karimnagar. The communists ran what amounted to a parallel government. More than 1,000 villages were ” practically freed from the Nizam’s rule.”

On 15 August, the national flag was raised by Congress workers in different parts of Hyderabad state. The offenders were arrested and taken off to jail. On the other side the Razakars grew more truculent. They affirmed their support for the nizam’s declaration of independence, and printed and distributed handbills that proclaimed: “Free Hyderabad for Hyderabadis” and “No pact with the Indian Union.”
The nizam’s ambitions were encouraged by the Conservative party-the Tories- in England. Sir Walter Monckton was himself a prominent Tory; and he had written to his party leaders to support his client’s case. Monckton claimed that the Congress practiced a kind of ” power politics, ” which was an” exact replica of those in which Hitler and Mussolini indulged.” Since Mountbatten was hand in glove with Nehu and Patel, it was up to the Tories to ” see to it that if this shameful betrayal of our old friends and allies cannot be prevented, at least it does not go uncastigated before the conscience of the world.”
To see the nizam’s Hyderabad as Poland and the Congress as the equivalent to Hitler’s Nazis boggles the imagination. But even Winston Churchill allowed himself to be persuaded of the analogy, perhaps because he had a long standing dislike for Mahatma Gandhi. Speaking in the House of Commons, Churchill argued that the British had a ” personal obligation . . . not to allow a state, which they had declared a sovereign state, to be strangled, starved out or actually over borne by violence.” The party’s rising star, R.A. Butler, weighed in on Churchill’s side, saying that Britain should press for the “just claims of Hyderabad to remain independent.”
The nizam, and more so the Razakars, also drew sustenance from the support of their cause from Pakistan. Jinnah had gone so far as to tell Lord Mountbatten that if the Congress “attempted to exert any pressure on Hyderabad, every Muslim throughout the whole of India, yes, all the hundred million Muslims, would rise as one man to defend the oldest Muslim dynasty in India.”
The nizam now said that he would sign a treaty with India, but not an Instrument of Accession. In late November 1947 he agreed to sign a “Standstill Agreement,” under which the arrangements made between Hyderabad and the British Raj would be continued with its successor government. This brought both parties time: the nizam to reconsider his bid for independence, the Indians to find better ways of persuading him to accede. Under this agreement, the nizam and the Indian government deputed agents to each others territory. The Indian agent was K.M. Munshi, trusted ally of Vallabhbhai Patel. In November, the nizam had appointed a new diwan, Mir Laiq Ali, a wealthy businessman who was known to be sympathetic to Pakistan. Laiq Ali offered some Hindu representation in his government, but it was seen by the state congress as too little, too late. In any case, by now the real power had passed on to the Razakars and its leader, Kasim Razvi. By March 1948 the membership of he Ittihad had reached 1 million, a tenth of whom were being trained in arms. Every Razakar had taken a vow in the name of Allah to “fight to the last to maintain the supremacy of Muslim power in the Deccan.”
In April 1948, a correspondent of The Times of London visited Hyderabad. He interviewed Kasim Razvi and found him to be a ” fanatical demagogue with great gifts o organization. As “rabble- rouser” he is formidable, and even in a tete-a-tete he is compelling.” Razavi saw himself as a prospective leader of a Muslim state, a sort of Jinnah for the Hyderabadis, albeit a more militant one. He had a portrait of the Pakistani leader prominently displayed in his room. Razvi told an Indian journalist that he greatly admired Jinnah, adding that ” whenever I am in doubt I go him for counsel which he never grudges giving me.”
Pictures of Razvi show him with a luxuriant beard. He looked ” rather like an oriental Mephistopheles.” His most striking feature was his flashing eyes, ” from which the face of fanaticism exudes.” He had contempt for the Congress, saying ” we don’t want Brahmin or Bania rule here.” Asked which side the Razakars would take if Pakistan and India clashed, Razvi answered that Pakistan could take care of itself, but added: “Whenever Muslims interests are affected, our interest and sympathy will go out. This applies of course to Palestine as well. Even if Muslim interests are affected in hell, our heart will go out in sympathy.”
The Razakars saw the battle between Delhi and Hyderabad in Hindu-Muslim terms. The Congress, on the other hand, saw it as a clash between democracy and autocracy. In truth, it was a bit of both. Caught in the crossfire were he citizens of Hyderabad, for whom the months after August 1947 were a time of deep insecurity. Some Hindus began fleeing the state for the adjoining districts of Madras. Meanwhile, Muslims from the Central Provinces were flocking to Hyderabad. Mostly illiterate, these Muslims had heard fearful reports of attacks on their co- religionists in Bengal and Punjab. But they did not seem to realize that in Hyderabad too the would be a minority. Perhaps, as an independent observer put it, ” these emigrating Muslims have more trust in the Nizam’s troops and Arabs to protect them than in the Union provincial administration.” In turn, these Muslims from the Central Provinces were said to have thrown out Hindus from their houses in Hyderabad, aided by Nizam’s men. It was even claimed that there was a plan to make Muslims a majority in the state: apparently, Hindu neighborhoods in cities like Aurangabad, Bidar, and Hyderabad had come to ” present a deserted appearanc’.’
Through the spring and summer of 1948 the tension grew. There were allegations of gunrunning from Pakistan to Hyderabad- in planes flown by British mercenaries- and of the import of arms from Eastern Europe. The prime minister of Madras wrote to Patel saying he found it difficult to cope with the flood of refugees from Hyderabad. K.M. Munshi sent lurid reports of the nizam’s perfidy, of his ” fixed idea” of independence, of his referring to the government of India as ” the scoundrels of Delhi,” of ” the venomous propaganda being carried out day and night through speeches, Nizam’s radio, newspapers, dramas etc., against the Indian Union.”
For the moment , Indians temporized. In June 198, V.P. Menon and Laiq Ali held a series of meetings in Delhi. Menon asked that the state introduce representative government and promise a plebiscite on accession. Various exceptions were proposed to protect the nizam’s dignity; these included the retention o troops. None were found acceptable. Meanwhile, the respected former diwan of Hyderabad, Sir Mirza Ismail, attempted to mediate. He advised the nizam not to take Hyderabad’s case to the United Nations ( as Laiq Ali had threatened to do so), to get himself out of the clutches of the Razakars, and to accede to India. Hyderabad, Mirza Ismail told His Exalted Highness, “must realize the weakness of its position.”
On 21 June 1948 Lord Mountbatten demitted the office of governor general. Three days previously, he had written to the nizam urging him to compromise, and go down in history “as the peace- maker of South India and as the Saviour of your State, your dynasty, and your people.” if the nizam stuck to his stand, however, he would ” incur the universal condemnation of thinking people.” The nizam chose not to listen. But with Mountbatten gone, it became easier for Patel to take decisive action. On 13 September a contingent of Indian troops was sent into Hyderabad. In less than four days it had full control of th state. Those killed in the fighting included forty- two Indian soldiers an some 2000 Razakars.
On the night of 17 September, the nizam spoke on the radio, his speech was very likely written for him by K.M. Munshi. He announced a ban on the Razakars, and advised his subjects to ” live in peace and harmony with the rest of the people of India.” Six days later he made another broadcast, saying that Razvi and his men had taken “possession of th e State” by “Hitlerite” methods and ” spread terror.” he was, he claimed ” anxious to come to an honourable settlement with India but this group . . . got me to reject the offers made by the Government of India from time to time.”
Whether by accident or design, the Indian action against Hyderabad took place two days after the death of Pakistan’s governor general. Jinnah had predicted that 100 million Muslims would rise if the nizam’ state was threatened. That didn’t happen, but in parts of Pakistan feelings ran high. In Karachi a crowd of 5,000 marched in protest to the Indian High Commission. The high commissioner, an old Gandhian, came out on the street to pacify them. “You cowards,” they shouted back, “you have attacked us just when our father has died.”
In June , a senior Congress leader had told the nizam that if he made peace with the Indian Union, His Exalted Highness of Hyderabad might even become “His Excellency the Ambassador of the whole of India at Moscow or Washington. In the event, that offer was not made, perhaps because his dress or his style of entertainment, or both, did not seem fitting for a diplomatic mission. But he was rewarded for his final submission by being made raipramukh, or governor, of the new Indian state of Hyderabad.
Two years after the end of the ancien regime, the journalist Khwaja Ahmad Abbas of Bombay visited Hyderabad. He found that in the window of the 100- year- old photo studio of Raja Deendayal, pictures of the city’s ” liberator,” Colonel J.N. Chaudhuri of the Indian Army, has eclipsed portraits of the nizam. Now, in Hyderabad, the white Congress cap was ” the headgear of the new ruling class, and inspired the same awe as th conical Asafjahi disaster ( ready- to- wear turban) did before the police station.
By courtesy: India after Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha, published by Harper Collins , New York USA 2008

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