Destructive merger

Print edition : September 19, 2014

december 25, 1948: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is welcomed by the Nizam at the King Kothi Palace in Hyderabad. The Nizam was not keen on acceding to the Indian Union and tried his best to declare Hyderabad an independent state. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1946: Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel leaving the Viceregal lodge in Shimla after their talks with the British Cabinet Mission in India. The author says while Nehru's concern was to defeat Hyderabad's secessionist venture, Patel wanted to destroy Hyderabad and its culture completely. Photo: THE HINDU Archives

The author documents how Mohammed Ali Jinnah (above) played his own politics in Hyderabad affairs both as the president of the Muslim League and later as the Governor General of Pakistan. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Hyderabad’s accession to India was inevitable, but there were better alternatives to the Army action that Sardar Patel pushed through, says A.G. Noorani.

BOOKS on the turbulent history of the erstwhile Hyderabad state are dime a dozen. But The Destruction of Hyderabad, authored by the eminent lawyer and columnist A.G. Noorani, encapsulating the transition of Hyderabad from the reign of the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, to its troublesome merger into the Indian Union, is of a different genre by all accounts.

Rummaging through the largely unexplored archival records, Noorani dissects, with surgical precision, this transition period as no writer has done before. He ferrets out hitherto unknown and suppressed facts—the most significant being the Sunderlal Committee report on the massacre of Muslims which kicked off a debate on whether or not to declassify such “sensitive” reports. Unlike the “court historians of Indian nationalism”, Noorani has had the courage to publish, perhaps for the first time, the entire committee report in the book.

For the author, the appointment of the committee, its submission and the way it was suppressed reflected the varying mindset of the two political giants of that era: Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He writes: “Patel hated the Nizam personally and was ideologically opposed to Hyderabad’s composite culture. Nehru’s concern was to… [defeat] Hyderabad’s secessionist venture. Patel wanted to go further. He wanted to destroy Hyderabad and its culture completely. In Hyderabad as in Kashmir, Nehru was an ardent Indian nationalist. On both states, Vallabhbhai Patel was a strident Hindu nationalist.”

In fact, this thoroughly researched book is described as a trilogy by the author, the other two being Jinnah and Tilak: Comrades in the Freedom Struggle and The Kashmir Dispute 1947-2012. “The Hyderabad question was linked inextricably to the causes of the partition of India and to the roots of the Kashmir dispute,” he observes.

Patel’s contempt

Patel did not conceal his contempt for Hyderabad and often described it as an “ulcer in the heart of India”, Noorani writes. He was the villain of the piece in the destruction of Hyderabad, he argues and, using a plethora of Patel’s letters, biography and public speeches, portrays him as a hard-core Hindu communalist within the Congress. He narrates the way Patel opposed Maulana Azad’s inclusion in Nehru’s first Cabinet and managed to get the Congress Working Committee nod for opening the party’s membership to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). When Nehru, who could not attend the meeting, came to know, he simply withdrew the approval. It only shows the ingrained Hindu bias of Patel, the author contends, providing, in a way, the answer to why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now deifying Patel and installing a mammoth 183-metre-high statue of him in Gujarat.

Noorani brings out the long debates that went on for months between Patel and Nehru over the way the Hyderabad issue should be tackled and argues that the military intervention in the guise of a “Police Action” codenamed Operation Polo, inspired by Patel, was quite unnecessary. “Before long the Nizam, isolated at home and abroad, would have relented. Hyderabad simply could not have held out for long. There were better alternatives to Army action. Hyderabad’s accession to India was not only desirable and necessary but inevitable. There can be no defence of the Nizam’s criminal folly, nor of Patel’s. Patient pursuit of a peaceful course would have yielded lasting dividends. It was a road not taken and the one taken inflicted injuries, which have not quite healed….”

It was this military misadventure, according to him, that triggered the destruction of Hyderabad, causing irreparable damage to its unique, syncretic and composite culture. It left a permanent scar on Muslims, hurt their psyche and shook their confidence, infusing in them a feeling of insecurity, seen even now, six decades after the tumultuous event.

With the economic blockade, the Nizam was down and out and was desperately looking for escape routes. All it required was a little patience and show of statesmanship on the part of the Indian leaders. “Alternative options were not even considered… the Indian narrative of the events is content to rest the case with the Nizam’s intransigence. No questions are asked about the wisdom, let alone the morality, of the invasion,” says Noorani.

The Nizam’s actions

But the author lets out a contradiction here, at least, for a large section of readers who have closely tracked the history of Hyderabad. In one chapter after another he meticulously lists out letters, official correspondence and diplomatic exchanges, all of which point to the Nizam’s determined bid to cling on to power. The Nizam desperately begged “for protection from departing British power”, invoking the doctrine of the Crown’s paramountcy over the princely states and the past treaties of protection; tried to declare Hyderabad an independent state; and approached the United Nations to resolve the dispute between Hyderabad and the Union of India.

He made a brazen attempt to buy Goa from Portugal—“a quixotic plan”, as the author describes, and devotes to it an entire chapter—to open up the sea route to Hyderabad and fulfil “his unwavering ambition to make Hyderabad an independent state”. Apparently, the Nizam and his advisers ignored a stark geographic reality, as the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, told a Hyderabad delegation in 1946, spreading out a map before them, that transit rights are required over a hostile Indian territory to reach Goa!

The Nizam’s overtures to Pakistan and Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his covert support to the Razakars—“rabid volunteer corps” led by Syed Qasim Razvi—ignoring their violent actions, his reluctance to establish a democratic, responsible government, all well-documented by the author, point to the fact that the Nizam was stubborn and unable to see the writing on the wall. Accession to India, as desired by the majority of the people, was never on the Nizam’s agenda, though well-meaning Muslims such as Fareed Mirza tried hard to convince him that it was the only honourable way out for him. These events, captured in microscopic detail by the author, make many readers in Hyderabad wonder if the Nizam left any options for the Indian leadership other than the “Police Action”.

Noorani himself notes: “There can be no denying the fact that the feudal order of the Nizam’s dominions deserved to be discarded. Painful adjustments would have been necessary even in peaceful transition to a new democratic order ushered in by a compact between the Nizam and the leaders of the Government of India. Violent change made the transition far more painful, with lasting consequences.” Much as Noorani argues against the military action and justifiably so, for the pain it triggers, there is also a view that if India had not acted in some manner decisively at that point of time, Hyderabad would have remained a disputed territory sitting in the midst of a free, democratic, secular nation.

Barring this jarring contradiction of picking holes in the Nizam’s deceitful grand plan of retaining Hyderabad as an independent state and simultaneously finding fault with the Indian government’s intervention, Noorani’s scholarship and yen for bringing out the minutest detail after poring over thousands of archival documents can be seen all over his work, for instance, his description of the Nizam’s adviser, Sir Walter Monckton, and how he symbolised the English saying, “a lawyer gives his services to all; himself to none”.

He stumbles on a paper written by Monckton in October 1947, entitled “A Strange Client”, where he describes to his wife his relations with the Nizam as “nurse to a difficult child of suicidal tendencies, my task to prevent or postpone the suicide”. Monckton persisted in the task long after his inability to do either became evident, the author notes, recounting the predicament of the Nizam while choosing a politically suicidal path. “Only two men could have prevented the ‘suicide’: Monckton and [Mohammed Ali] Jinnah.”

Jinnah’s politics

Jinnah too gets a lot of prominence in the book, as Noorani delves deep into the relationship between the Pakistan patriarch and the Nizam, beginning with Jinnah’s first visit to Hyderabad in 1919 to address a public meeting on “The India of Tomorrow”. A fierce nationalist at that time as a leading member of the Indian National Congress, Jinnah made an inspiring speech which the Nizam disliked and ordered that he be banned from visiting his dominions. The ban was withdrawn in 1930 and his visit to Hyderabad in December 1937 marked a turning point in his involvement in its politics.

The author documents how Jinnah played his own politics in Hyderabad affairs both as the president of the Muslim League and later as the Governor General of Pakistan. In his presidential address to the annual session of the Muslim League in Patna a year later, he made a special mention of the situation in Hyderabad and warned the Congress against running a campaign with ulterior motives in a Muslim state like Hyderabad. After two long interviews with the Nizam in 1939, they became closer and two more visits to Hyderabad later, Jinnah won a place among the Muslims of Hyderabad, a fact the Nizam could not possibly ignore. Jinnah helped the Nizam in checking the activities of the Ittehadul Muslimeen.

On his part, the Nizam was against India’s partition, but when Pakistan was finally formed, he was eagerly looking for support in retaining Hyderabad as an independent state. Though the Nizam showed his munificence and sent donations to Pakistan, Jinnah never reciprocated. Jinnah did not want the Nizam to accede to India but never came forward with any help Hyderabad required.

When a proxy war began in Kashmir in 1947, Jinnah had high and unreal expectations from Hyderabad, says the author. He wanted Hyderabad to be prepared to assist Pakistan in time of need, his intention being to see that negotiations between Hyderabad and the Indian government go haywire and weaken the latter’s position.

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