By Yacoob Ebrahim
Ask any old-timer Hyderabadi about ‘Police Action’, and a certain darkness forms upon his or her face, for the memories of living in the erstwhile state of Hyderabad between 1947-48 was traumatic, to say the least. 17th September 1948, was when the princely state, then ruled by the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was annexed to India by the Indian army.
The facts first. After independence in 1947, Osman Ali Khan decided to remain independent, not wanting to join either India or Pakistan, which perhaps any other king would have done. What happened, however, was that it allowed Qasim Razvi, leader of the Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), to take control of the political vacuum, even leaving the Nizam powerless at times.
The Razakaars were essentially a militia, running tacitly with state support. Razvi had become MIM’s head after its charismatic leader Bahadur Yar Jung died in 1944. Razvi’s antics and his group’s looting spread terror among the people. The Razakars were opposed to other namely the Hyderabad State Congress and the Communists, both of which were banned (the Congress was later allowed to function).
However, one very important aspect of Operation Polo, in the aftermath of which an estimated 27,000 to 40,000 Muslims died owing to targeted killings in mainly in Marathwada and Hyderabad Karnataka (Sunderlal Committee report), is the Telangana Armed Struggle. It started in 1946 after the peasants started fighting back against oppressive Jagirdars, or feudal landlords, who were harassing poor farmers. In spite of the state forming in 2014, we are yet to recognize those heroes, who fought and also saved lives.
“We were the ones who were fighting against the Razakars, and later with the Indian army. I was a student of the Government City College in 1947. I was also the city secretary of the All Hyderabad Students Union. I was later asked to go underground due to the danger we faced,” recalled Mohd. Khaja Moinuddin (91), a senior member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) from Mongol village in Medak district.
Not only did he go into hiding in 1948, but he also gave up most of his ancestral lands, which he inherited as he was a ‘Deshmukh’, a category of the feudal landlords. “Moreover, many of the landlords in Telangana had hired the Razakars to protect their lands. It was a fight against feudalism here. That is why Muslims were not targeted and killed after Operation Polo in our state,” stated Moinuddin.
Recalling his time as an underground worker, Moinuddin said that he and his comrades would go out late in the night to undertake party activities while moving around Hyderabad from house-to-house to stay away from the city police and later the Indian army’s radar (post-Operation Polo).
Today, he is one among the few from the generation which witnessed Operation Polo and also participated in the Telangana Armed Struggle.
While he was a young man in 1948, many others, especially in the rural areas of Telangana, were children during the strife-torn period between 1946 and 1951 (Telangana Armed Struggle which was called-off on 21 October 1951).
Kandimalla Prathap Reddy, another CPI member, remembered how Razakars had attacked his village in Nalgonda district a few times.
“One of the Razakars was, in fact, a family friend. During the armed struggle, I was just aged 14 years, so I was not allowed to fight. The leaders then told me that we would be of better use in the village, which was actually a safe zone for the Communist leadership. During those days, I acted as a courier, passing information from place to place, whenever necessary,” Prathap Reddy said.
One of the major implications of Operation Polo, however, was that the Indian army, then led by major general J. N. Chaudhuri, had stayed back in Telangana to crush the Communist rebellion. It is well-recorded in history books, even by Syed Ahmed El-Edroos, the last Commander-in-Chief of the Hyderabad State Army, that they were no match for the Indian army and its vastly superior armoury and weaponry.
“Operation Polo was conducted to crush the communists. Osman Ali Khan was not even arrested and he went to become the Rajpramukh (governor) eventually. So you tell me, what is the truth?” questioned Moinuddin. He was referring to the aftermath, after the 18 months of J. N. Chaudhuri being the military-governor when the last Nizam held that position. Moinuddin, like the Urdu revolutionary poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin, has no love lost for the Nizam.
“I agree that the Nizam did some good things, like building Osmania University, the Afzalgunj State Library and other things. But they were also the same people who allowed the British to come in. I and my friends would discuss these things in school and college, thanks to a very nice teacher of ours, Noor-ul-Hassan Sahab, at the Dar-ul-Shifa High School where I had studied. He had completed his B.Ed from Glasgow University in Scotland, and was very progressive,” Moinuddin said, reflecting on his life and revolutionary path.
While he was never arrested, others were not so lucky. Gabbeta Raghu Pal (79), now a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), recalled how his uncle and grandfather were rounded up and beaten by the Indian army personnel who came looking for his father, a CPI leader, after Operation Polo. “They had come to my village Gabbeta, in Jangaon Taluka. The also questioned me that day about my father’s whereabouts,” he said.
His father, Gabbeta Gopal Reddy, was a CPI leader who gave up hundreds of acres of his ancestral land and was also jailed after 1948. “My brother, Thirumal Reddy, was one of the martyrs of the Telangana Armed Struggle. He was a squadron leader (armed), and was shot dead by Indian army personnel in 1949,” said Raghu Pal. He too specifically pointed out that the movement in Telangana was not anti-Muslim, but anti-feudalism.
“Just to prove a point, the CPI, which was still banned but contested the first general elections under the banner of the People’s Democratic Front the first general elections had put up a candidate named Akhter Hussain from Hyderabad for the Jangaon seat. Hussain won with a big majority,” Raghu Pal added. He, however, said that a few instances of communal violence may have occurred even in Telangana against Muslims, as his father had prevented one incident from taking place.
The three of them, who were in the state, but had different experiences, are proud of the movement. Kandimalla Pratha Reddy, in fact, went on to work for the CPI at the cost of his studies while he was enrolled in a school in Nalgonda district after Operation Polo. “I used to keep passing information to leaders who were facing trial or hiding. Eventually, my father got to know of my activities. The party leaders the intervened and made a promise to him that my studies would not suffer. I finished my tenth in the mid-1950s,” he laughed.
Moinuddin also said that most of the Jagirdars had left their villages due to the Telangana Armed Struggle. They went to Hyderabad for shelter. “They formed an organization to save feudalism. We were not thinking on the lines of Hindus and Muslims, but on the lines of peasants and landlords,” he asserted. He went on to explain the kind of atrocities Jagirdars had inflicted upon peasants. The most important thing, he said, was the redistribution of land among poor farmers.
During the feudal period in the first half of the 20th century, Vetti Chakiri (bonded labour) was rampant, along with forced levies on farmers, said both Moinuddin and Raghu Pal. “There was no question of not paying your due, otherwise your produce would be forcibly taken away,” Raghu Pal stated.
The Telangana Armed Struggle also witnessed the participation of many women. Among them, Chakali Ailamma, Mallu Swarajyam and others, were active members.
Among the leaders of the Telangana Armed Struggle, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Ravi Narayan Reddy, Putchalapalli Sundarayya and Baddam Yella Reddy were undoubtedly the tallest. Their popularity and that of the CPI was proven during the first general elections held in 1951-52 when Ravi Narayan Reddy would win the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat with a higher margin than even Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
It is ironic that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is raking up the issue of ‘Liberation Day’ and demanding to celebrate it as freedom from ‘the tyrannical rule of the Nizam.’ The truth could not be further away. The fact of the matter is that heroes like Makhdoom in Telangana prevented a pogrom against Muslims during a crucial period in history.