Telangana’s inclusive nationalism has stood tests of time

Adapa Satyanarayana

The distinct identity of Telangana is rooted in cultural synthesis and pluralism from times immemorial. The character of Telangana and the Hyderabadi culture represented co-existence, mutual interaction and harmony of a heterogeneous society mainly consisting of Hindus and Muslims.

Historically, Telangana region witnessed a unique development of secular nationalism and anti-feudal and anti-colonial freedom struggle since the mid-nineteenth century. Display of Hindu-Muslim unity during the 1857 Sepoy Revolt, also known as the First War of Indian Independence was a clear proof. Anti-British propaganda was carried out in the streets of Hyderabad in various forms.

Mullahs and fakirs spread discontentment among the armed forces known as the Bowenpalli Fauj. However, after the attack on British Residency in Hyderabad under the leadership of Maulvi Allauddin and Turrabaz Khan, Rohilla and Afghan sepoys, adivasi Koyas, Gonds, Bhills, and upper caste Hindu zamindars, village officers, Deshpandeys, etc participated in the anti-British struggles.

The ruler of Shorapur, Venkatappa Naik, Peshwa Nana Saheb and Tantia Tope played crucial roles in the anti-British movement, cutting across caste and religious identities. The followers of rebel leaders wandered in disguise as sadhus, sanyasis, mendicants etc., and spread anti-British sentiment among the local people.

Especially, the Rohilla sepoys refused to subject to the English power and openly declared allegiance to Nana Saheb. The Peshwa emphasized the necessity of Hindu-Muslim unity to fight against the British: “Let it be known that in Hindusthan the Hindus and the Mohammedans having been provoked to stand up together to defend their faiths, have attacked the camps of the Sahebs and they (the Sahebs) have been slain everywhere. You are therefore enjoined to act in the name of your faith and destroy the Englishmen wherever they may be found. This is the only way in which Hindus and Mohammedans alike would be able to preserve their faiths.”

In the Nizam’s Dominions, Nirmal, Kowlas, Koppal, Raichur, Kollapur etc. became the main centers of revolt. The pioneering role played by Sonaji Pandit, Ratnakar Page, Ranga Rao Patwari, and Begum Bazar Rao Saheb in the anti-British conspiracy and secret movements within the Hyderabad city was quite laudable.

Consequently, the Telangana region was in a state of ferment. A British official noted that “the disaffected elements in Hyderabad were impelled by an urge to join in a plan of general rising against the British”. The anger and hostility of the people was directed against both the Nizam and the British by displaying Hindu-Muslim unity.

The uprising led by Turrabaz Khan which sowed seeds of anti-British and anti-Nizam consciousness and facilitated growth of secular nationalism cutting across caste, class, and religious identities was an important episode in the history of modern Telangana.

Public awakening

In the Nizam’s Dominions distinct political consciousness  was crystallized towards the end of nineteenth century with the agitation against the Chanda Railway Scheme, which sought to benefit the British capitalists.

It was opposed by the prominent Hyderabadi intellectuals like Aghoranath Chatopadyaya, Mulla Abdul Qayum and Dastur Ausagi Hoshang. But the Nizam’s government punished them. It caused dissatisfaction among the educated middle classes and they organized various movements to achieve civil and democratic rights.

The early nationalist leaders were responsible for the educational and social awakening in the state. The founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and the freedom struggle had inspired many Hyderabadis and leading nationalists like Aghornath Chattopadhyaya have played an important role in the growth of socio-cultural and political movements in the Nizam’s State.

The nationalist movement was led by several Hindu and Muslim intellectuals like Aghoranath Chatopadyaya, Mulla Abdul Qayyum, Ramachandra Pillay, Mohib Hussain, Haji Sajanlal and Syed Akhil. Inspired by nationalist thought, Abdul Qayyum, an employee of the Nizam’s government wrote articles in the newspapers and supported the anti-British nationalist movement.

Broad based socio-cultural and political movements were led by intellectuals cutting across caste, class, religious identities and loyalties. Various organizations like Arya Samaj, Brahma Samaj, Adi-Hindu Mahasabha, Andhra Mahasabha, Sri Krishnadevaraya Andhra Bhasha Nilayam and other libraries, newspapers like Hyderabad Record, Nilagiri Patrika, Golkonda Patrika, Hyderabad State Congress, Socialist and Communist parties have played an important role in the growth of public opinion and freedom struggle in Telangana.

Gandhian influence

The philosophy and ideology of Mahatma Gandhi caught the imagination of people across India and Telangana was no exception. The close vigilance and restrictions imposed by the Nizam’s government could not deter the spread of Gandhian thought in Telangana.

The rise and growth of anti-colonial and anti-Nizam freedom struggle drew the attention of the authorities to the rapid growth and progress of the political agitation in its many and varied aspects within the Hyderabad State.

The political movement began with the Khilafat agitation in 1920, and became very popular which was considered by the government as dangerous.

Several meetings were held all over the Nizam’s Dominions criticizing the British Government for bringing about the disintegration of the Turkish Empire and appealing to the Nizam to take up the cause of the Khilafat agitation. Gandhiji’s decision to launch the non-cooperation movement combined with the Khilafat cause found a great response in Telangana districts like Atrafbalda (Hyderabad), Mahabubnagar, Medak, Karimnagar, Warangal, Nalgonda, Adilabad and so on.

The Gandhian influence began to spread in spite of strict barriers imposed by the Nizam’s government. The growth of Khilafat agitation was a case in point, as it brought about greater Hindu-Muslim unity. Youm-e-Khilafat (Khilafat Day) was observed in the months of March and April, 1920.

The Khilafat agitation brought the Hindus and Muslim together and several leaders like Barrister Asghar, Asghar Hasan, Mohammed Murturza and Humayun Mirza arranged meetings which were also addressed by Hindu leaders like Pandit Keshav Rao Koratkar, Vaman Naik, Raghavendra Rao Sharma, Pandit Digambar Das Choudhary and M. Narsing Rao.

On 23rd April, 1920 a mammoth meeting was held in the Vivek Vardhini grounds to celebrate the Youm-e-imtihan (A day of trial). This meeting was addressed by both Muslims and Hindus. On the spot a contribution of Rs.12,000 was made for carrying on the Khilafat agitation.

Khilafat notes of rupees hundred, ten and one were secretly sold in Aurangabad, Osmanabad, Parbhani and Warangal. Dr. Mohammed Hussain Efandi donated his motor car and half of his property to carry on the Khilafat agitation.

Regarding the spread of Gandhian ideals in Hyderabad, Sir Ali Imam, the President of the Executive Council of the Nizam’s State remarked, “Mr. Gandhi’s Movement, has proved to be an insidious one, bringing in its wake lawlessness, pure and simple, in every form and shape it takes. The danger of the cult is all the greater because of the religious incentive behind it. As a political phenomenon it is an object lesson for it is the first time in an alliance between the various religious sections of the disaffected in this land.”

Having inspired by the Gandhian thought and movements some Hyderabadi students studying in Bombay, Pune, Aligarh etc., had given up their studies. Among them Jayasurya, student of Grant Medical College, Mir Mahabub Hussain, Akbar Ali Khan, Maqbul Ali, Syed Ansari, students of Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh were important.

During the non-cooperation movement several activities relating to prohibition and boycott of liquor and propagation of Khadi/Charka were intensified in different parts of Telangana. A number of Muslim intellectuals began to wear Khadi clothes and Gandhi caps.

They also contributed liberally to Tilak Swaraj Fund and propagated the cult of Khadi. During the non-cooperation movement a massive meeting took place at the Viveka Vardhini Theater under the Chairmanship of Mohammad Asghar and prominent Hindu leaders like Ramachandra Naik, Vaman Naik, Shri Kishan and Guru Rao spoke on the occasion.

The influence of Mahatma Gandhi on the freedom struggle was reinforced by his personal visits to Hyderabad and Telangana. Soon after the withdrawal of non-co-operation movement his visit focused on the constructive programme, which included prohibition, khadi, charka, abolition of untouchability and Harijan uplift.

Under the influence of Gandhi prominent social reform leaders like Krishnaswami Mudiraj, Bhagya Reddy Verma, Kesava Ro Koratkar, Vaman Naik, Ravi Narayana Reddy etc., carried out various welfare measures for the downtrodden communities.

Gandhiji visited the Adi-Hindu Bhavan at Chadarghat established by Bhagya Reddy Varma and appreciated his educational and social reform programmes. Gandhi also visited the Kanya Hindi Pathasala established by Krishnaswamy Mudiraj and appreciated his efforts in favor of women’s education.

During his visit to Hyderabad he attended many meetings and exhorted people to participate in socio-cultural and political movements. It is interesting to note that Gandhiji praised the religious harmony and peaceful coexistence among diverse communities and castes.

He remarked: “I am greatly pleased to hear that, in the Nizam’s Dominions, there is sound Hindu-Muslim amity. I am very happy that the Nizam has captivated the hearts of Hindus…I am greatly delighted at your unity.”  The spirit of Gandhism was manifested in various activities undertaken by the people in Telangana cutting across caste and religious identities.

The display of secular nationalism was quite distinctly visible during Gandhi’s last visit in some parts of Telangana in 1946. In the 1940s, political conditions in the Hyderabad state were polarized in terms of communal and nationalist ideologies. On the eve of Independence the Nizam declared his sovereignty by announcing Azad Hyderabad and encouraged the religious fanatics like Razakars.

The Nizam’s government banned political activities of moderate and leftist parties. The Telangana peasantry launched vigorous anti-feudal and anti-Nizam movement under the leadership of Andhra Mahasabha led by the communists. The moderate leadership of the Hyderabad State Congress became ineffective.

Against this background, Mahatma Gandhi stormed into Telangana and ignited popular nationalism and hence his visit assumed historical significance.

While travelling in a special train on his way to Wardha from Madras, he stopped at the important railway stations in Telangana like Madhira, Khammam, Garla, Mahabubabad, Warangal, Kazipet and Manchiryal.

Thousands of people Hindus, Muslims, Christians, including illiterate peasants, educated middle classes, traders, merchants, and women gathered to have his darshan and were inspired by his charisma and speeches.

The village folk went back to their homes with fond memories of Gandhian message and resolved to end the autocratic regime of the Nizam, which was propped up by British colonialism.

Just as the first violent attack by Turrabaz Khan led to united struggles against British colonialism and paved the way for secular nationalism, the militant peasant upsurge in Telangana led to collapse of Nizam’s autocracy. The legacy of secular nationalism of the nineteenth century personified by Ramji Gond, Aghornath Chatopodhyaya and Mulla Abdul Qayyum was continued during the freedom movement and the Telangana peasant armed struggle.

Therefore, the martyrs of autocratic Nizam’s regime, Shoebulla Khan, Sheik Bandagi, Komuram Bheem, Doddi Komarayya and Chityala Ilamma became the memorable symbols of popular secular and inclusive nationalism in Telangana. 

Adapa Satyanarayana is an expert on history of Telangana. Until recently he was teaching at Osmania University.

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