Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, a lawyer turned politician from Gujarat and former home minister of Bombay Presidency sat in the Indian Independence Bill conference chaired by Lord Mountbatten on July 2nd, 1947 alongside who’s who of Congress, oblivious to the role he had to play in the upcoming months, i.e. of an Agent-General of India to Hyderabad State. He saw the Bill that proposed to set free the five hundred and odd princely states off their paramountcy but not to include them either in the Indian or Pakistani dominions as “afloating them on uncharted seas of chaos like derelict ships.”
Sardar Patel tried to recruit K M Munshi in December 1947 but it wasn’t until M K Gandhi persuaded him that Munshi had agreed. Gandhi had secured Munshi’s acceptance by advising him that the task was “not merely a commission but his Dharma”.
Thus began Munshi’s journey with Hyderabad State affairs during it’s most politically tumultuous time in history which he documented in his memoir The End of an Era unraveling the roller-coaster like events culminating in the forceful accession of the state to the Indian Union. What stands out in his fascinating narrative is his dramatic personal commentary invoking Hindu mythology interlaced with factual events at various stages of the turmoil.
Drama had already arrived in Hyderabad even before Munshi did.
Congress strategised a pre-emptive move by demanding the allocation of British Residency to house the Indian Agent-General during his stay in Hyderabad. The bluff was easy to be caught as this meant the Indian Agent-General was assuming the former role of the British Agent who historically was housed at the residency and thus assuming the Paramountcy the British held over Hyderabad. The move created quite a stir in Hyderabad and left all it’s stakeholders perturbed, from the Ala Hazrat to the Wazeer-e-Azam to the Ittehad-ul-Mussalmeen etc. Nizam telegrammed his refusal to allocate the Residency. Qasim Razvi, the president of Ittehad threatened with an attack on Residency and that it’s bricks to be thrown into Musi River flowing by.
Mir Laiq Ali, the then Prime Minister of Hyderabad recounts, “perhaps never before in history had the arrival of a diplomatic representative created so much anxiety gaining world’s attention.” There were even rumors being floated of an attack to seize British Residency by the Indian side using forces still stationed in Secunderabad awaiting transition and of preparation of a counter-attack by Hyderabad. Such an event could have escalated very quickly into a large-scale war throwing all diplomacy to wind. Defusing this tension was to become the greatest diplomatic contribution of K M Munshi who got on a phone call with Laiq Ali and suggested he be a guest of the state instead and be housed at the Bolarum Residency about 15 miles from the city, a secondary office used by the British Residents in summer. Both agreed such a gesture would not harm the sentiments of Hyderabad while saving the prestige of Indian Government.
The Nizam reluctantly approved the request for Bolarum Residency but only for 11 days until an alternate accommodation was to be found. Munshi’s arrival in Hyderabad on Jan 5th 1948 was a grand affair with Hyderabad state reception and a guard of honor by Indian army units of Bolarum. In contrast, Hyderabad’s Agent-General to India, Nawab Zain Yar Jung who flew into Delhi the same day was meted out a cold reception marked with absence of Indian representatives.
Munshi later shifted to “Deccan House”, residence of a former British officer that he decided to rename as “Dakshina Sadan”, the Sanskrit version. Munshi’s perception of being Hyderabad’s “guest” was turned into an opportunity by Laiq Ali to restrict his access to state affairs as much as possible. Munshi’s original dinner invitation to Nizam’s ministry was turned into Laiq Ali’s reception dinner for Munshi instead. It didn’t help Munshi’s cause when he invoked a fictional “Hindu Kingdom” nearby Hyderabad from one of his novels at the dinner party. A small Razakar unit was deployed on bicycles by Dakshina Sadan to monitor his movements closely. Munshi recalled Vishakadatt’s play “Mudra Rakshasa” where he perhaps saw himself as the protagonist, Chandragupta Maurya and Qasim Razvi as his antagonist Rakshasa.
A reception by Secunderabad citizens followed at a racecourse chaired by Ramanand Tirtha at which Munshi compared the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan to the Mughal Emperor Akbar, on the lines of their secular credentials. Munshi on his part thought he built a foundation for the task he had arrived for – as a midwife to assist the birth of a new Hyderabad State under India. Ittehad however took offence with the comparison, as Akbar wasn’t a “true Muslim” whereas the Nizam was the head of an “Islamic State”.
It wasn’t like either Munshi or his counterpart Zain Yar Jung had any formal plans in place as the political strings were held by V P Menon and Mir Laiq Ali, the think-tanks on either side of negotiations who used the Agent-Generals merely as props only allowing them to improvise at the most. When Munshi realized this, he heartbreakingly shared his situation with Sardar Patel as “Sita sitting alone in the Ashoka Vana”.
Soon after, he received the news of M K Gandhi’s assassination and recollected Gandhi’s prophecy that if he were ever to be killed it would be at the hands of a Hindu and not of a Muslim. He compared Gandhi’s death with that of “Sri Krishna who died full of age and divine honors but by the arrow of an obscure hunter; Socrates poisoned by his own people; Jesus dying on cross by the venom of his own people”.
On his part, Munshi improvised his bit striking friendships with North Indian baniyas of Hyderabad and with the aspirational State Congress members. However nothing solidified into an actual plan of intervention into the exponentially worsening situation by the day. Laiq Ali had in-fact succeeded to relegate Munshi to the background that the military commander-in-chief of Hyderabad Syed Ahmed El-Edroos finds in his own memoir to be one of the biggest wasted opportunities in the story of Operation Polo. That Munshi never was able to secure a meeting with the Nizam until after it was over stands as a testimony.
Munshi’s role towards the end was to communicate with Hyderabad delegation at the United Nations in September 1948 to withdraw the case that the UN refused to accept on suspicion of communication forgery. The Nizam’s accession speech is rather thought to be penned by Munshi. The night before accession, the Nizam had called Munshi and said of Laiq Ali’s ministry “The vultures have resigned. I don’t know what to do next.”
The Indian army after the accession changed the name of “Dakshina Sadan” back to “Deccan House”.
Moses Tulasi is a Hyderabad-based documentary filmmaker who occasionally writes on History and Culture.