BJP MP from Bengaluru South, Tejasvi Surya, was in Hyderabad this week to attend the 'Praja Sangram Yatra' organised by the Telangana unit of the party. It is here that Tejasvi said, "By aligning with the AIMIM, the TRS government is encouraging anti-national forces....for the last six years, minority appeasement has been taking place day and night. The vehicle belongs to the TRS but the driver is a Razakar." On his Twitter account, the MP took it further and tweeted, "Telangana doesn't need TRS or its B-Team AIMIM. It needs a Sardar Patel-worshiping BJP at the helm." Tejasvi's attempt was clearly to link the AIMIM to the Razakars, a private militia that committed many crimes, a connection that AIMIM has rejected many times, and has been denied by historians too.
Speaking to TNM, Palwai Raghavendra Reddy, a political analyst, said that the BJP is seeking "absolute polarisation" in the state with such statements. "The BJP, as far as Telangana is concerned, doesnât have any other arguments. You can talk about governance and administration-related issues, but the fingers then also point towards BJP at the Union government and various other states. The only option they have is to play polarising cards," he said.
So who were the Razakars?
The Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM) began in the 1920s under Nawab Mahmood Nawaz Khan as a cultural and religious platform for the Muslim community under the rule of Hyderabad Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan. In 1938, Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung was elected as president of the party. Bahadur Yar Jung, who was conferred the title of Qaid-e-Millat, was a great orator and managed to rally large crowds, and the party soon gained significant influence.
However, it was after Jung's death in 1944, that the MIM took a more militant turn under the leadership of Qasim Rizvi, a lawyer from Latur. The Razakars were initially volunteers of the Majlis. Within a few short years, they became a private militia who committed several atrocities and defended the Nizam rule. When India gained independence, the Razakars called for Hyderabad state to either join Pakistan, or to become a Muslim dominion.
The violence of the Razakars has been documented, as they clamped down on dissent, brutally murdering Hindus, communists, and progressive and moderate Muslims who called for integration into India. They even looted and ransacked homes and slaughtered cattle in villages that wanted to integrate. With the Nizam and the Razakars refusing to budge, the Indian government under Home Minister Sardar Patel decided to begin military action on September 13, 1948. The Razakars put up a fight against the Indian forces and it resulted in one of the bloodiest face-offs in independent India.
A committee headed by Pandit Sunderlal estimated that between 27,000 and 40,000 people (mostly Muslims) were killed after Hyderabad was taken over. The committee also noted that several incidents of arson, looting, and the mass murder and rape of Muslims had followed the invasion, seemingly as 'revenge' to years of violence against Hindus by the Razakars. The committee also noted that as violence against Muslims was unleashed, a faction of the army with a communal element watched on. The report noted that the Indian army and officers maintained high discipline. The BBC wrote in 2013 that the Sunderlal committee had visited many villages and "carefully chronicled the accounts of Muslims who had survived the appalling violence". It notes that Jawaharlal Nehru did not officially publish this report.
Some of this version of history is contested too. In this piece in Scroll.in, Swathi Shivanand and Yamini Krishna write, "However, the AIMIMâs pre-accession history is complex. Its actions were in response to the polarising activities of non-state actors such as the Hindu Mahasabha, Arya Samaj and Hyderabad State Congress within and outside the state. Although formed in the late 1920s, it began to demand Muslim dominance in the state only in the 1940s when the vilification of the state as âIslamicâ became widespread".
A contentious legacy
While Tejasvi Surya and other leaders of the BJP are alluding that AIMIM's legacy includes an anti-India stand that was opposed to the freedom struggle, the party and Owaisi himself have constantly distanced themselves from Rizvi, who was arrested and later moved to Pakistan, where he died. Before he left, Rizvi and other senior leaders of the MIM held a meeting to hand over the reins of the party to someone else. It was here that Abdul Wahed Owaisi, Asaduddin's grandfather, took charge.
According to historian Mohammed Norruddin Khan, "Abdul Wahed Owaisi wasn't even associated with the Majlis at that time and was just there out of curiosity. He was the youngest among those present at that meeting. Khasim Razvi told the gathering that he was leaving for Pakistan and asked if anyone was interested in taking over the reins of the Majlis...It was then that Abdul Wahed Owaisi stepped forward and said he was willing to head the organisation."
As per the AIMIMâs official stand, the MIM âceased to existâ after the military action under Operation Polo in 1948 to integrate Hyderabad into the Indian union.
âAfter almost a decade of inactivity, the MIM was revived on March 2, 1958 by Maulvi Abdul Wahed Owaisi, who renamed MIM as All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and converted it into a political party to protect the rights of the minorities enshrined in the Indian Constitution. His main contribution was integrating a disheartened Muslim community into Indiaâs democratic and secular framework and political and electoral processes,â the AIMIM says.
Senior AIMIM leaders whom TNM spoke to repeatedly pointed out that there was no relationship between the MIM under Rizvi and the AIMIM under Abdul Wahed Owaisi, as the latter was formed under the Indian Constitution as a political party. They also said that the BJP was raising the claim repeatedly, simply to polarise and communalise politics, with the hope of making inroads in Telangana.
Historians in Hyderabad agree. Mohammed Safiullah, a well-known historian from Hyderabad, said, "There is no comparison at all. In fact it's an unfair comparison. We have to understand the historical setting in which the Majlis came into being. It was around the same time that the RSS, the Nazi party, the fascist party in Italy and the national movement in Turkey started. This was inspired by all those movements which started in the West. It was only later in the 1940s that they picked up arms. There is no connection between the Majlis of that time, which began as a cultural organisation and the AIMIM now, which is a political outfit."
Palwai termed the comparison unfortunate. "It is highly unfortunate. There is no existing group or organisation called the Razakars. Linking Owaisi and the AIMIM to it is in poor taste, and is being done to divide people on religious lines."
"I don't think it will help the BJP with electoral gains either. Such rhetoric will only firm up their existing vote base. It is unlikely to add new voters unless the AIMIM also does something drastic, which helps the BJP polarise the political field further," he added.
This isn't the first time that the BJP has mentioned Razakars and AIMIM in the same breath. Asaduddin Owaisi himself has criticised the BJP for their comments equating the party to Razakars and dubbing him as Jinnah, saying, âThe Razakars fled to Pakistan. We were loyal to India and stayed here. There is no relationship between us. This MIM belongs to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, not Qasim Rizvi. Those who were with Rizvi, they left for Pakistan. Only those loyal to India stayed here.â
In fact, Sardar Patel himself, who oversaw the military action on Hyderabad, had said, "The Muslims of Hyderabad should live in full confidence and security. They are citizens of India with the same rights as other citizens. If we cannot guarantee this, we are unfit to rule...I want to remove the impression some people have that we harbour any ill-feeling towards Hyderabad on account of the past mistakes of some people here."