The year was 1947. Mohd Khaja Moinuddin, a student of the state-run City Science College, could have chosen a comfortable life. As a Deshmukh or Dora — a landlord class belonging to Telangana’s gentry — a life of luxury awaited Moinuddin, just like the other Jagirdars (state-appointed landlords). However, that year, he made a decision that would change his life forever. Nearly 20 years old and a member of the All Hyderabad Students Union (AHSU), Moinuddin formally joined its parent organisation, the Communist Party of India (CPI). He was one of those students who had sniffed the fragrance of freedom, and wanted the same for his people.
At the time, the Communists were waging a full-scale armed rebellion against the landed gentry of Telangana, until the party called off the struggle in 1951. And as a member of the banned CPI, Moinuddin was forced to go underground. Today, many would be surprised to hear such stories, which may not be in tune with the easier version of partition and Independence that we are generally taught. Much of that history has now been forgotten, among them the tale of one of India’s most successful peasant rebellions in Telangana, that thousands like Moinuddin were part of. Today, this history is further complicated by the fact that the Hyderabad state (1724-1948), run by its last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan (1911-48), was one of the last major princely states to join the Indian Union.
The state of Hyderabad was formally annexed on September 17, 1948, through a military offensive called Operation Polo, after negotiations between India and the Hyderabad state failed. Today, the BJP-led Union government is observing the day as ‘Hyderabad Liberation Day’, commemorating the erstwhile princely state’s freedom from the Nizam's ‘tyranny’. For both the BJP and its ideological parent RSS, which were both non-players in the annexation of Hyderabad, this is about hijacking the political narrative, and in doing so, erasing the extreme political unrest of the time. This narrative ignores the peasants who had risen in rebellion against Osman Ali Khan and his state-appointed landlords.
For many like Moinuddin, who were influenced by the global Left politics, it was more or less suicide to defy tradition and speak up against the monarchy. Now 95 years old, Moinuddin recalls, “All of us had gone underground, and we were also fighting against the Razakars (a paramilitary volunteer force under the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen). ‘Land to the tiller’ was our clarion call during the agitation.”
One cannot look at the Telangana Armed Struggle and Operation Polo separately. Both are intertwined and run parallel. The peasant uprising, in fact, outlasted the Nizam’s independence bid. Here is a detailed account of what happened in Telangana, during and after the state of Hyderabad was annexed to India on September 17, 1948.
Not only was Mir Osman Ali Khan, Hyderabad’s last Nizam, one of the world’s richest men, he was also the monarch of the largest princely state under British India. The erstwhile state had 16 districts, eight of which were in present-day Telangana, five in Maharashtra (mostly the Marathwada areas), and three in Karnataka. It was about 2,14,163 square kilometres in size, with a population of about 1.6 crore — 47.8% of whom spoke Telugu, 24.3% Marathi, 11.6% Urdu (majority Muslims), 10.5% Kannada and 5.8% spoke other languages.
Map of the erstwhile Hyderabad state under the last Nizam
Osman Ali Khan was among a handful of monarchs who refused to join India or Pakistan after the British left. In fact, he was dependent on his colonial overlords in his independence bid. Even as a peasant uprising against the landlords in Telangana was underway, the state of Hyderabad, whose last Prime Minister was a man named Mir Laiq Ali, had signed the Standstill Agreement on November 29, 1947, for a period of one year, to negotiate terms. Negotiations, however, eventually failed.
While history and popular culture mostly talk about Osman Ali Khan’s wealth and riches, the state had a dark underbelly, one defined by feudal oppression by the landed gentry against peasants and the downtrodden. The Telangana region was under the complete control of state-appointed Jagirdars, who were essentially revenue collectors. Of course, the Nizam himself directly owned 10% of the state’s lands, while 60% of it were revenue lands (Diwani), and 30% were under the Jagirdars as cited in P Sundarayya’s Telangana People’s Struggle and its Lessons.
The area was rife with vetti-chakiri (bonded slave labour), and oppression against tenant farmers. In the years preceding 1948, not much was done to address these issues.
Jawahalal Nehru with Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan, followed by Moulana Azad
The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) was founded in Hyderabad in or around 1927 by Mahmud Nawaz Jung, a retired government official. While it was originally founded as a social organisation, it soon became a political party, headed by one of its most influential leaders Bahadur Yar Jung.
Under Jung, the MIM took a clear turn to ensure that Hyderabad stayed a Muslim-run state. More importantly, the party’s very constitution had changed. Its sovereignty now rested not on the Nizam, but on the Muslims of Hyderabad. The ruler was just a representative. “The idea Jung wanted to propagate was ‘An-al-Malik’, or ‘we are the kings’,” the late former CPI leader Burgula Narsing Rao had once said. Narsing Rao, who passed away in January last year, was a student leader in the AHSU, studying in the Nizam's College in 1948. He was also an eyewitness to the murder of Shoaibullah Khan, a pro-India scribe who was killed by the Razakars on August 22-23, 1948, outside Rao’s office at Kachiguda.
Bahadur Yar Jung died in 1944 very suddenly, reportedly of a heart attack, at a time when the MIM continued to hold sway over the state. But while some in Hyderabad believe he died of natural causes, rumours have always been around that he was poisoned to death by the powers that be, for challenging the Nizam’s authority.
Jung’s death, however, would change the course of Hyderabad’s history. For two years, the MIM changed heads. In 1946, Qasim Razvi, a small-time lawyer from Latur in Osmanabad, took control of the MIM, giving the party a clear supremacist outlook. Razvi emerged as a parallel political power. The fanatical leader started the Razakar (volunteers) militia, which indulged in atrocities. His violence also had tacit state support, especially from the then Prime Minister Laiq Ali.
The MIM and Razakars are in no way redeemable. Stuck on the idea of Hyderabad staying independent, many from the militia simply went around pillaging villages, often targeting Hindus. “Under Razvi’s charge, the organisation (MIM) fairly quickly became a militant and somewhat frenzied party, accused, not without cause, of being fascist in both spirit and structure,” the late author Omar Khalidi wrote in his book Hyderabad: After The Fall.
In the book October Coup, Mohammed Hyder, the last collector of Osmania district in Hyderabad, recalls his meetings with Razvi. Apparently, Razvi used to argue during these meetings that Muslims are meant to be rulers. It may be noted that even the Nizam himself never said such words, having always maintained that both Muslims and Hindus were “like his two eyes”.
At the peak of the Razakar violence was the murder of Shoaibullah Khan, who was the editor of Imroze, an Urdu daily. The murder had followed a warning issued by Razvi for anyone who took a pro-India stance, Narsing Rao recalled in many of his interviews. “They had cut his wrist off, and warned that they would do that to anyone who writes against the Nizam,” he had said about the incident. Narsing Rao is also the nephew of Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, former Congress leader and first Chief Minister of the Hyderabad state.
One of the few major incidents that sparked the Telangana Armed Struggle or peasant rebellion was the revolt of Chakali Ailamma, a peasant farmer, against her landlord Vishnur Ramchandra Reddy (known as Visnuru Deshmukh) in Palakurthi, Warangal district.
Ailamma refused to give her produce to him, and was joined by others from surrounding villages. This was followed by the rebellion and subsequent death (or martyrdom as CPI calls it) of Doddi Komaraiah, who was fired upon by the landlord’s men during the agitation. Soon, the rebellion began spreading to other parts of Telangana, and in September 1947, a call for armed resistance was issued in the form of a joint statement by Ravi Narayan Reddy, Makhdoom Mohiuddin and Baddam Yella Reddy of the CPI.
The CPI had begun to gather peasants and other like-minded people under the banner of the Andhra Mahasabha years before that. As the party grew in India and Telangana, it was promptly banned by the Hyderabad state government in 1946. This revolution is perhaps one of the most important events in the forgotten chapters of Indian history. But the BJP-led Union government, which is observing ‘Hyderabad Liberation Day’ for a year starting September 17 this year, completely ignores this ‘uncomfortable’ part of the state’s history. Can the BJP laud Communist legends like Ailamma, Ravi Narayan Reddy and Makhdoom?
Today, what many don’t understand is that the Telangana Armed Struggle had in fact continued well after Operation Polo, all the way until 1951. The Indian Army, which took over the state, was even assigned the task of crushing the Communist revolt. The then Union government had viewed the Communists as troublemakers, and a threat. But even after the CPI leadership was split, the agitation continued until October 21 that year.
The CPI’s leadership from both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana regions joined hands to begin the peasant uprising, which witnessed landlords getting killed and being overthrown. Of course, the local peasantry also had its own losses, among them the notorious massacre of Bairanpally in Warangal district in August 1948. An attack by the Razakars had left dozens of villagers killed, while many others had to flee the village. Earlier in June, the villagers had managed to repel the militia for a while. But eventually, it culminated in a bloodbath. According to those who witnessed the events of those days, the Razakars were nothing but violent goons.
“Many Hindu landlords had also joined the Razakars,” recalls MK Moinuddin, who lives in Hyderabad’s Tolichowki now. “I had seen Qasim Razvi in Mongol, my village in Medak district, when I was underground. I snuck out of the place to avoid confrontation.”
Mohd Khaja Moinuddin at his home in Tolichowki
After the Hyderabad state was annexed to India in September 1948, the CPI leadership went through a bitter split. Those like Makhdoom Mohiuddin and Ravi Narayan Reddy felt that they should call off the Armed Struggle and join the Indian Union. However, ‘hardliners’ like P Sundarayya (who was from the Andhra leadership) felt that their struggle against landlords had to go on.
A delegation from the CPI had even gone to meet their Soviet contemporaries to ask for help. That, however, was rejected. Meanwhile, over 4,000 CPI members were arrested by 1951 in the clampdown by the Indian Army. The party called off the armed struggle on October 1 that year, and formally joined the democratic electoral political system.
The annexation too was followed by large-scale communal violence against Muslims (especially in Marathwada areas), in what remains a painful memory for many Muslims in the erstwhile Hyderabad state, especially in the Maharashtra and Karnataka areas. Several Muslim families fled their homes, given that there was a massacre of thousands from the community after the Indian Army took over. The Sunderlal committee report puts the number of Muslim lives lost between 27,000 and 40,000. The area behind Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, in fact, is filled with ‘Muhajirs’ (refugees) who had escaped from the present-day Karnataka region at the time.
Qasim Razvi, who was jailed with scores of Razakars, was given an option to leave for Pakistan, which he did in 1957. The MIM was later rechristened as the All India MIM (AIMIM) by Abdul Wahid Owaisi, the grandfather of its current president and Hyderabad Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
In Telangana, the CPI was still very strong. In the first general elections, the party managed to win 42 out of 77 seats in the region. The Hyderabad state had 175 Assembly seats in total, and the CPI won the first election. Burgula Ramakrishna Rao was its first and last Chief Minister.
The Lok Sabha was constituted on April 17, 1952, after India’s first General Elections. The honour to first enter the Lok Sabha was given to the parliamentarian who had polled the highest votes. That singular distinction went to the then tallest Communist leader from Telangana, Ravi Narayan Reddy, who won from the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat with 3,09,162 votes (higher than even Jawaharlal Nehru in terms of percentage).
The States Reorganisation Commission, formed by the Indian government headed by Prime Minister Nehru, in 1955 recommended against the merger of the Telangana and Andhra regions as a unified Telugu state based on linguistic commonality. But the merger still happened, coming into effect on November 1, 1956.
The Telangana region, however, was backward in terms of education due to its feudal history, which meant that the Government of India had to bring in officers from outside, especially from the Andhra region, to work in the administration. This triggered dissatisfaction and regional demands for jobs, leading to a call for a separate state from 1969, which eventually became a reality on June 2, 2014.
Yunus Lasania is a Hyderabad-based journalist who covers politics and history. He is currently researching about the Telangana Peasant Uprising and the annexation of the Hyderabad state.