Hyderabad, the largest princely state at the time of Indian independence was caught in a confusing web, partly of its own making. Bred on the delusion of born to rule, always protected by the British and egged on by Razakars, a volunteer militia, the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was pitching for independent sovereign state. Often susceptible to wrong advice, the Nizam took the “dispute” of Hyderabad’s future to the U.N Security Council even while preposterously considering the option of merging Hyderabad with newly carved out Pakistan. On the other hand, India was furiously pursuing Hyderabad to join the Indian Union adopting a carrot and stick policy authored by Sardar Vallabbhai Patel.
Patel was gearing up to launch a military operation euphemistically called Police Action. Congress, Arya Samajis and Communists were running freedom movements both for the liberation of Hyderabad from Nizam’s rule and an end to feudalism. The period preceding the liberation of Hyderabad State on September 17, 1948, a full 13 months after Indian independence, was turbulent to say the least. In his memoir, Mohammed Hyder, brings alive all these aspects lucidly weaving facts of history with his own annotations based on interactions with some of the most powerful state and non-state actors of the time who shaped the destiny of Hyderabad.
Using to full effect his situation as man at ground zero during that critical transition period, the Hyderabad Civil Service officer comes up with a balanced narrative shorn off exaggerations. As Collector of Osmanabad, (now part of Maharashtra) a large politically sensitive border district of Hyderabad State he had several unenviable tasks. The most challenging was tackling “violent raids” by the Congress from Indian territory “to cripple civil administration and provoke annexation” and reining-in the armed Razakars, floated by Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen who took upon themselves the task of protecting Muslims and the Muslim rule.
The book is actually an edited version of Hyder’s tenure in Osmanabad written by him in jail in July and August of 1949. He was in jail after the new Hyderabad Government suspended and arrested him and slapped 23 cases including 14 murders, arson and loot — an ordeal undergone by several officers of the time.
The Hyderabad question, he observes, had become a major unresolved issue at the beginning of 1947, no less worrying than Kashmir. In a dispassionate dissection of the unfolding situation, he presents the causes, the differing perceptions and perspectives of the turmoil and the Nizam’s as well as the Muslims’ dilemma. At the level popular politics there was one overwhelming fact, he explains: “Hyderabad was predominantly Hindu with Muslims representing some 20 per cent of the population. From one perspective its political arrangements were self evidently undemocratic, with an autocratic Muslim ruler at the head of the system and a small, apparently reactionary Muslim ruling class dominating its administration and political life”.
Expectedly he finds a contrasting perception inside the ruling system: “Hyderabad was viewed as a state blessed with a remarkably secular outlook, enjoying communal harmony, with a benign ruler concerned with the advancement of the poor and the protection of the oppressed; an excellent administration … and an eclectic ruling elite …”
Probing political and social processes, the author considers the huge demonstration in Hyderabad city by Razakars led by Majlis leader, Syed Qasim Razvi in October 1947 against the administration’s decision to sign “Standstill Agreement” as a “turning point”. The agreement between Hyderabad and the Indian Union spoke of maintaining status quo on the status of the princely state pending accession.
It was this demonstration in front of the houses of the Prime Minister, Nawab of Chattari, advisor, Sir Walter Monckton and Minister, Nawab Ali Nawaz Jung, the main negotiators, the author says, forced them to call off their Delhi visit to sign the agreement. It was treated as “a triumph for Qasim Razvi over the rule, the Government and the people of Hyderabad” and perceived as “October coup”.
In a chapter devoted to Razvi and his phenomenal rise from a small time lawyer in Lathur to a larger than life Majlis leader, Hyder lays threadbare his persona and philosophy, based on a marathon conversation. Questions he posed and the responses he got provide insights into Razvi, often reviled by a section as the man who sowed the seeds of communal divide in Hyderabad with his infamous mission. How could a Muslim minority headed by a Muslim ruler, continue to dominate a vast and politically conscious Hindu majority in Hyderabad? To Hyder’s query, Razvi’s responses were sharp: “The Nizams have ruled Hyderabad for over two hundred years in unbroken line ... The system must have some good in it if it has lasted two hundred years. Do you agree? ... We Muslims rule because we are more fit to rule ... We rule and they [Hindus] own! It is a good arrangement and they know it!” How could Hyderabad avoid accession to the Indian Union? Could India accept the disintegration that might result if Hyderabad stayed out? Razvi shot back, “India is a geographic notion. Hyderabad is a political reality. Are we prepared to sacrifice the reality of Hyderabad for the idea of India?” Hyder says Razvi foresaw a time when Muslims would once again become rulers of India and the Nizam, ruler of Delhi, if only he followed his advice!
Hyder says he was not really impressed and recalls how he came back from the meeting frustrated rather than inspired. For him it seemed “absurd and frightening that this little man could make his position of mastery over Hyderabad”. He concedes that the views Razvi shared certainly existed in Hyderabad Muslim society then, though representing its lowest common denominator.
In the later chapters, Hyder moves on to his own struggle as Collector, his long legal battle with the new Government that took over after the merger of Hyderabad with a series of documentation that makes reading a bit heavy and taxing.
He concludes by highlighting the fallacy of interpreting Hyderabad’s status and its confrontation with India during 1947-48 from the Indian lens of aspirations of nationalist movement, totally ignoring the concerns of a smaller State being hustled into accession. He goes on to compare Indian perspective and Hyderabad’s dilemma to Thucydides’ narrative of the capitulation of the people of the small island of Melos by the mighty Athens. For those craving to know more about Hyderabad’s not so recent history of merger, this is the book.
OCTOBER COUP: — A Memoir of the Struggle for Hyderabad: Mohammed Hyder; Roli Books Pvt. Ltd., M-75, Greater Kailash II Market, New Delhi-110048. Rs. 295.