INDEPENDENCE v/s INTEGRATION: Operation Polo

By: Shreyansh Kushwaha

Who would be able to resist the delectable taste of the mouth-watering Hyderabadi Biryani? But imagine getting a cardamom in the very first bite? 

This is exactly what happened when India was served the sumptuous ‘British dinner’ called ‘Independence‘. Our nation builders had no idea that the struggle of Independence was probably much smaller in magnitude as compared to the challenge of nation building which now awaited them.

 

BACKGROUND OF THE TALE

The ‘paramountcy’ or the ‘suzerainty’ of the British crown allowed the princely states in the pre-independence India, to hold authority over their internal affairs and maintain a stipulated contingent of armed forces. But eventually when the British regime bid its farewell to the Indians in 1947, they gifted princely states with three choices which were to either join India, become a part of the newly carved Pakistan or the most novel choice; being independent.

 

Independence being the most luscious option was chosen by a large fraction of the princely states. Official records suggest that there were as many as 565 princely states at the time of Indian Independence.

Therefore, in order to realise the dream of a ‘united India’, these princely states had to be merged with the erstwhile Indian Union. The mammoth size of the ‘Statue of Unity’ metaphorically justifies the role played by the contemporaneous home minister and the deputy prime minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel, better known as ‘The Iron Man of India’.

 

He was the chief architect who laid the foundation of a nation we today see as Bharat. With the instruments of diplomacy, persuasion, negotiation and coercion (where needed), he along with V.K.Menon made almost all the princely states to sign the Instrument of Accession (A legal document signing which meant that the state was now officially a part of the Indian Union). 

THE NOTORIOUS HYDERABAD

“An ulcer in the heart of India which needed to be removed surgically”, Sardar Patel commented on the idea of an independent Hyderabad state.

Being the largest and the only princely state not ruled by the British crown, Hyderabad state refused to merge with India. ‘The Nizam’, as the ruler of this state was called, signed a Standstill Agreement with India in November 1947 while the rounds of debate and deliberations were still going on. 

 

Diplomatic attempts by the home minister Sardar Patel went in vain when Osman Ali Khan Asaf Jah VII, the last Nizam of Hyderabad announced the independence of his state from the Indian Union on August 15, 1947.

Another attempt to coax the rigid Nizam was made in June 1948 when Lord Mountbatten put forward the “Heads of Agreement deal”(Heads of Agreement deal was a flexible and non-binding explanatory document which underlined the important points of consideration in the contract.) which would have granted an autonomous status to Hyderabad in the Indian Union, but the Nizam had tasted the British freedom and wanted a complete independent status. 

 

This was a turning point in the tale.

 

THE SIMMERING UPHEAVAL

Communal differences attained a new dimension when a people’s movement in the Hyderabad state (a majority of whom were non-Muslims ruled by the oppressive Nizam) gained prominence. The hotspot of this protest was the Telangana region where the peasantry, which was the victim of Nizam’s oppressive rule, rose against him. Women who were among the worst affected groups joined the movement in large numbers.

 

As feared, the Nizam unleashed the state’s paramilitary force who were given the title of ‘Razakars’, on the people. As ‘published’, the Razakars were very brutal with their suppression and their atrocities were purely communal in nature. They murdered, raped, robbed, looted, maimed, and killed particularly the non-Muslims transforming it into a communal massacre.

 

THE SURGICAL APPROACH

As the famous historian Reginald Coupland quoted “India could live if its Moslem limbs in the northwest and northeast were amputated but could it live without a midriff?”

 

Delhi answered it with a big no! With a little different perspective, the leaders of the nation saw an opportunity amongst this chaos and used it to put in place the last yet the central piece of the jigsaw puzzle (India).

The Indian government launched ‘OPERATION POLO’, which is often called Operation Caterpillar. It was less of an operation but more of a military uprising where 36,000 Indian troops moved into Hyderabad to control and lessen the violence on September 13, 1948. But the ‘counter massacre’ caused by the central forces itself never got the required limelight. Loss of life knew no bound when the rifles of the Indian soldiers were fired on thousands of civilians and soldiers and the most astonishing fact about this ‘military peace operation’ is that it caused harm selectively to the Muslim population.

However, the ‘secular’ heads of the government were alarmed when the news of loot, rapes, and the selective mass murder reached their ears. Therefore, in order to investigate the ins and outs of these controversial acts, the Nehru government ordered a commission headed by Pandit Sunderlal, a veteran congressman.

This commission surveyed numerous villages to understand the extent of atrocities committed through the eyes of the survivors. It was extremely disappointing to note that not only did the Indian soldiers and the local police loot and commit other crimes, but they instigated and even forced the Hindu civilians to make the lives of the Muslim population even more miserable.

The report brought in by Sunderlal and team revealed appalling figures with as many as 27,000 to 40,000 people who lost their lives in this uprising. But the Nehru cabinet chose not to publish the contents of the official Sunderlal Report (now available) because they feared that the revelation of the  ‘secular approach’ of the Indian army would have acted as a fuel to pre-existing Hindu-Muslim tensions.

 

THE FINAL STITCHES

After compelling the Nizam’s forces to surrender, a military administration was set up in the Hyderabad state under Gen. J.N. Chaudhuri. The Indian forces had entered Hyderabad on September 13 and defeated the Nizam’s Razakars on September 17, 1948 and took complete control over the state.

The next step was gaining full control of the Hyderabad state and making it an integral part of the Indian Union.

On September 28, 1948 Osman Ali Khan Asaf Jah VII signed the Instrument of Accession with the Indian Government. Furthermore as a reward, Nizam was crowned as the Governor of Hyderabad (no more a state) with highly insignificant powers.

A massacre that took thousands of innocent lives, caused an irreparable scar on the secular identity of our nation and portrayed the phrase “an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind” way too literally was simply labelled as ‘Operation Polo’.

So the next time you visit the iconic Charminar, make sure that at least once you realise that the land on which your feet stand is blotted with the blood of those innocent lives who had nothing to do with politics, power, authority and religious intolerance.

 

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/a-peek-into-the-history-of-hyderabad/article7659135.ece

  2. https://indianexpress.com/article/research/hyderabad-liberation-day-operation-polo-nizam-5361186/

  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24159594 

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