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Operation POLO: Story of Indian annexation of Hyderabad

71 years ago, on 13th September,  Vallabhbhai Patel ordered the Army into Hyderabad to integrate it with India. This marked the beginning of Operation Polo, in which the Razakars and the Hyderabadi Military were defeated swiftly by the government of India. Nizam Osman Ali Khan at this time was the richest man in the world. He wanted independence, sanctioned a loan of Rs 20 crore to Pakistan and threatened to go to the UN. Patel had waited enough

What led to Operation Polo?

"We did not understand what Independence Day meant on August 15, 1947. It took us a whole year for that. While the rest of the country was celebrating the attainment of Independence, we were crushed by a tyrant who was dead set against joining India." ~ Katam Lakshminarayana, freedom fighter

Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII
Negotiations continued for months after Indian independence till a Standstill Agreement was signed with Hyderabad in November 1947. But all efforts to broker a deal with Hyderabad failed with the Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII, a Muslim ruler who presided over a largely Hindu population, asserting to remain independent and hoping to maintain this with an irregular army recruited from the Muslim aristocracy, known as the Razakars, who were led by Kasim Razvi, the powerful and manipulative advisor to the Nizam.

It was in June 1948 that Lord Louis Mountbatten, the then Governor General of India, proposed the Heads of Agreement deal which gave Hyderabad the status of an autonomous dominion nation under India. India was ready to sign the deal and did so but the Nizam refused on the grounds that he wanted complete independence or the status of dominion under the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Even a proposal for an Assembly with 40% representation to Muslims who were only 13% of the population was not acceptable to the Nizam. The chaos, the unclear negotiations and rumours that Hyderabad was arming itself with support from the Portuguese administration in Goa and Pakistan, led to communal clashes and added to tension.

The idea of Hyderabad arming itself aided by Pakistan did not go down well with the Indian Government. On the other hand, Hyderabad was making frantic effort to purchase arms. For this purpose Major General El Edroos, the commander of the Hyderabad army, was sent to London on a mission to get automatic weapons and anti-tank guns. Sardar Patel described the idea of an independent Hyderabad as “an ulcer in the heart of India which needed to be removed surgically.”

Qasim Razvi
The leaders of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (also known as Ittehad or MIM) were delivering speeches that there would be a bloodbath in the whole of South India if accession to the Indian Union was effected. Kasim Razvi also made many irresponsible speeches. He threatened, 
"If the Indian Union ventures to enter Hyderabad, the invaders will see the burning everywhere of the bodies of one crore and sixty-five lakhs. The Muslims will not spare others when we ourselves are not allowed to exist.”
On 10 September 1948, the Nizam appealed to the United Nations to intervene. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had now run out of patience and concurred with Patel on the need for a military action. He issued an ultimatum, "With great regret we intend to occupy Secunderabad."

The same day England evacuated British subjects from Hyderabad to return and ordered all British officers to resign from the Hyderabad Army, so that they will not be forced to fight against an erstwhile British dominion. On September 12, Muhammad Ali Jinnah died and Nehru was sure that there would be no interference from Pakistan.

Since the Nizam and his government refused to disband the Razakars and other private armies and to facilitate the return of Indian troops to Secunderabad, where they used to be stationed before, in order to “restore law and order”, 36,000 Indian troops entered the Hyderabad Territory at 4:00 am on 13 September from three sides, West, South and North.

This operation was named “Operation Polo” and it is also referred to as “Operation Caterpillar” at times. Though it was a sophisticated military operation, India was careful to call it ‘Police Action’ to send a clear signal to the international community that it was an internal affair of India.

It was only a five-day war that began in September 13 and lasted till September 18, as Indian Army took over Hyderabad that was now to be merged with India. The first Emergency of India was declared at this time because the government feared riots may break out in South India. It is estimated that 32 were killed and 97 injured on the Indian side and 490 killed and 122 wounded from Hyderabad.

Why was this operation needed?
The British gave the Nizam three options - one, to join Pakistan, two, to remain an independent country and three, to join the Indian Union. Vehemently opposed to India as he was, the Nizam declared on 27 August 1947 that Hyderabad was an Independent and Sovereign state. Thus, even after India’s independence, Hyderabad remained under the feudal rule of the Nizam. August 1948 was a month of struggle by all shades of nationalist opinion.

Events had been moving at a breathtaking pace in the subcontinent from 1946 with the British declaring that they would leave India by 1948, and the British Parliament adopting the Indian Independence Act based on the proposals of June 3, 1947 which envisaged British withdrawal and partition of the country into two Sovereign States of India and Pakistan by August 15.

Having embarked upon such a radical redrawing of the map of the subcontinent, the British government (either deliberately or out of much trumpeted liberal values of respect for treaties and rights of native rulers) left the choice to the rulers of Princely States to either join India or Pakistan or even to remain Independent. Even before August 15, many native rulers whose states were contiguous to India had signed the Instrument of Accession with the exception of Junagadh and Hyderabad. Kashmir was trying various options.

Lord Mountbatten had also written to the Nizam that in view of the special position and peculiar problems of Hyderabad, both Nehru and Sardar Patel felt that Lord Mountbatten should continue to negotiate with the Nizam even after August 15. Accordingly, on August 12, Lord Mountbatten informed the Nizam that an offer of accession would remain open in the case of Hyderabad for a further period of two months. But the Hyderabad problem remained intractable for over a year after August 15, 1947.

In 1947, when the British handed over power to India in New Delhi, the Nizam actually declared himself independent. The idea of acceding to India or even to Pakistan was contrary to his concept of his State's power and dignity, and the state was, in his view, inseparable from himself.

When did the Congress decide the fate of princely states?
The termination of paramountcy would have in principle meant that all rights that flowed from the states' relationship with the British crown would return to them, leaving them free to negotiate relationships with the new states of India and Pakistan "on the basis of complete freedom". Early British plans for the transfer of power, such as the offer produced by the Cripps Mission, recognised the possibility that some princely states might choose to stand out of independent India.

This was unacceptable to the Indian National Congress, which regarded the independence of princely states as a denial of the course of Indian history, and consequently regarded this scheme as a "Balkanisation" of India. The Congress had traditionally been less active in the princely states because of their limited resources which restricted their ability to organise there and their focus on the goal of independence from the British, and because Congress leaders, in particular Mahatma Gandhi, were sympathetic to the more progressive princes as examples of the capacity of Indians to rule themselves.

This changed in the 1930s as a result of the federation scheme contained in the Government of India Act 1935 and the rise of socialist Congress leaders such as Jayaprakash Narayan, and the Congress began to actively engage with popular political and labour activity in the princely states.

By 1939, the Congress' official stance was that the states must enter independent India, on the same terms and with the same autonomy as the provinces of British India, and with their people granted responsible government. As a result, it insisted on the incorporation of the princely states into India in its negotiations with British, but the British took the view that this was not in their power to grant.
A few British leaders, particularly Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy of India, were also uncomfortable with breaking links between independent India and the princely states. The development of trade, commerce and communications during the 19th and 20th centuries had bound the princely states to the British India through a complex network of interests. Agreements relating to railways, customs, irrigation, use of ports, and other similar agreements would get terminated, posing a serious threat to the economic life of the subcontinent.

Mountbatten was also persuaded by the argument of Indian officials such as V. P. Menon that the integration of the princely states into independent India would, to some extent, heal the wounds of partition. The result was that Mountbatten personally favoured and worked towards the accession of princely states to India following the transfer of power, as proposed by the Congress.
By far the most significant factor that led to the princes' decision to accede to India was the policy of the Congress and, in particular, of Patel and Menon. The Congress' stated position was that the princely states were not sovereign entities, and as such could not opt to be independent notwithstanding the end of paramountcy. The princely states must therefore accede to either India or Pakistan. Patel and Menon backed up their diplomatic efforts by producing treaties that were designed to be attractive to rulers of princely states. Two key documents were produced.

The first was the Standstill Agreement, which confirmed the continuance of the pre-existing agreements and administrative practices. The second was the Instrument of Accession, by which the ruler of the princely state in question agreed to the accession of his kingdom to independent India, granting the latter control over specified subject matters.

Where did the annexation of Hyderabad lead to?

The Sunder Lal Committee Report, submitted in 1949 and suppressed by subsequent governments, never saw the light of day until 2013, when it was declassified after historian Sunil Purushotham from the University of Cambridge filed a petition to obtain a copy.

It estimated that between 27,000 and 40,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the annexation of Hyderabad. The number is debated and, lacking proper records, is difficult to verify. But it is undeniable that rioting took place after Hyderabad was annexed and this fact was kept hidden by Nehru, possible out of the fear that it may stoke more riots in India. In five days of what was somewhat misleadingly termed as ‘police action’, the Indian army overtook the state by defeating the Razakars. Hyderabad became a part of the republic of India.

Soon after, reports of massive violence emerged from the state, pointing fingers at the Indian troops for mercilessly killing and pillaging the minority population. An alarmed Nehru appointed a mixed-faith committee under Pandit Sundar Lal, Qazi Abdul Ghaffar, and Maulana Abdulla Misri to investigate and submit a report on the matter.

The report noted, 

“We were informed by the authorities that those eight were the most affected districts and needed most the good offices of our delegation. We, therefore, concentrated on these and succeeded, we might say, to some extent at least, in dispelling the atmosphere of mutual hostility and distrust. It is a significant fact that out of these eight the four worst affected districts (Osmanabad, Gulburga, Bidar and Nanded) had been the main strongholds of Razakars and the people of these four districts had been the worst sufferers at the hands of the Razakars. In the town of Latur, the home of Kasim Razvi - which had been a big business centre, with rich Kuchhi Muslim merchants, the killing continued for over twenty days”.

The report also notes that not only did the Indian army indulge in various brutalities, but it also incited people to perpetrate violence. It also inferred the possible reason for such ill feelings, especially among the Sikh soldiers: “Unfortunately there was a certain element in the army which was not free from communal feelings probably because some of them could not forget the atrocities committed elsewhere on their own kith and kin.”
However, the report also noted that, in spite of the presence of communal elements in the Army, to a large extent the Army stayed disciplined.
“Lest we might be understood to imply a slur on the Indian army we hasten to record our considered opinion that the Indian Army and its officers in Hyderabad generally maintained a high standard of discipline and sense of duty. In General Choudhri (the commander of Operation Polo) we found a man without any tinge of communal prejudice, a firm disciplinarian and thorough gentleman.”

And the report praised the fact that not all humanity was lost in the aftermath of the annexation. “We were given by Muslims instances in which Hindus had defended and given protection to their Muslim neighbours, men and women, even at the cost of their own lives. In some professions the fellow feeling was particularly marked. For instance at places Hindu weavers defended Muslim weavers against Hindu attackers and protected them often at a very heavy cost (including loss of life) to themselves.”

The reaction of the International community also needs to be noted.
Most of the British newspapers roundly condemned the Indian invasion. They were shocked at the blatant use of force in the land of Mahatma, the apostle of ahimsa. The reaction to the Hyderabad issue was quite unexpectedly harsh in Pakistan. An angry crowd gathered at the Indian High Commission in Karachi to protest the attack on Hyderabad. Another fact to note is the migration on large scale the Hyderabad Muslims overseas. Shortly after the military operations, cabinet ministers, top civil servants and others associated with the previous government left for Pakistan.

Where did Razvi head to?

The militant Razakar group was banned, its leader Kasim Razvi was arrested, and the court upon finding him guilty in 1948, sentenced him to life imprisonment. But it laid the condition that if Razvi wished to go to Pakistan after his release, then the sentence could be reduced. Finally, in 1957, upon his release, for one last time (before leaving for Pakistan), Razvi visited Hyderabad to check the status of his political party “Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM)”.

The party, which had become dormant in his absence, needed a strong successor for revival, and Razvi chose Abdul Wahid Owaisi to lead the party. Owaisi took up complete responsibility of the party from Kasim Razvi and as part of the restructuring process, renamed it to “All-India-Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)” to reflect the party’s ambitions of growing into an All-India party.

Over the decades, descendants of Owaisi took charge of the party (his son Salahuddin Owaisi even joined hands with Indira Gandhi of Congress party), and the party is now headed by Salahuddin’s sons, the Owaisi brothers (Akbaruddin Owaisi & Asaduddin Owaisi).

Who was the last Nizam?
Osman Ali was born on April 6, 1886, Hyderabad, India. After a private education, Osman Ali succeeded his father, Maḥbūb ʿAlī Khan, the sixth Nizam, on August 29, 1911.

Encouraging financial reform, he led the state of Hyderabad to an enviable credit position; it issued its own currency notes and coins and acquired ownership of a major railway network. In 1918 he patronized the founding of Osmania University, Hyderabad. In 1937, he made it to the cover of Time Magazine, labelled as the richest man in the world. His wealth was estimated to be just over $2 billion. That was 2 percent of the entire American economy at that time!

He is reported to have found the Jacob Diamond -which is the world’s fifth largest diamond- in the toe of one of his late father’s shoes. Despite his riches, he liked being frugal. He smoked the cheapest brand of cigarettes, relighting and smoking the discarded butts. He once took a cigarette from an adviser, cut it in half and offered the man half back.

Unlike some neighbouring princes, he maintained the feudal character of his state and showed little interest in encouraging political participation of the Hindu majority among his people. In World War II his state provided the British with naval vessels and funded two Royal Air Force squadrons; in 1946 he was awarded the Royal Victorian Chain.

In 1947, the Nizam made a gift of diamond jewels, including a tiara and necklace, to Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of her marriage. The brooches and necklace from this gift are still worn by the Queen and is known as the Nizam of Hyderabad necklace. Supported by the Majlis Ittehad al-Muslimin with its private army, the Raẕākārs, Osman Ali refused to submit to Indian sovereignty in 1947 when Britain withdrew. Appealing to the special alliance he claimed with the British, he placed his case for the full independence of his state before the United Nations. He rejected an Indian ultimatum that he surrender his authority but, in September 1948, was obliged to yield to Indian troops.

He was made president (rajpramukh) of the state but had to accept the advice of Cabinet ministers responsible to an elected legislature until his state was absorbed by neighbouring states in the 1956 general reorganization of boundaries. He then lived in splendid retirement with 7 wives, many concubines, 34 legitimate children (and it is alleged many illegitimate ones), 300 servants, and aging retainers, including a private army.

He provided pensions for some 10,000 princelings and serfs of his former empire and aided Muslim refugees from Palestine. The Nizam’s donation of 5,000 kg of gold to India’s National Defence Fund in 1965 was the biggest ever contribution by any individual or organisation in India and remains unsurpassed till today.

His official Title was – Rustam-i-Dauran, Arustu-i-Zaman, Wal Mamaluk, Asaf Jah VII, Muzaffarul- Mulk-Wal-Mumilak, Nizam-ul- Mulk, Nizam ud Daula Nawab Mir Sir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, Sipah Saula, Fateh Jung, Nizam of Hyderabad and of Berar, Knight Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Honorable General in the Army, Faithful Ally of the British Government.

How far back did the history of the Nizams go?

Nizam al-Mulk

Hyderabad was founded by Nizam al-Mulk, who was intermittently viceroy of the Deccan (peninsular India) under the Mughal emperors from 1713 to 1721 and who resumed the post again under the title Āṣaf Jāh in 1724. 
At that time he became virtually independent and founded the dynasty of the Nizams (rulers) of Hyderabad – the Asaf Jahi dynasty. The British and the French participated in the wars of succession that followed his death in 1748. Ali Khan became the next Nizam (Asaf Jah II).

After temporarily siding with Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore, in 1767, Nizam Ālī accepted British ascendancy in Hyderabad by the Treaty of Masulipatam (1768). From 1778 a British resident and subsidiary force were installed in his dominions. In 1795 Nizam ʿĀlī Khan lost some of his own territories, including parts of Berar, to the Marathas. When he turned to the French, the British increased their subsidiary force stationed in his domain. The Nizam’s territorial gains as an ally of the British against Tipu Sultan in 1792 and 1799 were ceded to the British to meet the cost of that force.

Surrounded, except in the west, by territory owned by or dependent upon the British, Nizam Ālī Khan in 1798 was forced to enter into an agreement that placed his country under British protection, becoming the first Indian prince to do so. His independence in internal matters, however, was confirmed. Nizam Ālī Khan remained a British ally in the second and third Maratha Wars (1803–05, 1817–19), and Nizam Nāṣir al-Dawlah and Hyderabad’s military contingent remained loyal to the British during the Indian Mutiny (1857–58).

In 1918 the Nizam was given the title, “His Exalted Highness,” though the British government of India retained the right to intervene in his domain in case of misrule. Hyderabad remained a peaceful, but somewhat backward, princely state as the movement for independence gathered strength in India. Hyderabad’s Muslim Nizams ruled over a population that was predominantly Hindu.
Mir Osman Ali Khan

Mir Osman Ali Khan’s abdication on 17 September 1948 marked the end of the dynasty's ambitions. The last Nizam died on 24 February 1967. 
All the Nizams are buried in royal graves at the Makkah Masjid near Charminar in Hyderabad except the last, Mir Osman Ali Khan, who wished to be buried beside his mother, in the graveyard of Judi Mosque facing King Kothi Palace, befitting the rulers in time and place.



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