Mainstream, VOL LVII No 41, New Delhi, September 28, 2019
BJP’s Appropriation of the Telangana Liberation Struggle (1946-48)
Saturday 28 September 2019, by#socialtags
The following article came out in Countercurrents on January 27, 2018. In view of its importance today it is being reproduced here for the benefit of our readers.
The BJP last year observed September 17 as the ‘Liberation of Hyderabad Day’, celebrating the Indian Government’s ‘police action’ (a euphemism for what was actually a military invasion) in 1948, which led to the integration of the Nizam’s princely state into the Indian Union. It claims that its political ancestors (members of the Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and other Hindu militant outfits) led a ‘liberation struggle’ against the Nizam, which forced him to abdicate and surrender to the Indian army.
This again is another attempt to distort facts by the Sangh Parivar, which wants to claim a place in the history of the national movement , while in reality, its leaders like Savarkar, Hedgewar, Golwalkar collaborated with British rulers at different stages during that movement. It is necessary to set the record straight, which will call the BJP’s bluff. To begin with, on the eve of India’s independence in the late 1940s, the liberation struggle against the Nizam was led by the Communists, joined by the Hyderabad State Congress President, Swami Ramanand Tirth (a sannyasi social activist who remained steadfast in his fight against the feudal oppression in Telengana), and the nationalist organisation Andhra Mahasabha which brought together both the Communist revolutionaries and the Congress on a common platform. The RSS was nowhere in the scene.
To recall the beginnings of the Telengana armed struggle, in 1946 in the Jalgaon taluk of the Nalgonda district of Telengana, an oppressive Hindu deshmukh called Vinnur Ramchandra Reddy tried to annex a small plot of land of llamma, a poor washer woman who was an active Communist. She resisted him, along with other activists of her party, and carried the paddy harvested by her in that plot, to her own home. In retaliation, the police (under the Nizam rule at that time) along with gangsters employed by the Hindu landlord raided the village, and arrested some of the Communist leaders. But the Communist activists who escaped arrest, put up a stiff resistance against the police and the landlords’ gangsters. In the course of a clash on July 4, 1946, a Communist youth leader, Doddi Kumarayya was killed by the Hindu goons. (Re: “India’s Struggle for Freedom—An Album”, Department of Information and Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal. 1987) He was the first martyr in the Telengana struggle, and his martyrdom spread the flame of resistance against the Nizam regime and his Hindu jagirdars and deshmukhs, all over Telengana.
It is ironical that today the BJP is trying to appropriate this Communist martyr into the Sangh Parivar’s ill-fabricated and historically false archives. The Telengana State’s BJP President K. Laxman, in the course of his party’s Telangana Vimochana Yatra, arrived at Nizamabad on September 5, and in his speeches recalled names of scores of martyrs who laid down their lives for the liberation of Telengana. Among them was the name of Doddi Kumarayya ! And yet, it was the Hindu landlords supported by the BJP’s political ancestor—the Hindu Mahasabha—who killed Kumarayya.
The BJP leader, K. Laxman, should be reminded of the history of Telengana’s struggle for independence, of which he apparently does not have any knowledge. Long before the Indian Government’s ‘police action’ in 1948, the Communists had liberated’ large swathes of rural areas in Nalgonda, Warangal and Khammam from the Nizam’s rule by raising 2000 regular guerilla squads from amongst the peasantry to fight against his regime. They set up `liberated zones’ covering 3000 villages and a population of three million. These are all recorded in contemporary official documents, as well as by the Communist revolutionaries in their memoirs, like those of P. Sundarayya ( whose name adorns a well-known auditorium in Hyderabad today), and Ravi Narayan Reddy (who got elected in the first general election with the highest number of votes). What is important is that the Communist guerillas not only targeted the Muslim Razakars (the Nizam’s para-military outfit), but also the Hindu deshmukhs (revenue-collectors-turned-landlords) and jagirdars (owning large tracts), who extorted vetti or forced labour and payments in kind from lower caste and tribal peasants. These Hindu doras — meaning masters, the term used in Telegu for landlords — thrived under the Nizam’s rule. So, although much is made of the fact that the highest positions in the Nizam’s administration in Hyderabad were monopolised by Muslims (who constituted a minority of the population), what is forgotten is that the Hindu majority upper class was allowed to dominate the key sectors of the agrarian economy by expropriating surplus from the poor agricultural labourers — which sustained the Nizam regime.
But soon after taking over Hyderabad, the Indian administration (under the behest of Sardar Patel who was then the Home Minister in the Indian Cabinet) selected two targets for its offensive— first the Communists, and next the Muslim minor-ity. Immediately after their entry into Hyderabad in September 1948, the Indian troops launched a brutal offensive on the Communist guerillas to crush them, and oust them from the areas that they had liberated from the feudal rule of the Nizam and his Hindu agents—the doras. This led to an armed confrontation between the Communists and Indian troops, costing lives on both sides, which continued till 1951, only after when the Communist Party asked its cadres to give up the armed struggle, and participate instead in the coming elections. Describing the situation in Telengana after the ‘police action’, no less a powerful diplomat than the then US ambassador to India, Chester Bowles wrote: “Despite firm Indian Army occupation... concentration camps filled with captured Communists, police outposts every few miles and in some places very ruthless suppression, guerilla fighting continued spasmodically until the Communists themselves changed their programme of violence two years later.” Bowles then quoted an Indian Army officer (who took part in the operation) telling him: “I can understand why the French have not won in Indo-China... We could not completely win even in that one section of Hyderabad, and we were Indian not white foreigners..” (Chester Bowles: Ambassador’sReport Harper and Brothers, New York, 1954, p. 127)
The next target was the Muslim community. Thousands of Muslims were butchered in mob violence organised by Hindu para-military groups (patronised by the Hindu jagirdars and deshmukhs, who had by then shifted their allegiance from the deposed Nizam to the new Indian Government). When news of the killings reached New Delhi, Prime Minister Nehru sent a team led by the eminent Gandhian, Pandit Sunderlal, to investigate. The Sunderlal Committee, which spent nearly a month (November to December, 1948) in Telengana, came out with its report, confirming that some twenty to forty thousand people had lost their lives during the mob violence following the entry of the Indian troops. The team visited dozens of villages throughout the then State of Hyderabad (occupied by Indian soldiers), carefully chronicling the accounts of Muslims who had survived the appalling violence. It noted that while Muslim villagers were disarmed by the Indian Army, Hindus were left with their weapons. The mob violence that ensued was often led by Hindu para-military groups. It noted: “We found definite indications that a number of armed and trained men belonging to a well known Hindu communal organisation from Sholapur....participated in these riots and in some cases actually led the rioters.” Which was this Hindu communal organisation in Sholapur? From another historian’s account of Sholapur, we are told: “By 1947, the Hindu Mahasabha and terrorist groups began showing their rising strength...” (re: shodhganga. inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/106) Further, in a damning exposure of the role of the Indian troops, the Sunderlal committee revealed: “During our tours, we gathered, at not a few places, that soldiers encouraged, persuaded and in a few cases even compelled the Hindu mob to loot Muslim shops and houses.”
Curiously enough, Pandit Sunderlal’s report was never published. It was however deposited in the Nehru Memorial Museum Library, from where it has been salvaged by the well-known Supreme Court advocate, A.G. Noorani, who revealed its contents in his book: The Destruction of Hyderabad (Tulika Books. New Delhi. 2013). One wonders why Nehru refused to publish this report of a fact-finding team which he himself sponsored? Was it because Nehru did not want to displease his colleague Sardar Patel (who had played a major role in integrating the princely states into the Indian Union), and damage the image of the Indian Army by revealing its ugly behaviour in Hyderabad? Researchers should delve into this secret history of the 1948 ‘police action’. As one eminent historian, Sumit Sarkar, says in his book Modern India1885-1947: “...the police action was probably undertaken in large part as a move to halt the Communist advance....”
To come back to the role of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS in Hyderabad during the Nizam regime, most of their followers were Hindu deshmukhs and jagirdars, who as I stated earlier, formed the support base of the Nizam, under whose patronage they thrived. They never joined the movement for the liberation of Hyderabad. They switched over their loyalty to the Indian Government only after the Indian troops entered Hyderabad and the Nizam was forced to sign the accession deed. After September 17, 1948, they acted as agents of the Indian Army to patronise Hindu para-military forces to kill the Muslims (as Pandit Sunderlal revealed in his report). So, this is the inglorious role that the BJP can claim to, while celebrating Liberation of Hyderabad day.’
Sumanta Banerjee is a political commentator and writer, is the author of In The Wake of Naxalbari (1980 and 2008); The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta (1989); and Memoirs of Roads: Calcutta from Colonial Urbanisation to Global Modernisation (2016). He is based in Hyderabad.