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Book Review: A.G. Noorani’s ‘The Destruction of Hyderabad’

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By Safia Begum

Ghazalan tum to waqif ho, kaho Majnoon ke marney ki
Diwana mar gaya aakhir ko, weerane pe kya guzri

(Oh gazelles! You certainly know – tell us of the death of Majnoon.
The frenzied lover died at last, but what befell the wilderness?)

Raja Ram Narain Mauzun’s couplet, quoted by A. G. Noorani in The Destruction of Hyderabad (2013), fully embodies the spirit of the book. While Mauzun lamented the tragedy of the Battle of Plassey (1757), Noorani relates the couplet to the Sepoy Mutiny (1857), the tragedy of Partition (1947), and, also, to the 1948 military invasion of Hyderabad. The book is an addition to the already existing body of scholarship on historical dialogues between the newly Independent India and the Princely State of Hyderabad; more specifically on the latter’s accession by the former. Noorani, an advocate by profession and a prolific writer, has previously written on various other political issues. This book is part of a trilogy consisting of Jinnah and Tilak: Comrades in the Freedom Struggle (2010) and The Kashmir Dispute: 1947-2012 (2013).

The Destruction of Hyderabad is published at a time when the movement for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh is at its peak. Moreover, the book must be read in the context of the forthcoming Indian General Election (2014) that has made the Muslim minority community apprehensive about their future. The book specifically explores the fear experienced by the Muslims of Hyderabad after its destruction.  It is neither about the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan nor about Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was instrumental for the accession of Hyderabad to India. Rather, the book focuses on the people in the Princely State of Hyderabad, specifically Muslims, and its composite culture. It reminds us what happens when a ‘Hindu nationalist’ takes the decision to integrate a Princely State through invasion, and to act against ‘one’s own people’, instead of looking for other alternatives. Noorani accounts for many other significant decisions taken by both the seventh and last Asaf Jah Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan of Hyderabad and the Deputy Prime Minister of newly Independent India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, to reach an agreement for the accession of the Princely State that ultimately led to the military invasion of the State.

The author criticizes both the follies of Mir Osman Ali Khan, a ‘megalomaniac ruler’ and of Sardar Patel, a ‘Hindu nationalist’ leader.  Regarding the last Nizam, the author claims that he was against the Partition of India and always relied on British protection. The Nizam was willfully ignorant, who stood against the facts of history. Since the Nizams were never independent rulers, they first ruled as the viceroy of the Mughal Empire and, later, under the British. The last Nizam tried to negate this fact. Moreover, after India’s Independence and during the accession, he was ignoring “the compulsions of geography and the demands of modern times.”

Apart from two major historical characters, Mir Osman Ali Khan and Sardar Patel, the author sketches other significant personalities, who were also responsible for the ‘destruction’ of the State of Hyderabad and part of the decision-making process. Noorani categorically argues that Sardar Patel was solely responsible for the 1948 Police Action in Hyderabad. He writes that Patel had no respect for Hyderabad’s composite culture and had no concern about the grievances of Muslims.  Patel was insistent on accessing Hyderabad. Earlier, he pressurized Lord Mountbatten to hasten the process. Patel said, “If it did not, the problem would not remain confined to Hyderabad alone, but would have wide repercussions on the four and half crores of Muslims in the Indian Union who would be affected.” It not only reflects his opinions about the accession of the State but also about the people of the State.

Noorani delves into Patel’s daughter, Maniben Patel’s diary for a revealing observation. Maniben writes, “On 21st August, Patel threatened ‘to resign if army was not sent to Hyderabad’”. He also said, “I am very clear in my mind – if we have to fight – Nizam is finished. We cannot keep this ulcer in the heart of the unions.” The author further quotes from Maniben’s diary, “Patel assumed that Muslim officials, even if they had opted for India, were bound to be disloyal and should be dismissed; and to him the Muslims in India were hostages to be held as security for the fair treatment of Hindus in Pakistan.”

There seemed to exist a rift between India’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Patel, and, the Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which became more explicit around this time. In opposition to Patel, Noorani claims, Nehru’s views on Hyderabad were different. He liked Hyderabad’s composite culture and ‘wanted Hyderabad to preserve its identity’. Though Nehru did not have any objection to the Police Action but he wanted it as a last resort. For Sardar Patel, there was no other alternative. Further, the author asks if the invasion was the only way out, especially when the Standstill Agreement, signed on 29 November, 1947, was still in force and was to expire on 28 November, 1948. But before that, the infamous military action took place. Moreover, no legal justification for the invasion was ever attempted: “The question must be asked, which the Indian narrative ignores: Was the invasion of Hyderabad, with all its consequences, the only way out? Relatedly, what were the real motivations of those who were impatient to follow so destructive a course?”

A significant parallel here is Goa’s accession to India, which happened in December, 1961.  The Indian troops entered Goa led by the Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command, Lieutenant General J. N. Chaudhari, and the action was called ‘Operation Vijay’. J. N. Chaudhari also led the Indian Army into Hyderabad on 11 September, 1948. These two parallel actions beg the questions: Was not there any urgency or threat in the case of Goa? Why did it take so much more time to access that part into the Indian territory?

Noorani states that the Police Action could have been avoided, if conscious steps were taken and some more time were given to fold the state into India’s territory. He also mentions that “there can be no denying the fact that the feudal order of the Nizam’s dominion deserved to be discarded” but the violent action left enduring legacies and made the shift far more agonizing. He compares the Police Action with the Operation Blue Star that was undertaken in 1984. In both the cases, 1948 and 1984, the Government attacked its own people. Comparing Indira Gandhi with Sardar Patel, Noorani reasons that “Indira Gandhi was not personally prejudiced against Sikhs. She had Sikhs as her bodyguards. Hers was a…tactical reason…But Vallabhbhai Patel distrusted Muslims, including Congress Muslims like Maulana Azad and Asif Ali.”

Though Noorani makes some valid arguments but, from the beginning, he appears to be very anxious to come to his conclusions.  Many a time, he sounds repetitive; too much information is packed which ends with the same argument.   Regarding the chapter divisions in the book, the first chapter ‘A Tragedy in the Making’ suggests nothing but what Hyderabad had achieved under the Nizams’ rule, and offers views and glimpses of its achievements. Nowhere do we see a tragedy in the making. However, if we follow the thematic aspects of the book, it seems that the chapter tries to present Hyderabad’s original composite culture and achievements, which have come to an end. Hence, after the Police Action/ Operation Polo, the original Hyderabadi culture is no longer lived but spoken about as a nostalgic and distant past. The author counts the Police Action as the final act in a tragedy consisting of three acts: first, the partition of India in August 1947; second, the war on Kashmir in October 1947; third, the invasion of Hyderabad in September 1948.  While he narrates the tragedy of the lost culture and people as a drama, does that sense of performance really capture the tragedy of a people and their lost culture?

To conclude, Noorani quotes at length from letters, reports, and other archival documents. For example, he highlights the Sunderlal Committee Report, a committee that was formed in 1948 to find out the details of the massacre that took place during the Indian accession as well as the Razakar upheavals. Such new source materials form the strength of the book. However, the use of such sources also makes the book chaotic in its presentation.

The Destruction of Hyderabad, finally, strongly puts forward that the tragedy was foreseeable, Patel was responsible for this tragedy, and a lack of statesmanship allowed it to happen.

Safia Begum is a PhD research scholar at the Centre for Folk Culture Studies, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad. She works on the Folklore of Muslim Communities. She is from Hyderabad.

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