The Destruction of Hyderabad

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The fascinating story of the fall of the Indian princely state of Hyderabad has till now been dominated by the 'court historians' of Indian nationalism. In this book A. G. Noorani offers a revisionist account of the Indian Army's 'police action' against the armed forces and government of Hyderabad, ruled by the fabulously wealthy Nizam. His forensic scrutiny of the diplomatic exchanges between the government of India and the government of Hyderabad during the Raj and after partition and independence in 1947 has unearthed the Sunderlal Committee report on the massacre of the Muslim population of the State during and after the 'police action' (knowledge of which has since been suppressed by the Indian state) and a wealth of memoirs and first- hand accounts of the clandestine workings of territorial nationalism in its bleakest and most shameful hour. He brings to light the largely ignored and fateful intervention of M. A. Jinnah in the destruction of Hyderabad and also ac- counts for the communal leanings of Patel and K. M. Munshi in shaping its fate. The book is dedicated to the 'other' Hyderabad: a culturally syncretic state that was erased in the stampede to create a united India committed to secularism and development.

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This is another book by the Indian author Abdul G. Noorani in his traditional engaging style that mixes cherry picked historic data with a passionate analysis. Abdul presents an important view of Hyderabad, a pro-Nizam and pro-Muslim perspective. It is not the complete view, as the history of Hyderabad has been more complex. The state came into existence through massacres and violence against non-Muslims. It was an unfortunate but typical persecution of non-Muslims, and of non-elite Muslims too, by elite Muslim administration and the Nizam.
This book's weakness is that it suppresses the abuses and destruction of non-Muslim institutions in the Hyderabad state, and it largely ignores the non-Muslim side. It presents the abuses of Hyderabad state with the sugar coating where the Muslim Nizam and minority Muslims were a victim of Hindu politicians in Delhi and majority Hindus. The book's strength is that it presents significant aspects of the minority Muslims in the 1940s.
Both sides have a perspective. Muslims saw it, as Abdul titles it 'the destruction of Hyderabad', which more accurately should be 'the destruction of Hyderabad state'. Non-Muslims saw it as a liberation, as the end to a colonial era Islamic law based princely state with killings, arrests and human rights abuses. Abdul portrays his opposing side as one by ''court historians of Indian nationalism', in his characteristic pro-Pakistan, pro-Islam, pro-Muslim-nationalism style.
Read the Abdul side and the opposing side both with a grain of salt, may be lots of salt.

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The recent public spat between the leadership of the BJP and the Congress about the political legacy of Vallabhbhai Patel has led to a debate on the ideological moorings of the first home minister of independent India. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who plans to set up a 600-foot-high statue of Patel in Gujarat, designed an entire poll campaign around the memory of the Congress stalwart, even as PM Manmohan Singh countered that Patel was “in principle a secular man”. Constitutional expert AG Noorani’s thoroughly researched Destruction of Hyderabad, a revisionist account of the “police action” led by the Indian army against the government of Nizam of Hyderabad in 1948, sheds new light on this debate. To do so, it cites a detailed record of letters, diaries, memoirs and diplomatic exchanges between various players — it also reproduces in full the Sunderlal committee report on the massacre of Hyderabad’s Muslim population. A four-member goodwill mission led by Pandit Sunderlal had spent a month in Hyderabad at the request of Nehru in November 1948. The report filed at the end of it estimated that 27,000-40,000 people died in communal violence during and after the “police action”. It was never made public by the Indian government, as Patel repudiated the report, says Noorani. Noorani’s account questions the narratives put forth by the “court historians of Indian nationalism” who misleadingly called an army operation “police action”. But it is the contrasting portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel which explain why the BJP is so eager to claim Patel’s legacy ahead of the crucial general elections this year. “Their (Nehru and Patel) differences were fundamental and stemmed from their different conceptions of what India should be. Nehru was not against the military option (to annex Hyderabad) in principle. He supported it only as a last resort. For Patel, it was the first resort. He had no patience with talks,’’ Noorani writes. In Noorani’s telling, Nehru was contemptuous of the Nizam’s government but bore no malice towards him. He also held Hyderabad’s culture in high regard. In contrast, “Patel hated the Nizam personally and was ideologically opposed to Hyderabad’s composite culture. Nehru’s concern was to … [defeat] Hyderabad’s secessionist venture. Patel wanted to go further. He wanted to destroy Hyderabad and its culture completely. In Hyderabad, as in Kashmir, Nehru was an ardent Indian nationalist. On both states, Vallabhbhai Patel was a strident Hindu nationalist”, he writes. When Patel repeatedly described Hyderabad as an “ulcer in the heart of India”, the metaphor, says Noorani, revealed a vindictive mindset . “Gandhi had noted that the massacre of Muslims in Jammu in 1947 was little known in India. Even less is known of the massacre of Muslims that followed the army action in Hyderabad in 1948. Patel’s communal outlook was fully reflected in his behavior… He repudiated the report of an independent inquiry into the massacre,’’ Noorani writes. The Patel who emerges from Noorani’s account is a man who harboured a deep suspicion of Muslims, who opposed Maulana Azad’s induction in the first Cabinet of independent India, and who represented a hardline strain within the Congress party. He quotes S Gopal, Nehru’s biographer, who said, “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.” Noorani points out how there was, in truth, opposite strands of thought in the Congress. “Many a Congressman was a communalist under his national cloak,” Noorani quotes Nehru as saying. Was Patel one of them? Noorani quotes Patel’s letters and public speeches to claim so. In a letter to Stafford Cripps on December 15, 1946, Patel warned that “the mild Hindu also, when driven to desperation, can retaliate as brutally as a fanatic Muslim”. Maulana Azad 

About the author (2014)

A. G. Noorani is an Advocate, Supreme Court of India, and a leading constitutional expert and political commentator. He is a regular columnist for Frontline and the author of, inter alia, Jinnah and Tilak: Comrades in the Freedom Struggle and Indian Political Trials 1775-1947.

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