Though 71 years separate September 17, 1948 and August 5, 2019, there is a dark direct connection between the two dates.
The first date marks the forced annexation of the princely state of Hyderabad Deccan by the Indian state. The second marks an attempt to do the same with Indian-occupied Kashmir. In the intervening seven decades, the predatory and aggressive nature of the Indian state has been fully exposed and proven.
The fall of Hyderabad Deccan began on September 13, 1948 with a blatant invasion deceptively named ‘police action’ to mislead the world that this was merely a domestic law and order issue. In reality, it was a full-scale military operation by the Indian army along with bombardment by the Indian air force. The same was the case with Kashmir in 2019 when the fig-leaf of an ‘internal affair’ was claimed while violating UN resolutions, conventions and the Indian constitution itself.
Commencing January 1948, India increased its blockade of the land-locked kingdom to cut off vitally needed medical supplies and other essentials. In 2019, a curfew and a communications blockade of unprecedented duration – now over 42 days – attempts to cruelly paralyse about eight million Kashmiris.
Crushing the tiny, ill-equipped Hyderabadi army and a rag-tag militia called ‘razakaars’ with overwhelmingly larger numbers, tanks and planes, the Indian forces swiftly and ruthlessly moved through villages and towns to complete the conquest of Hyderabad Deccan in just four days. Tens of thousands of Muslim women, children and men were massacred.
In reluctant response to the ensuing outcry, the then Indian PM Nehru tasked the Sundarlal Commission to conduct an inquiry. Its report was suppressed for decades. Partially leaked or revealed sections of the report in recent years established large-scale killings which remained unpunished. There is a bizarre similarity in this with atrocities committed by Indian troops in Kashmir for the past 30 years.
One reason for the timing and speed of the invasion was the fact that an unwisely belated attempt by the princely state to seek the intervention of the UN Security Council was likely to be discussed by mid-September 1948. As it turned out, the September 16, 1948 Council meeting failed to result in an acceptance of Hyderabad Deccan’s claim to be considered a sovereign state. On August 16, 2019, the UNSC held a long overdue but informal closed-door meeting on Kashmir that certainly ended the prolonged apathy but did not produce corrective action.
As the largest of the 565 princely states that had to choose accession to either Pakistan and India at the end of British colonial rule, Hyderabad Deccan declined a decision either way between mid-August 1947 and September 1948. Located virtually in the ‘belly’ of the new Indian state, the eventual choice was inevitable. But there was no agreement on terms. A Standstill Agreement was signed with New Delhi on November 29, 1947. Protracted, inconclusive negotiations moved in fits and starts. By end-August 1948, Hyderabad’s intention to be independent ended India’s pretence of respecting the right of free choice.
Hyderabad roughly equalled the territorial size of Kashmir. But its population was almost double: about 16 million. The irony was that though about 85 percent of citizens were Hindus and a few other small minorities included Sikhs and Zoroastrians; the ruler (from the 14 percent Muslim community) was the Muslim Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh to rule in a 200-year-old dynasty. He presided over a state with its own flag, currency, railways, airline and radio channel. Deccan society had exceptional dimensions: pluralist, diverse, generally harmonious in communal terms and culturally refined.
The Nizam was a remarkable combination of attributes. Personally frugal – almost miserly – but rated at that time to be the world’s wealthiest individual. He was extraordinarily generous with support to education, healthcare, the indigent, literature and the arts. In the 1920s, he gifted then-poor Saudi Arabia with the first electric generators to illuminate Medina. He publicly donated new-born but fund-starved Pakistan with Rs20 crores (estimated to be equal to 2019’s Rs2000 crores); this fund was promptly blocked by India through the Bank of England where the sum was deposited) and large sums secretly conveyed to Karachi but never formally acknowledged. Kashmir’s Maharajah Hari Singh did not offer similar stark features!
While the syncretic culture and Sufi ethos of Hyderabad Deccan was humanist and distinctive, there were blemishes and flaws in its earlier history and conditions in the first half of the 20th century. Where Tipu Sultan courageously defied British territorial greed, the then-Nizam collaborated with the European intruder. Though some Hindus served as either prime minister or in other high offices, Muslims enjoyed a disproportionately larger number of titles. In contrast to abundant support to scholarship and the Urdu language, the economic structure was dominated by feudal and elite tendencies.
Less than 10 years after the invasion, the original territory and uniquely unified composition of Hyderabad Deccan was coldly demolished. Large swathes were sectioned off on a linguistic, ethnic basis into adjacent states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In 2014, a new state known as Telangana was born out of Andhra Pradesh and further vivisected the previous form.
A systematic, sustained campaign to replace the synthesizing Hyderabadi Muslim persona with a dominant, exclusively Hindu character became clearly evident. Large numbers of Hyderabadi Muslims migrated to Pakistan in 1948 and in years thereafter while many also moved to North America, the UK and parts of the Middle East. Within the Deccan, Muslim officials were replaced by Hindus, many of them transferred from other states.
In 2019, the abolition of Kashmir’s special status, the plans to alter the demographic composition in Occupied Kashmir, the separation of Ladakh and direct rule from New Delhi all represent a disturbing persistence of the intrinsically disruptive and expansive nature of the Indian state: a potent threat to regional and global stability.
The writer is an author, a former senator and a federal minister and has ancestral linkages with Hyderabad Deccan.