Operation Polo is the code name of the Hyderabad "police action" in September 1948, by the newly independent India against the Hyderabad State. It was a military operation in which the Indian Armed Forces invaded the Nizam-ruled princely state, annexing it into the Indian Union.
At the time of Partition in 1947, the princely states of India, who in principle had self-government within their own territories, were subject to subsidiary alliances with the British, giving them control of their external relations. In the Indian Independence Act 1947 the British abandoned all such alliances, leaving the states with the option of opting for full independence. However, by 1948 almost all had acceded to either India or Pakistan. One major exception was that of the wealthiest and most powerful principality, Hyderabad, where the Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII, a Muslim ruler who presided over a largely Hindu population, chose independence and hoped to maintain this with an irregular army recruited from the Muslim aristocracy, known as the Razakars.:224 The Nizam was also beset by the Telangana uprising, which he was unable to subjugate.:224
In November 1947, Hyderabad signed a standstill agreement with the dominion of India, continuing all previous arrangements except for the stationing of Indian troops in the state. However, with the rise of militant razakars, India found it necessary to station Indian troops and invaded the state in September 1948 to compel the Nizam. Subsequently, the Nizam signed an instrument of accession, joining India.
The operation led to massive violence on communal lines. The Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru appointed a commission known as the Sunderlal Committee. Its report, which was not released until 2013, concluded that "as a very reasonable & modest estimate...the total number of deaths in the state...somewhere between 30,000 & 40,000." Other responsible observers estimated the number of deaths to be 200,000 or higher.
The State of Hyderabad in 1909 (excluding Berar).
|Dominion of India||Hyderabad|
|Commanders and leaders|
Joyanto Nath Chaudhuri
S.A. El Edroos |
|35,000 Indian Armed Forces||
22,000 Hyderabad State Forces|
est. 200,000 Razakars (Irregular forces)
|Casualties and losses|
Hyderabad State Forces: 807 killed|
Sunderlal Committee: 30,000 – 40,000 civilians killed|
responsible observers: 200,000 civilians killed
After the Siege of Golconda by Mughal Empire in 1687, the region was renamed as Deccan Subah—(due to its geographical proximity in the Deccan Plateau) and in 1713 Qamar-ud-din Khan—(later known as Asaf Jah I or Nizam I) was appointed its Subahdar and bestowed with the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk by the Mughal Emperor. Hyderabad's effective independence is dated to 1724, when the Nizam won a military victory over a rival military appointee. In 1798, Hyderabad became the first Indian princely state to accede to British protection under the policy of Subsidiary Alliance instituted by Arthur Wellesley and thus named as Hyderabad state.
The State of Hyderabad under the leadership of its 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali, was the largest and most prosperous of all the princely states in India. With annual revenues of over Rs. 9 crore, it covered 82,698 square miles (214,190 km2) of fairly homogenous territory and comprised a population of roughly 16.34 million people (as per the 1941 census) of which a majority (85%) was Hindu. The state had its own army, airline, telecommunication system, railway network, postal system, currency and radio broadcasting service. Hyderabad was a multi-lingual state consisting of peoples speaking Telugu (48.2%), Marathi (26.4%), Kannada (12.3%) and Urdu (10.3%). In spite of the overwhelming Hindu majority, Hindus were severely under-represented in government, police and the military. Of 1765 officers in the State Army, 1268 were Muslims, 421 were Hindus, and 121 others were Christians, Parsis and Sikhs. Of the officials drawing a salary between Rs.600–1200 per month, 59 were Muslims, 5 were Hindus and 38 were of other religions. The Nizam and his nobles, who were mostly Muslims, owned 40% of the total land in the state.
When the British departed from the Indian subcontinent in 1947, they offered the various princely states in the sub-continent the option of acceding to either India or Pakistan, or staying on as an independent state. As stated by Sardar Patel at a press conference in January 1948, "As you are all aware, on the lapse of Paramountcy every Indian State became a separate independent entity." In India, a small number of states, including Hyderabad, declined to join the new dominion. In the case of Pakistan, accession happened far more slowly. Hyderabad had been part of the calculations of all-India political parties since the 1930s. The leaders of the new Union of India were wary of a Balkanization of India if Hyderabad was left independent.:223
Hyderabad state had been steadily becoming more theocratic since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1926, Mahmud Nawazkhan, a retired Hyderabad official, founded the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (also known as Ittehad or MIM) . "Its objectives were to unite the Muslims in the State in support of Nizam and to reduce the Hindu majority by large-scale conversion to Islam". The MIM became a powerful communal organization, with the principal focus to marginalize the political aspirations of the Hindus and moderate Muslims.
The Nizam of Hyderabad initially approached the British government with a request to take on the status of an independent constitutional monarchy under the British Commonwealth of Nations. This request was however rejected by the last Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
At the time of the British withdrawal from India, the Nizam announced that he did not intend to join either new dominion, and proceeded to appoint trade representatives in European countries and to begin negotiations with the Portuguese, seeking to lease or buy Goa to provide his state with access to the sea.
According to the writer A. G. Noorani, Indian Prime Minister Nehru's concern was to defeat what he called Hyderabad's "secessionist venture", but he favoured talks and considered military option as a last resort. Sardar Patel of the Indian National Congress, however, took a hard line, and had no patience with talks.
Accordingly, the Indian government offered Hyderabad a Standstill agreement which made an assurance that the status quo would be maintained and no military action would be taken for one year. According to this agreement India would handle Hyderabad's foreign affairs, but Indian Army troops stationed in Secunderabad would be removed. In Hyderabad city there was huge demonstration by Razakars led by Syed Qasim Razvi in October 1947, against the administration’s decision to sign Standstill Agreement. This demonstration in front of the houses of the Prime Minister, Nawab of Chattari, advisor, Sir Walter Monckton and Minister, Nawab Ali Nawaz Jung, the main negotiators, forced them to call off their Delhi visit to sign the agreement at that time.
Hyderabad violated all clauses of the agreement: in external affairs, by carrying out intrigues with Pakistan, to which it secretly loaned 15 million pounds; in defence, by building up a large semi-private army; in communications, by interfering with the traffic at the borders and the through traffic of Indian railways. India was also accused of violating the agreement by imposing an economic blockade. It turned out that the state of Bombay was interfering with supplies to Hyderabad without the knowledge of Delhi. The Government promised to take up the matter with the provincial governments, but scholar Lucien Benichou states that it was never done. There were also delays in arms shipments to Hyderabad from India.
According to Taylor C. Sherman, "India claimed that the government of Hyderabad was edging towards independence by divesting itself of its Indian securities, banning the Indian currency, halting the export of ground nuts, organising illegal gun-running from Pakistan, and inviting new recruits to its army and to its irregular forces, the Razakars." The Hyderabadi envoys accused India of setting up armed barricades on all land routes and of attempting to economically isolate their nation.
In the summer of 1948, Indian officials, especially Patel, signaled an intention to invade; Britain encouraged India to resolve the issue without the use of force, but refused Nizam's requests to help.
The Nizam also made unsuccessful attempts to seek intervention of the United Nations.
In late 1945, there started a peasant uprising in Telangana area, led by communists. The communists drew their support from various quarters. Among the poor peasants, there were grievances against the jagirdari system, which covered 43% of land holding. Initially they also drew support from wealthier peasants who also fought under the communist banner, but by 1948, the coalition had disintegrated. According to the Indian intelligence Bureau Deputy Director, the social and economic programs of the communists were "positive and in some cases great...The communists redistributed land and livestock, reduced rates, ended forced labour and increased wages by one hundred percent. They inoculated the population and built public latrines; they encouraged women's organisations, discouraged sectarian sentiment and sought to abolish untouchability."
Initially, in 1945, the communists targeted zamindars and Deshmukhs, but soon they launched a full-fledged revolt against the Nizam. Starting mid-1946, the conflict between the Razakars and the Communists became increasingly violent, with both sides resorting to increasingly brutal methods. The Razakars cordoned off villages, captured suspected communists en masse and engaged in 'absolutely indiscriminate and organised' (according to one Congressman) looting and massacres. According to an Indian government pamphlet, the communists had killed about 2,000 people by 1948.
In the 1936–37 Indian elections, the Muslim League under Muhammad Ali Jinnah had sought to harness Muslim aspirations, and had won the adherence of MIM leader Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung, who campaigned for an Islamic State centred on the Nizam as the Sultan dismissing all claims for democracy. The Arya Samaj, a Hindu revivalist movement, had been demanding greater access to power for the Hindu majority since the late 1930s, and was curbed by the Nizam in 1938. The Hyderabad State Congress joined forces with the Arya Samaj as well as the Hindu Mahasabha in the State.
Noorani regards the MIM under Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung as explicitly committed to safeguarding the rights of religious and linguistic minorities. However, this changed with the ascent of Qasim Razvi after the Nawab's death in 1944.
Even as India and Hyderabad negotiated, most of the sub-continent had been thrown into chaos as a result of communal Hindu-Muslim riots pending the imminent partition of India. Fearing a Hindu civil uprising in his own kingdom, the Nizam allowed Razvi to set up a voluntary militia of Muslims called the 'Razakars'. The Razakars – who numbered up to 200,000 at the height of the conflict – swore to uphold Islamic domination in Hyderabad and the Deccan plateau:8 in the face of growing public opinion amongst the majority Hindu population favouring the accession of Hyderabad into the Indian Union.
According to an account by Mohammed Hyder, a civil servant in Osmanabad district, a variety of armed militant groups, including Razakars and Deendars and ethnic militias of Pathans and Arabs claimed to be defending the Islamic faith and made claims on the land. "From the beginning of 1948 the Razakars had extended their activities from Hyderabad city into the towns and rural areas, murdering Hindus, abducting women, pillaging houses and fields, and looting non-Muslim property in a widespread reign of terror." "Some women became victims of rape and kidnapping by Razakars. Thousands went to jail and braved the cruelties perpetuated by the oppressive administration. Due to the activities of the Razakars, thousands of Hindus had to flee from the state and take shelter in various camps". Precise numbers are not known, but 40,000 refugees have been received by the Central Provinces.:8 This led to terrorizing of the Hindu community, some of whom went across the border into independent India and organized raids into Nizam's territory, which further escalated the violence. Many of these raiders were controlled by the Congress leadership in India and had links with extremist religious elements in the Hindutva fold. In all, more than 150 villages (of which 70 were in Indian territory outside Hyderabad State) were pushed into violence.
Hyder mediated some efforts to minimize the influence of the Razakars. Razvi, while generally receptive, vetoed the option of disarming them, saying that with the Hyderabad state army ineffective, the Razakars were the only means of self-defence available. By the end of August 1948, a full blown invasion by India was imminent.
Nehru was reluctant to invade, fearing a military response by Pakistan. India was unaware that Pakistan had no plans to use arms in Hyderabad, unlike Kashmir where it had admitted its troops were present. Time magazine pointed out that if India invaded Hyderabad, the Razakars would massacre Hindus, which would lead to retaliatory massacres of Muslims across India.
The Nizam was in a weak position as his army numbered only 24,000 men, of whom only some 6,000 were fully trained and equipped. These included Arabs, Rohillas, North Indian Muslims and Pathans. The State Army consisted of three armoured regiments, a horse cavalry regiment, 11 infantry battalions and artillery. These were supplemented by irregular units with horse cavalry, four infantry battalions (termed as the Saraf-e-khas, paigah, Arab and Refugee) and a garrison battalion. This army was commanded by Major General El Edroos, an Arab. 55 per cent of the Hyderabadi army was composed of Muslims, with 1,268 Muslims in a total of 1,765 officers as of 1941.
In addition to these, there were about 200,000 irregular militia called the Razakars under the command of civilian leader Kasim Razvi. A quarter of these were armed with modern small firearms, while the rest were predominantly armed with muzzle-loaders and swords.
It is reported that the Nizam received arms supplies from Pakistan and from the Portuguese administration based in Goa. In addition, additional arms supplies were received via airdrops from an Australian arms trader Sidney Cotton.
On 6 September an Indian police post near Chillakallu village came under heavy fire from Razakar units. The Indian Army command sent a squadron of The Poona Horse led by Abhey Singh and a company of 2/5 Gurkha Rifles to investigate who were also fired upon by the Razakars. The tanks of the Poona Horse then chased the Razakars to Kodar, in Hyderabad territory. Here they were opposed by the armoured cars of 1 Hyderabad Lancers. In a brief action the Poona Horse destroyed one armoured car and forced the surrender of the state garrison at Kodar.
On receiving directions from the government to seize and annex Hyderabad, the Indian army came up with the Goddard Plan (laid out by Lt. Gen. E. N. Goddard, the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Command). The plan envisaged two main thrusts – from Vijayawada in the East and Solapur in the West – while smaller units pinned down the Hyderabadi army along the border. Overall command was placed in the hands of Lt. Gen. Rajendrasinghji, DSO.
The attack from Solapur was led by Major General J.N. Chaudhari and was composed of four task forces:
The attack from Vijayawada was led by Major General A.A. Rudra and comprised the 2/5 Gurkha Rifles, one squadron of the 17th (Poona) Horse, and a troop from the 19th Field Battery along with engineering and ancillary units. In addition, four infantry battalions were to neutralize and protect lines of communication. Two squadrons of Hawker Tempest aircraft were prepared for air support from the Pune base.
The date for the attack was fixed as 13 September, even though General Sir Roy Bucher, the Indian chief of staff, had objected on grounds that Hyderabad would be an additional front for the Indian army after Kashmir.
The first battle was fought at Naldurg Fort on the Solapur Secundarabad Highway between a defending force of the 1st Hyderabad Infantry and the attacking force of the 7th Brigade. Using speed and surprise, the 7th Brigade managed to secure a vital bridge on the Bori river intact, following which an assault was made on the Hyderabadi positions at Naldurg by the 2nd Sikh Infantry. The bridge and road secured, an armoured column of the 1st Armoured Brigade – part of the Smash force – moved into the town of Jalkot, 8 km from Naldurg, at 0900 hours, paving the way for the Strike Force units under Lt. Col Ram Singh Commandant of 9 Dogra (a motorised battalion) to pass through. This armoured column reached the town of Umarge, 61 km inside Hyderabad by 1515 hours, where it quickly overpowered resistance from Razakar units defending the town. Meanwhile, another column consisting of a squadron of 3rd Cavalry, a troop from 18th King Edward's Own Cavalry, a troop from 9 Para Field Regiment, 10 Field Company Engineers, 3/2 Punjab Regiment, 2/1 Gurkha Rifles, 1 Mewar Infantry, and ancillary units attacked the town of Tuljapur, about 34 km north-west of Naldurg. They reached Tuljapur at dawn, where they encountered resistance from a unit of the 1st Hyderabad Infantry and about 200 Razakars who fought for two hours before surrendering. Further advance towards the town of Lohara was stalled as the river had swollen. The first day on the Western front ended with the Indians inflicting heavy casualties on the Hyderabadis and capturing large tracts of territory. Amongst the captured defenders was a British mercenary who had been tasked with blowing up the bridge near Naldurg.
In the East, forces led by Lt. Gen A.A. Rudra met with fierce resistance from two armoured car cavalry units of the Hyderabad State Forces. equipped with Humber armoured cars and Staghounds, namely the 2nd and 4th Hyderabad Lancers, but managed to reach the town of Kodar by 0830 hours. Pressing on, the force reached Mungala by the afternoon.
There were further incidents in Hospet – where the 1st Mysore assaulted and secured a sugar factory from units of Razakars and Pathans – and at Tungabhadra – where the 5/5 Gurkha attacked and secured a vital bridge from the Hyderabadi army.
The force that had camped at Umarge proceeded to the town of Rajasur, 48 km east. As aerial reconnaissance had shown well entrenched ambush positions set up along the way, the air strikes from squadrons of Tempests were called in. These air strikes effectively cleared the route and allowed the land forces to reach and secure Rajasur by the afternoon.
The Assault force from the East was meanwhile slowed down by an anti-tank ditch and later came under heavy fire from hillside positions of the 1st Lancers and 5th Infantry 6 km from Suryapet. The positions were assaulted by the 2/5 Gurkha – veterans of the Burma Campaign – and was neutralised with the Hyderabadis taking severe casualties.
A force under the command of Maj. Gen. D.S. Brar was tasked with capturing the city of Aurangabad. The city was attacked by six columns of infantry and cavalry, resulting in the civil administration emerging in the afternoon and offering a surrender to the Indians.
There were further incidents in Jalna where 3 Sikh, a company of 2 Jodhpur infantry and some tanks from 18 Cavalry faced stubborn resistance from Hyderabadi forces.
Leaving a company of 3/11 Gurkhas to occupy the town of Jalna, the remainder of the force moved to Latur, and later to Mominabad where they faced action against the 3 Golconda Lancers who gave token resistance before surrendering.
At the town of Surriapet, air strikes cleared most of the Hyderabadi defences, although some Razakar units still gave resistance to the 2/5 Gurkhas who occupied the town. The retreating Hyderabadi forces destroyed the bridge at Musi to delay the Indians but failed to offer covering fire, allowing the bridge to be quickly repaired. Another incident occurred at Narkatpalli where a Razakar unit was decimated by the Indians.
The task force under Lt. Col. Ram Singh moved towards Zahirabad at dawn, but was slowed down by a minefield, which had to be cleared. On reaching the junction of the Bidar road with the Solapur-Hyderabad City Highway, the forces encountered gunfire from ambush positions. However, leaving some of the units to handle the ambush, the bulk of the force moved on to reach 15 kilometres beyond Zahirabad by nightfall in spite of sporadic resistance along the way. Most of the resistance was from Razakar units who ambushed the Indians as they passed through urban areas. The Razakars were able to use the terrain to their advantage until the Indians brought in their 75 mm guns.
In the early hours of 17 September, the Indian army entered Bidar. Meanwhile, forces led by the 1st Armoured regiment were at the town of Chityal about 60 km from Hyderabad, while another column took over the town of Hingoli. By the morning of the 5th day of hostilities, it had become clear that the Hyderabad army and the Razakars had been routed on all fronts and with extremely heavy casualties. At 5 pm on 17 September the Nizam announced ceasefire thus ending the armed action.
On 16 September, faced with imminent defeat, the Nizam summoned the Prime Minister Mir Laiq Ali and requested his resignation by the morning of the following day. The resignation was delivered along with the resignations of the entire cabinet.
On the noon of 17 September, a messenger brought a personal note from the Nizam to India's Agent General to Hyderabad, K.M. Munshi summoning him to the Nizam's office at 1600 hours. At the meeting, the Nizam stated "The vultures have resigned. I don't know what to do". Munshi advised the Nizam to secure the safety of the citizens of Hyderabad by issuing appropriate orders to the Commander of the Hyderabad State Army, Major General El Edroos. This was immediately done.
It was the Nizam's first visit to the radio station. The Nizam of Hyderabad, in his radio speech on 23 September 1948, said "In November last , a small group which had organized a quasi-military organization surrounded the homes of my Prime Minister, the Nawab of Chhatari, in whose wisdom I had complete confidence, and of Sir Walter Monkton, my constitutional Adviser, by duress compelled the Nawab and other trusted ministers to resign and forced the Laik Ali Ministry on me. This group headed by Kasim Razvi had no stake in the country or any record of service behind it. By methods reminiscent of Hitlerite Germany it took possession of the State, spread terror ... and rendered me completely helpless."
According to the records maintained by Indian Army, General Chaudhari led an armoured column into Hyderabad at around 4 p.m. on 18 September and the Hyderabad army, led by Major General El Edroos, surrendered.
There were reports of looting, mass murder and rape of Muslims in reprisals by Hyderabadi Hindus. Jawaharlal Nehru appointed a mixed-faith committee led by Pandit Sunder Lal to investigate the situation. The findings of the report (Pandit Sunderlal Committee Report) were not made public until 2013 when it was accessed from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi.
The Committee concluded that while Muslim villagers were disarmed by the Indian Army, Hindus were often left with their weapons. The violence was carried out by Hindu residents, with the army sometimes indifferent, and sometimes participating in the atrocities.:11 The Committee stated that large-scale violence against Muslims occurred in Marathwada and Telangana areas. It also concluded: "At a number of places members of the armed forces brought out Muslim adult males from villages and towns and massacred them in cold blood." The Committee generally credited the military officers with good conduct but stated that soldiers acted out of bigotry.:11 The official "very conservative estimate" was that 27,000 to 40,000 died "during and after the police action." Other scholars have put the figure at 200,000, or even higher. Among Muslims some estimates were even higher and Smith says that the military government's private low estimates [of Muslim casualties] were at least ten times the number of murders with which the Razakars were officially accused. In William Dalrymple's words the scale of the killing was horrific. Although Nehru played down this violence, he was privately alarmed at the scale of anti-Muslim violence.
Patel reacted angrily to the report and disowned its conclusions. He stated that the terms of reference were flawed because they only covered the part during and after the operation. He also cast aspersions on the motives and standing of the committee. These objections are regarded by Noorani as disingenuous because the commission was an official one, and it was critical of the Razakars as well.
According to Mohammed Hyder, the tragic consequences of the Indian operation were largely preventable. He faulted the Indian army with neither restoring local administration, nor setting up their own military administration. As a result, the anarchy led to several thousand "thugs", from the camps set up across the border, filling the vacuum. He stated "Thousands of families were broken up, children separated from their parents and wives, from their husbands. Women and girls were hunted down and raped." The Committee Report mentions mass rape of Muslim women by Indian troops.
The Indian military detained thousands of people during the operation, including Razakars, Hindu militants, and communists. This was largely done on the basis of local informants, who used this opportunity to settle scores. The estimated number of people detained was close to 18,000, which resulted in overcrowded jails and a paralyzed criminal system.
The Indian government set up Special Tribunals to prosecute these. These strongly resembled the colonial governments earlier, and there were many legal irregularities, including denial or inability to access lawyers and delayed trials - about which the Red Cross was pressuring Nehru.
The viewpoint of the government was: "in political physics, Razakar action and Hindu reaction have been almost equal and opposite." A quiet decision was taken to release all Hindus and for a review of all Muslim cases, aiming to let many of them out. Regarding atrocities by Muslims, Nehru was sympathetic to Hyderabadi culture, and considered the actions during the operation as "madness" seizing "decent people", analogous to experience elsewhere during the partition of India. Nehru was also concerned that disenfrachised Muslims would join the communists. Patel opposed this viewpoint, treating the penal action as restoring law and order, and signaling that there was no partiality towards Muslims.
The government was under pressure to not prosecute participants in communal violence, which often made communal relations worse. Patel had also died in 1950. Thus, by 1953 the Indian government released all but a few persons.:12–16
The question of Hindu-Muslim balance in the bureaucracy was a sensitive one. Muslims had predominated in the executive, police and administrative services. Before the invasion, the Indian Cabinet, with Nehru's leadership, decided that there would be as few changes as possible. However, Patel, who had a well-known rivalry with Nehru, ran his Ministry with little consultation with the Indian Cabinet. The initial plans were not followed after the invasion, partly due to different ideas at various levels of administration. Over a hundred officers were dismissed on an ethnic basis, from all levels, and many local officers were detained for their role in the violence. This pattern was seen in new hirings as well.
Junior officers from neighbouring Bombay, CP and Madras regions were appointed to replace the vacancies. They were unable to speak the language and were unfamiliar with local conditions. Nehru objected to this "communal chauvinism" and called them "incompetent outsiders", and tried to impose Hyderabadi residency requirements: however, this was circumvented by using forged documents.:17–18
The lowest estimates, even those offered privately by apologists of the military government, came to at least ten times the number of murders with which previously the Razakars were officially accused...
If the Indian army invaded Hyderabad, Razvi's Razakars would kill Hyderabad Hindus. Throughout India Hindus would retaliate against Moslems.