Annexation of Hyderabad: The Untold Story

67 years ago, today, Hyderabad became a part of India. A full year after independence. Here’s the story.

Updated
India
3 min read
The Charminar at Hyderabad. (Photo: iStock)

The gripping story of the annexation of Hyderabad is not something all of us were taught in school. For that matter, we weren’t all told that at the time of independence, there were more than 500 kingdoms or princely states that were not a part of India, and that they had to be convinced or coerced into joining the Indian Union.

It was in this week, 67 years ago, that Mir Osman Ali Khan, the Hyderabad Nizam capitulated under pressure from Indian forces and the large state became a part of India.

But a year earlier, at the time of independence, the Nizam had other ideas for Hyderabad’s future.

The Nizam was determined to hang on to more than his personal wealth. What he wanted for his state, when the British left, was independence, with relations forged directly between him and the Crown.
— Ramachandra Guha in India After Gandhi: The History Of The World’s Largest Democracy

Hyderabad is now an integral part of India. (Photo: iStock)
Hyderabad is now an integral part of India. (Photo: iStock)

The Nizam’s kingdom was large and it ran across the Deccan plateau which divides northern and southern India. It was of critical importance to India not only geographically but also culturally.

Its population [was] more than 16 million, these distributed among three linguistic zones: Telugu, Kannada and Marathi.
— Ramachandra Guha in India After Gandhi

Hyderabad was also in some ways the opposite of Kashmir, where a Muslim majority was ruled over by a Hindu king. In Hyderabad, the majority of Hyderabad’s residents was Hindu.

Close Geographical & Cultural Links to India

Given its close geographical and cultural links to India, the idea of an independent Hyderabad was always going to be a difficult one to sustain. As Sardar Patel famously put it, an independent Hyderabad would be a cancer in India’s belly.

When it was clear that India would not accept an independent Hyderabad, the Nizam even threatened to throw in his lot with Pakistan. He had also given a loan to the fledgling nation.

Tensions between India and Hyderabad were rising again. The loan to Pakistan – ostensibly negotiated before the signing of the November 1947 standstill agreement – had infuriated India’s leaders and revived fears that the nizam was plotting to ally himself with Jinnah’s dominion. The erratic monarch had compounded suspicions by banning the use of Indian currency within his state and restricting the export of precious metals.
— Nisid Hajari in Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition

The Nizam Runs Out of Time

The die was cast and time was running out for the Nizam.

After news of the Pakistan loan emerged, India quietly tightened an unofficial cordon around Hyderabad… When Mountbatten demanded to know what was going on, Nehru pleaded ignorance — and, in fact, Patel and V.P. Menon may have kept the prime minister and the governor-general out of the loop on their activities in the south.
— Nisid Hajari in Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition

Operation Polo and Hyderabad’s Annexation

On 13 September 1948, the Indian army began Operation Polo. India’s soldiers invaded Hyderabad and in a few days it was all over. The events before and after the operation led to massive violence in which tens of thousands of lives were lost.

This massive loss to life was never reported until two years ago in 2013 when the Government of India released the Sunder Lal Committee report, in possession of The Quint, which concluded that anywhere between 27,000 and 40,000 people died.

So there’s a reason why we didn’t learn the true story of Hyderabad – all the findings weren’t available till 2013.

How many other stories of India’s tumultuous birth remain untold?

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