(This story was originally published on 16 September 2022. It has been republished with updates to mark the anniversary of Hyderabad state's merger with the Indian union on 17 September 1948.)
The date 17 September has its importance in the annals of Telangana history. On this day, in 1948, the then Hyderabad Nizam – Osman Ali Khan Asaf Jha VII – surrendered to the Indian armed forces and the erstwhile Hyderabad state became part of the Indian union.
But now, 17 September has become an instrument for political one-upmanship and competitive political mobilisation among political parties in Telangana – especially between the warring Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Bharat Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
On Sunday, 17 September 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah participated in the BJP's festivities to mark "Hyderabad Liberation Day" at the Parade Ground in the city. The party also took out a bike rally on Saturday, 16 September.
The saffron party's relentless campaign to present a people's movement (against the feudal regime and the autocratic monarchy) as Hindu-Muslim divide had made the previous governments in undivided Andhra Pradesh and later K Chandrashekar Rao government in Telangana refrain from according a nomenclature to this historic occasion that culminated with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's Operation Polo.
While the BJP has been attempting Hindu consolidation for its own political aggrandisement, the ruling parties have also been equally parochial in linking observance of Telangana history to what is derogatorily referred to as 'Muslim appeasement politics.' Interestingly enough, the Sangh Parivar has nothing to do with anti-feudal or anti-Nizam struggles.
BRS vs BJP: What Is the 'Liberation-Unity' Fight About?
The BJP, referring to the BRS bonhomie with All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, had been calling the pink party Telangana Razakar Samiti and KCR 'Naya Nizam'. The Razakars were a fundamentalist private army – which used to terrorise people of Hyderabad state – of the Nizam.
In this context, to reap political dividends, the BJP has been observing 17 September as Hyderabad Liberation Day.
Surprisingly, even the Telangana governor had jumped on the political bandwagon. Unbecoming of her constitutional role, Telangana governor Tamilisai Soundararajan differed from the state government's official characterisation of 17 September.
Soudararajan had embraced the saffron narrative by calling 17 September 'Liberation Day.' Meaning, she expressed her ideological moorings though gubernatorial position which demands political neutrality.
However, finally, KCR's government woke up to the challenge posed by the BJP's distorted narrative and decided to officially observe 17 September as Telangana Unity Day.
Whatever may be the political compulsions that define the latest move of the pink party, the BRS has successfully checkmated the saffron offensive on a sensitive issue. In 2022, the state government held massive activities from 16 to 18 September to mark the occasion.
Meanwhile, as BRS and BJP engaged in belligerent polemics, the Congress seemed to be quiet confused on how to describe the day and what to do. And the Communists, who led the heroic Telangana people's Armed Struggle against the feudal lords, despotic Nizam, and his barbaric private army called Razakars, were crying foul over political cacophony around 17 September.
How History Proves BJP's Claims Wrong
A peek into Telangana history is essential to understand why such a row has come about. The BJP's claim that 17 September should be called Hyderabad Liberation Day is a disservice to history.
The Telangana people's Armed Struggle led by the Communists was not a revolt of Hindu masses against a Muslim leader. The religious credentials of the ruler and the ruled were only incidental.
The disenfranchised masses of Telangana took up arms to liberate themselves from the yolk of feudal oppression, bonded labor, and extreme exploitation by landlords who were patronised by the Nizam. The Razakars even chopped off the hands of journalist Shoaibullah Khan who had fearlessly exposed the atrocities committed by the autocratic regime. At the time, Hindu landlords were strongly backing the Nizam regime.
In fact, the Nizam's authority was severely undermined during the fierce Armed Struggle that begun in 1946. Realising that his regime will fall because of the peasant uprising, the Nizam agreed to surrender.
Sardar Patel sent Indian army to complete the formality of Hyderabad ruler surrendering to the Indian union. Thus, Hyderabad state comprising the Telugu speaking areas, which are now called Telangana, and a few Kannada and Maratha speaking areas was acceded to the Indian Union.
The Nehru government in which Sardar Patel was the home minister appointed Nizam as Rajpramukh. People of Telangana hated Nizam and took up arms to overthrow him. The Nizam was neither jailed nor punished in any way.
Qasim Razvi who led the fanatic Razakars was allowed to flee to Pakistan despite his culpability in unprecedented atrocities on people. But, despite the atrocities by the Razakars and cruel oppression by the feudal lords, the Nizam was made Rajpramukh of Hyderabad state after it became part of independent India.
Therefore, it is a fact of history that the people of Telangana were not liberated from Nizam despite Hyderabad state accession to India on 17 September 1948. In fact, the armed peasant movement continued till 1951 to ensure that the tiller retained the land sought to be recaptured by the landlords with the support of the Indian army. This led to a bloody fight between Indian armed forces and Telangana warriors.
The Armed Struggle Was a Landless Peasants' Movement
It is wrong to say that the armed revolt was to undermine the Indian sovereignty. It was an uncompromising struggle of the landless masses to uphold the right to land and livelihood.
But the landlords who fled the villages returned to the countryside in their new avatar as political leaders under the new dispensation. Thus, there was no total liberation from Nizam or the landlords on 17 September 1948. It is therefore erroneous to characterise it as a 'Liberation Day.'
However, 17 September cannot be held ransom to petty vote-bank politics. The tricolour could not be hoisted in Telangana till 17 September 1948. It is a historic day as people of Telangana, on this day, became part of our motherland India. It is certainly a day of integration with the Indian union that needs to be observed and cherished year after year.
Instead of resisting saffron brigade’s attempt to communalize history, the ruling parties – both in undivided Andhra Pradesh and Telangana – conceded to the polarisation rhetoric with the wrong assumption that the ordinary Muslim masses see their patrons in the Nizams.
It is true that Nizam's regime was also credited with certain fine developmental initiatives, especially in education. But, the Nizam's regime cannot be absolved of the worst atrocities committed by the Razakars and landlords.
Several kings in history were magnanimous. But, that royal generosity cannot legitimise monarchy, that too in this age of democracy. Therefore, instead of launching competing attempts at political rhetoric, which political parties should desist, the people of Telangana deserve a truthful acknowledgement of the land's history, independent of its contemporary political or electoral calculations.
(Prof K Nageshwar is a senior political analyst, faculty member of Osmania University and former MLC. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)