Operation Polo

The Princely State of HyderabadThe Princely State of Hyderabad.  A land of peasant farmers and diamond mines as well as refined living in the capital, Hyderabad.  Notionally independent since the fall of the Mughal Empire, but benefiting from the suzerainty of the British East India Company and later enthusiastically entering into Arthur Wellesley’s offer a subsidiary alliance with Britain.  It was ruled by the Nizams, Muslim princes free to govern as they saw fit, and the 7th Nizam Osman Ali Khan, declined offer of joining the Union of India in 1947 when the British finally left the subcontinent.  He preferred that Hyderabad to keep its independence.  The 7th Nizam was a wealthy man.  Under his rule was Golkonda Fort with its legendary vault stuffed full of diamonds and other gemstones from the Kollur Mine.  It was the source of such unique gems as the Koh-i-Noor and the Hope Diamond, and he had profited greatly from it.  His land however, had an 85% majority of Hindus at a time when India was partitioning into a Muslim state and a Hindu one.  There was rioting through the subcontinent with a great number atrocities committed and large population movements around the subcontinent.

The Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VIIBut Hyderabad was not part of India.  The Nizam had established many institutions in his time and was investing heavily in education.  He’d founded his own bank that supervised Hyderabad’s own currency.  He’d contributed greatly to the war effort funding the British RAF and the Australian navy.  He had powerful friends.  He also had a mostly Muslim ruling class in charge a majority Hindu population that was demanding setting up a Muslim militia to keep the population in order.  The Razakars were formed under Kasim Razvi, a man for whom it was only natural that Hindus submit to Muslim rule and for who acts of rape, murder and forced conversion were justified.  He became known as the Nizam’s Frakenstein monster.  There were several prominent murders including that of Shoebullah Khan, a young Muslim journalist who reported on the acts of violence perpetrated by the Razakars.

In the countryside, the workers laboured under a feudal system with both Muslim and Hindu landowners called jagidarrs and deshmukhs lording themselves over the peasants.  The Communist Party was agitating for land reform and the end of bonded labour in the area.  They encouraged what became know as the Telangana Rebellion.  A revolt was fermented against the landlords and tax collectors, and eventually the Nizam too.  Outside Hyderabad, the Indians were not keen on having a large area of land in the centre of their territory outside of their control and ruled by a Muslim leader who had strong links with the new country of Pakistan.  The string of violent incidents perpetrated by the Razakars were not tolerable.  There was a border incident in which Indian troops were fired on by Razacars which in turn led to the Indians encroaching on Hyderabadi territory.  The tension was ratcheting up.  Things were looking tough for the Nizam.  At the end of 1947, there was even an attempt on his life outside his palace.

Sidney CottonDespite the hawkish pressure for war on both sides, there was diplomacy.  There was an tentative agreement to a standstill of forces brokered by Lord Mountbatten, but the Nizam rejected it as well as a subsequent offer of independence, but within India.  The Nizam wanted the status of a full sovereign state or nothing.  He made approaches to Harry S. Truman and the United Nations, both of which were rebuffed.  The Nizam employed mercenaries to bolster his army, plus he had in excess of 200,000 Razakars.  As Hyderabad was landlocked and completely surrounded by India, all land routes in and out of the country had been blocked, but the Nizam used his wealth to arrange supplies.  Sidney Cotton, was a big name.  He was a pioneer of photography and aerial reconnaissance.  During World War II he had developed high-speed stereoscopic aerial photographic techniques that helped locate enemy installations.  He was highly experienced aviator having entered air races like the 1920 Daily Mail Aerial Derby, which was an air race circumnavigating London.  Since the war had finished he’d turned to a range of occupations including oil exploration.  Now he was gun running for the Nizam.  The Indian side had their own old colonials.  Eric Goddard was less storied than Cotton.  An accountant’s son, he had risen through the ranks of the British Army during World War II and now found himself Commander-in-Chief of the Indian forces and architect of Operation Polo; the conquest of Hyderabad.

The Goddard Plan called for two main thrusts into the country.  One front consisted for four strike forces called Strike, Smash, Kill and Vir (Brave).  With names like that it could be nothing but a rout.  Hyderabad was conquered within five days.  There was resistance, but the mercenaries and irregular militia of the Razakars were no match for the professional Indian military.  Inside the country they were assisted by the revolting Telangana.  After the battle, on the surface everything seemed respectable.  The Indian’s referred to the battle as a ‘Police Action’.  The Nizam accepted the title of Rajpramukh and remained at least notionally in control of Hyderabad.  Kasim Razvi was put on trial for several murders including that of Shoebullah Khan.  He was convicted, imprisoned then exiled to Pakistan on release.  The Telangana rebellion continued to the early 1950s, and eventually they gained some of the land reforms they wanted.  What remained hidden was a massacre.  There were stories that the Indian army and police had carried out reprisal killings against the Razakars and the Muslim population in general.  A report into the violence was ordered by the Indian government, then repressed when the findings were so alarming that they threatened the fragile peace within the country.  The Sunderlal Report said that between 27,000 and 40,000 Muslim men were killed by the Indian forces after the ceasefire with members of villages being lined up against walls and executed by makeshift firing squads.

The Hope DiamondSince Operation Polo and the annexation of Hyderabad into India, there’s been a notable Hyderabadi Muslim diaspora, initially to Pakistan but later around the world, as well as an increasingly romantic view of Hyderabadi culture prior to the Union and Partition of India.  Similar to the attitude that softens the edges of the US Southern States pre-Civil War, the rule of the Nizams is seen as cosmopolitan and enlightened.  The original state of Hyderabad has itself now been partitioned between three other Indian states, and there’s a growing movement for a new Telanganese state.


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