The 1948 Invasion of Hyderabad, also termed as “Hyderabad Police Action” and code-named “Operation Polo” by the Indian military was the Indian armed forces action that ended the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad and led to the incorporation of the princely state of Hyderabad in Southern India, into the Indian Union.
The military operation was carried out because the State of Hyderabad under Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII, decided to remain independent after the partition of India. Wary of a Muslim ruled state right in the middle of India, Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel decided to annex the state of Hyderabad. Though backed by Qasim Razvi's armed militias, known as Razakars, and a distant moral support of Pakistan, the Hyderabad State Forces were easily defeated by the Armed Forces of India within five days.
At that time, Hyderabad state had some 17 polo grounds, largest in India, hence the name Operation Polo.
The State of Hyderabad, located over most of the Deccan Plateau in Southern India, was established in 1724 by Nizam-ul-Mulk Asif Jha after the collapse of the Mughal Indian Empire. As was the case in several Indian royal states, the Nizam was a Moslem, while a majority of the subject population was Hindu. In 1798, Hyderabad became the first Indian royal state to accede to British protection under the policy of Subsidiary Alliances instituted by Arthur Wellesley. When the British finally departed from the Indian cubcontinent in 1947, they offered the various princely states in the sub-continent the option of assimilating into either India or Pakistan, or of staying on as an independent nation.
By this time, the State of Hyderabad under the leadership of its 7th Nizam, Mir Usman Ali, had become the largest and most prosperous of all princely states in India. It covered 82,698 square miles 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. Hyderabad, at the time, had its own army, as well as its own airline, telecommunication system, railway network, postal system, currency and radio broadcasting service, with a GDP larger than that of Belgium.
It was in this context that the Nizam, then the richest man in the world, desired to retain independence for his state. The Indians however, were wary of having an independent - and possibly hostile - Islamic nation in the heart of its territory, and were determined to assimilate Hyderabad into the Indian Union, in the same manner as the other five hundred and sixty five royal states that had already acceded.
When Indian Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel requested the Hyderabad Government to sign the instrument of accession, the Nizam refused, and instead declared Hyderabad as an independent nation on the 15th of August 1947, the same day that India declared its own independence. Alarmed at the idea of an independent Hyderabad in the heart of Indian territory, Patel approached the governor general of India, Lord Mountbatten who advised him to resolve the issue without the use of force.
Accordingly, the Indian government offered the Hyderabadis a ‘Standstill Agreement’ which made an assurance that the status quo would be maintained and no military action would be taken. Unlike in the case of other royal states, instead of an explicit guarantee of eventual accession to India, only a guarantee stating that Hyderabad would not join Pakistan was given. Negotiations were opened through K.M. Munshi, India’s envoy and agent general to Hyderabad, and the Nizam’s envoys, Laik Ali and Sir Walter Monckton. Lord Mountbatten, who presided over the negotiations, offered several possible deals to the Hyderabad government which were rejected. The Hyderabadi envoys accused India of setting up armed barricades on all land routes and of attempting to economically isolate their nation. The Indians retaliated by accusing the Hyderabad government of importing arms from Pakistan. Hyderabad had given Rupees 200 million to Pakistan, and had stationed a bomber squadron there.
In June 1948, Mountbatten prepared the ‘Heads of Agreement’ deal which offered Hyderabad the status of an autonomous dominion nation under India. The deal called for the restriction of the regular Hyderabadi armed forces along with a disbanding of its notorious irregular forces. While it allowed the Nizam to continue as the executive head of the state, it called for a plebiscite along with general democratic elections to set up a constituent assembly. The Hyderabad government would continue to administer its territory as before, leaving only foreign affairs to be handled by the Indian government.
Although the plan was approved and signed by the Indians, it was rejected by the Nizam who demanded only complete independence or the status of a dominion under the British Commonwealth.
The Nizam also made unsuccessful attempts to seek the arbitration of the United States President Harry S Truman and of the United Nations.
Even as India and Hyderabad negotiated at the table, 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 Qasim Razwi, a close advisor, and leader of the radical Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) Party, to set up an irregular 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 in the face of growing public opinion amongst the majority Hindu population favouring the accession of Hyderabad into the Indian Union
Initially tasked with the job of protecting vulnerable Muslim communities from Hindu atrocities, the Razakars began resorting to widespread assassinations and murders to silence political dissidents opposed to the Nizam’s regime. Shoiabullah Khan, editor of the Urdu daily Imroz, was reportedly stabbed to death by Razakars after expressing views against the Nizam.
As the manpower and arsenal of the Razakars grew, there was an escalation of violence with Razakars units involved in massacres of entire villages of Hindus - first, within Hyderabadi territory and later on Indian soil. In all, more than 150 villages - 70 in Indian territory - were attacked. In retaliation, Hindu nationalist organisations like the RSS attempted armed confrontations with the Razakars in areas adjoining the border with India. In Telengana, large groups of peasants, aided by the Communist Party of India, and led by Swami Ramanand Teerth, revolted against local landlords, and also came into direct confrontation with the Razakars. Meanwhile, parties like the Hyderabad State Congress were involved in non violent protests against the Nizam’s rule.
On December 4, 1947, Narayan Rao Pawar, a member of a Hindu nationalist organisation called the Arya Samaj made a failed attempt to assasinate the Nizam outside his palace.
In addition to these, there were about 200,000 irregular militia called the Razakars under the command of civilian leader Qasim Razwi. A quarter of these were armed with modern small firearms, while the rest were predominantly armed with muzzleloaders 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 air drops from Australian arms trader Sydney Cotton.
In Hyderabad, militia leader Qasim Razwi told a crowd of Razakars “Death with the sword in hand, is always preferable to extinction by a mere stroke of the pen.". Razwi was later described by Indian government officials as “The Nizam’s Frankenstein Monster”. In response to reports that India was planning to invade Hyderabad he stated,"If India attacks us I can and will create a turmoil throughout India. We will perish but India will perish also." 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 attack from Sholapur was led by Major General J.N. Chaudhari and was composed of four task forces - (a) Strike Force comprising a mix of fast moving infantry, cavalry and light artillery , (b) Smash Force consisting of predominantly armoured units and artillery, (c ) Kill Force composed of infantry and engineering units and (d) Vir Force which comprised infantry, anti-tank and engineering units. The attack from Vijaywada was led by Major General A.A. Rudra and comprised the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, 1 squadron of the 17th Horse, and a troop from the 19th Field Battery along with engineering and ancillary units. In addition, 4 infantry battalions were to neutralize and protect lines of communication. 2 squadrons of tempest aircrafts were prepared for air support from the Pune base.
The date for the attack was fixed as 13 September, even though General Bucher, the Indian chief of staff, had objected on grounds that Hyderabad would be an additional front for the Indian army after Kashmir.
In the East, forces led by Lt. Gen A.A. Rudra met with fierce resistance from 2 armoured units of Humbers and Staghounds, but managed to reach the town of Kodar by 0830 hours. Pressing on, the force reached Mungala by 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 Gorkha attacked and secured a vital bridge from the Hyderabadi army.
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 lancer and 5th Infantry 6 km from Surriapet. The positions were assaulted by the 2/5 Gorkha - veterans of the Burma Campaign - and was neutralised with the Hyderabadis taking severe casualties.
At the same time, the 3/11 Gorkha Rifles and a squadron of 8th cavalry attacked Osmanabad and took the town after heavy street combat with the Razakars who gave a determined resistance to the Indians.
A force under the command of Maj. Gen. D.S. Brar was tasked with capturing the city of Aurangabad. The city was attacked by 6 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.
At the town of Surriapet, air strikes cleared most of the Hyderabadi defences, although some Razakar units still gave resistance to the 2/5 Gorkhas 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.
As soon as Munshi entered the sitting room, a reportedly desolate ruler said: “The vultures have resigned. I don't know what to do”. He handed him the letter of resignation of Mir Laiq Ali, the Prime Minister. His hands were shaking. He had this problem for some time, which became pronounced, when he was tense or angry.
Munshi had come to know about the resignation earlier from Mir Laiq Ali himself. He said that he was worried about the safety of the citizens. He suggested that Commander-in-Chief of Hyderabad State General El Edroos should be asked to take steps to preserve law and order in the city. The Nizam then sent for his commander-in-chief and told him accordingly
Munshi also suggested that the Nizam might make a broadcast welcoming the Police Action and withdrawing his complaint to the Security Council. Munshi explained and offered to help draft the speech.
It was the Nizam's first visit to the Radio Station. No red carpet was spread for him; no formalities were observed. No music, no anthem was played before or after the broadcast. The speech was in English. Nobody bothered to translate it into Urdu. After the broadcast the Nizam drove back to King Kothi to brood. Munshi on his way to Bolarum found the streets full of excited crowds shouting national slogans. Munshi was mobbed and had to address groups of people en route.
That night the city changed a great deal. Many khaki uniforms were discarded, many beards shaved. The shouting, rampaging crowds of razakars disappeared magically. The citizens emerged from their cocoons. People of all ages came out in throngs waving the tricolour of India.
The surrender ceremony was fixed at 4 p.m.
General Chaudhuri spoke gravely: “I have been ordered by Lt. General Maharaj Rajendrasinhji, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command to take the surrender of your army”.
“You have it”. “You understand that this surrender is unconditional”. “Yes, I understand”.
Chaudhuri smiled and shook hands with Edroos. Then he opened his cigarette case and offered him a cigarette. Edroos proffered a lighter. Chaudhuri's team joined them.
The party drove to the residence of India's Agent General. A jubilant crowd cheered the victorious general there. He waved in return and then sat down to discuss the details with Munshi, Edroos and others.