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The liberation of Hyderabad in September 1948 by "Hyderabad Police Action" (code-named "Operation Polo") was the operation by the Indian armed forces that ended the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad and led to the integration of the princely state of Hyderabad into the Indian Union.

The operation was necessitated as the princely State of Hyderabad under Nizam Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII, decided to not join either India or Pakistan after the partition of India. The Nisam's defiance was backed by Qasim Razvi's armed militias, known as Razakars and had the moral support of Pakistanmarker,. When all attempts to persuade the Nizam to act friendly towards India failed, and wary of a hostile independent state right in the middle of India, Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel decided to annex the state of Hyderabad. He sent the Indian army and the Hyderabad State Forces were defeated within five days.

At that time, Hyderabad state had some 17 polo grounds, the largest number in India. Hence the name "Operation Polo".

Background

The State of Hyderabad, located over most of the Deccan Plateaumarker 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 Muslim, 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 subcontinent in 1947, they offered the various princely states in the sub-continent the option of assimilating into either India or Pakistan, or staying on as an independent state.

The State of Hyderabad under the leadership of its 7th Nizam, Mir Usman Ali, was the largest and most prosperous of all princely states in India. It covered 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 State 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.

Events Preceding Hostilities

Political and Diplomatic Negotiations

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.

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 15 August 1947, the same day that India became independent. Alarmed at the idea of an independent Hyderabad in the heart of Indian territory, Sardar 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 Hyderabad 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 voluntary 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 President Harry S. Truman of the United States of America and intervention of the United Nations.

Civil Unrest in Hyderabad

The 1941 census had estimated the population of Hyderabad to be 16.34 million, over 85% of who were Hindus and with Muslims accounting for about 12%. It was also 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.

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 Qasim Razvi, a close advisor, and leader of the radical Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) Party, to set up an 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 in the face of growing public opinion amongst the majority Hindu population favouring the accession of Hyderabad into the Indian Union.

As the manpower and arsenal of the Razakars grew, there was an escalation of violence between the Razakars and Hindu communities. In all, more than 150 villages (of which 70 were in Indian territory outside Hyderabad State) were pushed into violence. In Telengana, large groups of peasants, aided by the Communist Party of India, and led by Swami Ramanand Teerth, revolted against local Muslim 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 assassinate the Nizam outside his palace.

Hyderabadi Military Preparations

The Nizam of Hyderabad had a large army with a tradition of hiring mercenary forces. 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 - all forming a total of 22,000 men. 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 Qasim 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.

Breakdown of Negotiations

As the Indian government received information that Hyderabad was arming itself and was preparing to ally with Pakistan in any future war with India, Sardar Patel described the idea of an independent Hyderabad as an ulcer in the heart of India - which had to removed surgically. In response, Hyderabad's prime minister Laik Ali stated "India thinks that if Pakistan attacks her, Hyderabad will stab her in the back. I am not so sure we would not." Sardar Patel responded later by stating "If you threaten us with violence, swords will be met with swords".

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 Razwi stated, "If India attacks us I can and will create a turmoil throughout India. We will perish but India will perish also." The magazine "Time" pointed out that if India invaded Hyderabad, the Razakars would massacre Hindus, which would lead to retaliatory massacres of Muslims across India.

Skirmish at Kodar

On September 6 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.

Indian Military Preparations

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 C-in-C of the Southern Command). The plan envisaged two main thrusts - from Vijayawadamarker in the East and Solapurmarker 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:
  1. Strike Force comprising a mix of fast moving infantry, cavalry and light artillery,
  2. Smash Force consisting of predominantly armoured units and artillery,
  3. Kill Force composed of infantry and engineering units
  4. Vir Force which comprised infantry, anti-tank and engineering units.
The attack from Vijaywadamarker was led by Major General A.A. Rudra and comprised the 2/5 Gurkha Rifles, one squadron of the 17th 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 Punemarker base.

The date for the attack was fixed as 13 September, even though General Sir Francis Bucher, the Indian chief of staff, had objected on grounds that Hyderabad would be an additional front for the Indian army after Kashmirmarker.

Commencement of Hostilities

Day 1, September 13

The first battle was fought at Naldurgmarker 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 Jalkotmarker, 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 Tuljapurmarker, 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 Naldurgmarker.

In the East, forces led by Lt. Gen A.A. Rudra met with fierce resistance from two armoured units of Humber armoured cars and Staghound armoured cars, 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 Hospetmarker - where the 1st Mysore assaulted and secured a sugar factory from units of Razakars and Pathans - and at Tungabhadramarker - where the 5/5 Gurkha attacked and secured a vital bridge from the Hyderabadi army.

Day 2, September 14

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 Surriapet. The positions were assaulted by the 2/5 Gurkha - veterans of the Burma Campaign - and was neutralised with the Hyderabadis taking severe casualties.

At the same time, the 3/11 Gurkha Rifles and a squadron of 8th Cavalry attacked Osmanabadmarker and took the town after heavy street combat with the Razakars who determinedly resisted the Indians

A force under the command of Maj. Gen. D.S. Brar was tasked with capturing the city of Aurangabadmarker. 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 Jalnamarker where 3 Sikh, a company of 2 Jodhpur infantry and some tanks from 18 Cavalry faced stubborn resistance from Hyderabadi forces.

Day 3, September 15

Leaving a company of 3/11 Gurkhas to occupy the town of Jalna, the remainder of the force moved to Laturmarker, and later to Mominabadmarker 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.

Day 4, September 16

The task force under Lt. Col. Ram Singh moved towards Zahirabadmarker at dawn, but was slowed down by a minefield, which had to be cleared. On reaching the junction of the Bidar road with the Solapurmarker-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.

Day 5, September 17

In the early hours of September 17, the Indian army entered Bidarmarker. Meanwhile, forces led by the 1st Armoured regiment were at the town of Chityal about 60 km from the capital city, while another column took over the town of Hingolimarker. 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. The Nizam's defeat was now imminent.

Capitulation and Surrender

Consultations with Indian Envoy

On September 16, faced with imminent defeat, the Nizam summoned the Prime Minister Mir Laik 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 September 17, 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.

Radio Broadcast of Surrender Offer

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 Palace to brood.

The Surrender Ceremony

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.

The Aftermath

"Operation Polo" resulted in moderate casualties for Indian forces, with significantly higher losses for Hyderbadi forces. Indian losses were 32 killed and 97 wounded. Among the Indian units, the Punjab Regiment had by far suffered the greatest number of casualties, with 20 of its soldiers killed in action. The losses suffered by Hyderbad state forces and Irregular forces combined were 1,863 killed, 122 wounded, and 3,558 captured. In the following weeks the state erupted in widespread communal violence. 50,000 people may have died in the reprisals that followed the invasion. Most of the violence occurred in the state's rural districts, sparking large scale migration both to the capital at Hyderabad, and to Pakistanmarker.

The Nizam received the ceremonial post of Rajpramukh in 1950, but resigned from this office when the states were re-organized in 1956 on linguistic basis and large parts of Hyderabad state went to Bombay State. Many officials and members of the royal family fled and re-settled in Pakistanmarker where they now live.

References

  1. Hyderabad 1948 Revisited IndiaDefence.com
  2. http://www.boloji.com/analysis2/0233.htm
  3. http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/MONITOR/ISSUE2-3/lns.html
  4. http://www.indianofficer.com/forums/history-wiki/899-operation-polo-liberation-hyderabad.html
  5. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,799076-2,00.html
  6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/making_history/making_history_20080527.shtml Making History, 27 May 2008, BBC Radio 4
  • Zubrzycki, John. (2006) The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback. Pan Macmillan, Australia. ISBN 978-0-3304-2321-2.


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