India Invades Hyderabad State Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The princely state of Hyderabad refused to join the Republic of India when the British ceded control of the Indian subcontinent. It attempted to remain autonomous, but India invaded the state in a “police action,” ending its independence. Hyderabad was then initially governed under military rule and later incorporated as a province within the Indian republic.

Summary of Event

In 1724, Āṣaf Jāh I, a Muslim, became niẓām-ul-mulk of Hyderabad, founding the Āṣaf Jāhi Dynasty {Amacr}{ssubdot}af J{amacr}hi Dynasty[Asaf Jahi Dynasty] of that southern Indian state. Over the next 224 years, seven Muslim niẓāms (princes) ruled an area of some eighty-six thousand square miles, even though more than 90 percent of the population was Hindu. The British assumed suzerainty over India at the end of the eighteenth century, and a British resident was appointed to Hyderabad, but the princely state remained nominally under the niẓām as an independent state. The last niẓām, Osman Ali, was celebrated by Time magazine on its cover in 1937 as the richest man in the world. Operation Polo Hyderabad police action (1948) India;invasion of Hyderabad [kw]India Invades Hyderabad State (Sept. 12, 1948) [kw]Hyderabad State, India Invades (Sept. 12, 1948) Operation Polo Hyderabad police action (1948) India;invasion of Hyderabad [g]South Asia;Sept. 12, 1948: India Invades Hyderabad State[02620] [g]India;Sept. 12, 1948: India Invades Hyderabad State[02620] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Sept. 12, 1948: India Invades Hyderabad State[02620] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 12, 1948: India Invades Hyderabad State[02620] Ali, Mir Laik Gandhi, Mahatma Mountbatten, Louis (first Earl Mountbatten of Burma) Nehru, Jawaharlal Osman Ali Patel, Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai

On the independence of India in 1947, the niẓām refused to accede to the new nation, even through Hyderabad was surrounded by Indian territory. He hoped Hyderabad would become an independent sovereign state and establish friendly diplomatic and economic relations with India. The viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten, tried to persuade Osman Ali to accede to India, but the niẓām refused to do so. Accordingly, Mountbatten finally agreed to allow the Osman Ali to sign a “standstill agreement” on November 29, 1947, even though India had become independent just over two months earlier on August 15.

Under the agreement, Hyderabad would remain separate from India for a year and would enter into negotiations to define the relationship between the two states. All previous constitutional arrangements between the British and Hyderabad would remain in operation during that time, including those governing defense, external affairs, and communications, even though all of the Indian leaders—such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel—had no doubt that Hyderabad should be part of India. India’s leaders were prepared to be patient with the niẓām, however, and the two governments appointed agents general to each other’s capitals.

General Indian sentiment, especially in the press, favored invading Hyderabad and ending the standoff once and for all. When the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 Indo-Pakistani War of 1947[IndoPakistani War of 1947] First Kashmir War (1947) broke out over Kashmir, however, Nehru and Patel were distracted from spending time and resources—either military or diplomatic—on Hyderabad. For his part, the niẓām took advantage of the Kashmir imbroglio by stalling and refusing to negotiate with India. He continued to hold out hope that Hyderabad would somehow remain independent and secretly bought weapons of all kinds, especially from Pakistan, and smuggled them into Hyderabad in order to strengthen his position. He also sent a delegation to the United Nations in New York in order to refer the Hyderabad case to the Security Council, hoping it would decide in favor of Hyderabad’s independence.

In April, 1948, the niẓām established an apparently democratic cabinet, consisting of four Muslims, four Hindus, and four official members, with Mir Laik Ali as prime minister. The move was designed to reduce Indian prime minister Nehru’s criticisms of the niẓām’s government. A secular modernist, Nehru regarded Hyderabad as a medieval, autocratic, and politically backward state. He supported a patient, diplomatic approach to the state, however, and Gandhi, who fully agreed that Hyderabad should be incorporated into the sovereign Indian state, was also opposed to absorbing it through military action.

In Hyderabad, a paramilitary organization developed called the Razakars Razakars (stormtroopers). Under the control of a mercurial leader, they collected weapons, issued belligerent statements toward India, conducted parades, and exacerbated tense relations between India and Hyderabad, as the Indian press accused the Razakars of committing crimes against Hindus and even of causing a situation of anarchy in the border areas of the two states. The Razakars were, in fact, an ineffective and insubstantial force, but Indian press coverage of their activities inflated both their importance and the degree of the threat they posed to the nation’s interests. The press even invented episodes to depict a lawless Hyderabad overrun by an out-of-control militia. This portrayal helped create an atmosphere that made any Indian action in Hyderabad seem welcome to restore law and order and institute a democratic government.

The assassination of Gandhi on January 30, 1948, removed the strongest voice of restraint among India’s leaders, and with India attaining the upper hand in the war in Kashmir, the time was ripe for India to take a firmer stand with Hyderabad. Patel in particular was impatient for action to resolve the anomaly of a princely state on Indian soil. Accordingly, on the night of September 12-13, 1948, the Indian Army invaded Hyderabad from five directions. The Hyderabad army was routed, and the Hyderabadi forces surrendered on September 18. On September 23, the niẓām withdrew his complaint from the U.N. Security Council, and India announced that Hyderabad had been merged into the Indian union.

Until the end of 1949, Hyderabad remained under military rule. In January, 1950, a civil servant was appointed governor, but Nehru allowed the niẓām to be appointed to a prestigious position as “Raj Pramukh.” Informally, Nehru treated him honorably, as if he were the governor of a state.

Significance

With the incorporation of the princely state of Hyderabad, the last such remaining state outside the union had become part of the Republic of India. The traditional feudal princedoms ended, and democracy was imposed on all the states of India, which became the most populous democratic nation in the world. In 1952, general elections were held for the first popularly elected ministry to the Hyderabad Legislative Assembly. In 1956, the former state’s borders were revised as a result of the linguistic states movement, which reorganized states on the basis of language. Hyderabad lost the territory of the Marathi and Kannada speakers but acquired areas of Telegu-speaking people and became the center of the Telegu language in the new state of Andra Pradesh, for which Hyderabad became the capital.

With these reforms, the history of the state of Hyderabad can be said to have finally come to an end. For many Indians, the greatest memorial to the history of Hyderabad is the exhibit of the niẓām’s jewels, which fills an entire museum. The jewels are a symbol of the autocratic rule of the niẓāms and the medieval system that enabled them to acquire riches beyond most people’s imagination. The Hyderabad police action ended this feudal system in the midst of the nascent democratic republic of India, which Indians proudly call the world’s largest democracy. Operation Polo Hyderabad police action (1948) India;invasion of Hyderabad

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ali, Mir Laik. Tragedy of Hyderabad. Karachi: Pakistan Co-Operative Book Society, 1962. The prime minister of Hyderabad at the time of the police action offers a frank insider’s account of the Indian invasion and of the ineffectiveness of the Hyderabadi forces. Also provides an intimate assessment of the niẓām and a description of Gandhi’s discussions with Mir Laik Ali over Hyderabad. The best account of the last phase of the history of Hyderabad and of the police action from a Hyderabadi perspective.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bawa, Basant K. The Last Nizam: The Life and Times of Mir Osman Ali Khan. New York: Viking, 1992. Chapter eight of this detailed biography covers the police action. Provides a fascinating account of the life of an eccentric prince.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Copland, Ian. The Princes of India in the Endgame of India, 1917-1947. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Copland’s study of princely India in the last thirty years of its existence is a detailed account of the various princely states and is essential background reading for an understanding of how the states operated in the British system.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Menon, V. P. The Story of the Integration of the Indian States. New York: Macmillan, 1956. Written by a member of the Indian Civil Service who was intimately connected with Patel at the Home and States Ministry. Provides an insider’s account from the government of India’s perspective. Still considered to be the standard work on the accession of the Indian princely states and their incorporation into the Indian Union. Chapter 18 is about Hyderabad.

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