Hyderabad: Seventy-one years after Telangana joined the Indian Union after the Nizam’s forced accession, the occasion has turned the erstwhile princely state into a testing ground for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s polarised political agenda.
The Hyderabad state, comprising three linguistic regions – Telugu-speaking Telangana, Maratha-speaking Marathwada and Kannada-speaking areas of Karnataka – acceded to the Indian Union through a military/police action (Operation Polo) spearheaded by then home minister Sardarvallabai Patel on September 17, 1948, closing 200 years of rule by the Nizams.
Operation Polo was preceded by a five-year communist insurgency against feudal landlords and the reign of terror and exploitation unleashed by the Razakars, a private militia led by Qasim Razvi with the Nizam’s backing.
According to a report sanctioned by the Government of India, a “very conservative estimate” said that during and in the aftermath of Operation Polo, at least 27,000 to 40,000 people – mostly Muslims – were killed.
A prism of divergent views
The day has thrown open divergent narratives. The BJP projects the historical event as an anti-Muslim development, observing it as ‘liberation day’. The Congress calls the accession a merger, while left-wing extremist groups have declared it as the “day of betrayal”.
Chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who stoked regional sentiment during the separate statehood movement, said he would officially celebrate the day of Telangana’s “liberation” when the state is created. After the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) came to power, he has not kept his word. The BJP accuses that this is to appease his ally, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehdul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
It is against this backdrop that the BJP has vehemently pulled out all stops to mark the so-called Telangana Liberation Day on a grand scale. In the general elections, Narendra Modi and the BJP’s southward march was halted in Karnataka. The top brass has declared Telangana the next stop, with the state’s elections still some time away (2023).
The party is preparing for a showdown, probably in north Telangana, on the pretext of celebrating the occasion. Union home minister Amit Shah was scheduled to address a massive rally in the region, a stronghold of KCR and the TRS, but will skip it. Cracks have already begun to show in the bastion, as the BJP won three of the four parliament seats in north Telangana.
KCR to face BJP’s heat
As a preface to the showdown, the BJP’s Telangana leaders have launched a diatribe against KCR after images of himself and his party symbol (a car) were inscribed on the pillars of a Hindu temple at Yadadri. The BJP said Hindu sentiments were deeply hurt during the TRS regime.
Driven by a political compulsion to keep the Congress out of power, Rao took a firm pro-Muslim stand on his home-turf. Muslims constitute 12% of the state’s electorate and are spread over 45-50 of the 119 assembly segments in Telangana. To woo the community, Chandrasekhar Rao announced a hike in the reservation quota for Muslims and other schemes such as Shaadi Mubarak. Therefore, the MIM’s Assaduddin Owaisi also became a natural ally for the party.
Raka Sudhakar, an ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), told The Wire, “We will definitely expose the anti-Hindu postures and appeasement politics of KCR’s party during the liberation day celebrations.”
“We are not trying to communalise the issue. We are only exposing the TRS and even the Congress, which have been using Muslims as a vote bank to remain in power. When the liberation day is being celebrated in the Marathwada and Hyderabad Karnataka regions, why is it not happening in Telangana?” asks Sudhakar.
After the BJP gained a lot of ground in the general elections, the TRS has also realised that the real danger it faces is from the saffron party, not the Congress. Though the BJP was relegated to a single seat in the state election in 2018, it rebounded with a sterling performance in the parliamentary elections. Its vote share touched 20%, up from just 7% in the state elections.
The BJP’s gains came largely from north Telangana, which is also why the BJP chose KCR’s heartland as a stage for its showdown on September 17.
Left’s claims fade away
The BJP is distorting history by depicting the armed conflict waged against the Nizam as a Hindu-Muslim conflict. The opposition cut across religious lines and had leaders such as Sayeed Mohammad Makhdoom Mohiuddin, an Urdu poet and Communist veteran. The armed struggle was also aimed at Hindu zamindars (landowners) who enjoyed the Nizam’s patronage.
S. Veeraiah, the editor of Nava Telangana, a CPI(M) mouthpiece, says Hindutva groups played no role whatsoever in the armed struggle. “The struggle should be viewed only from the angle of exploitation of poor and the terror perpetrated by the Nizam and his supporters. But the left is a divided house, and is unable to effectively check the Sangh parivar‘s attempts to distort history,” he observed.
Veeriah cited three reasons for the left’s downfall in Telangana – lack of unity among different parties, mainly the CPI and the CPI (M); their failure to face communal politics; and the rise of regional movements which were driven by people’s emotions and sentiments.
But Sudhakar, the RSS ideologue, claimed that Hindus under the Nizam’s rule were subjected to discrimination and forced to play second fiddle to the Muslim elite in every sphere. “Women were sexually exploited and several Hindus killed at several places by the Razakars when they tried to hoist the national flag and celebrate India’s Independence. We will only tell the truth to the people of Telangana,” he added.
However, historical records show that exploitation – sexual and physical – of peasants was not just by the Razakars, but elites across the religious spectrum (such as caste Hindu zamindars). The Razakars – with the support of the zamindars – exacted violence not just on Hindus, but on anyone who opposed the Nizam’s rule.
Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states.