The Destruction of Hyderabad by A G Noorani, book review: Tragic tale of how the jewel of India met a grisly end


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The Independent Culture

Hyderabad was the largest of the principalities of India, a state as extensive as some nations with its own coinage, postal system and railways. The rulers were feudal overlords with the title Nizam who to their credit had promoted scholarship and the arts, and libraries of world renown.

The tragedy of this beautiful and elegant land, the essence of princely India, was that the Nizam of Hyderabad was Muslim but only 11 percent of his people were, causing a problem when India was partitioned along religious lines. The Nizam wanted independence in 1947, but such a future for his land-locked state was not a realistic possibility; accession to Pakistan or India was inevitable.

AG Noorani, a senior lawyer and a scholar, accuses Sir Walter Monckton who was the Nizam's constitutional advisor of encouraging the Nizam to chase the mirage of an outlet to the sea. This would allow the state to become viable, but India was never going to give such passage. Monckton does not deserve castigation; his behaviour has to be seen in the light of courtly practice: the top man declared his intention and his advisers had to tell him how it could be done.

What ensued was a tragedy in which the Nizam did nothing. Muslim volunteers, called "Razakars" were left free to terrorise the population and give an opportunity for the Indian Minister for the States, Vallabhbhai Patel, to order an invasion. He said Hyderabad was an "ulcer" that "continues to spread poison to the rest of India". Noorani sees the heart of the tragedy of Hyderabad as a conflict between Indian prime minister Nehru, who was an Indian nationalist, and Patel who was a Hindu nationalist.

Operation Polo was launched in September 1948 with the Indian army invading from five sides with air force bombing raids in what was disingenuously called a "police action".

This book publishes as an appendix the Sunderlal Mission report on the massacre of up to 40,000 Muslims in Hyderabad following the invasion. The report has been suppressed for more than half a century and describes atrocities including rape, the abduction of women, looting, the desecration of mosques and forcible seizure of property. It was the final act that brought Muslim rule over a Hindu majority to an end, the last show for the Mogul empire, told here in detail from diplomatic and journalistic sources and witness testimony.

This closely argued telling of a grisly episode is a valuable addition to the story of partition – and another blow to the belief that the independence of the sub-continent was achieved by non-violent means.