Conquering Hyderabad: Operation Polo
The Liberation of Hyderabad is an important event that contributed to the formation of independent India. Upon the culmination of the Indian Nationalist Movement for Independence, there was a question looming large over the amalgamation of the existing princely states of the country. The provisions of the Indian Independence Act of 1947 had cleared ‘the states from all their obligations to the Crown’. They could now choose to join the Indian Union, Pakistan, or continue as sovereign independent units. For this purpose, the States Department was formed, to undertake negotiations with the Princely states. Sardar Vallabhai Patel, and his chosen secretary VP Menon were at the helm of this Department. Under the leadership of Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, they undertook the arduous task of negotiating terms with the rulers for an outcome favourable to India. Two documents, ‘The Standstill Agreement’ and ‘The Instrument of Accession’, were drafted to ratify the integration process. The Standstill agreement guaranteed that the agreements and practices that existed between the crown and these states would continue to exist with the Dominion of India. Juxtaposed to this, ‘The Instrument of Accession’, upon signing, would lead to the transfer of control of external affairs, communication, as well as defence to the Government of India.
Most states had accepted the “fate of geography” and acceded to either India or Pakistan, without posing any major problems. However, there were six states which explicitly opposed the integration process. These were - Travancore, Bhopal, Jodhpur, Junagadh, Kashmir, and Hyderabad. In this Article, we will be delving into the case of Hyderabad.
"The question of referendum does not arise."
– Nizam Mir Usman Ali (Basu N. , 2020, p. 342)
"... if the Congress attempted to exert any pressure on Hyderabad, every Muslim throughout the whole of India... would rise as one man to defend the oldest Muslim dynasty in India." (Guha, 2008, p. 53)
The state of Hyderabad in the pre-Independence era was the wealthiest, largest, and the most populated of the princely states. It is important to note that despite the royal status, the Nizam was never solely in-charge of the state. Hyderabad was a Hindu majority state ruled by a tiny Muslim elite (Guha, 2008, pp. 54-55).
Hyderabad’s 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali desired a sovereign status for Hyderabad, and continued a direct relationship with the Crown. He refused to send his representatives to the Constituent Assemblies of either of the Dominions. On 8th August 1947, the Nizam of Hyderabad communicated to Mountbatten that he would consider entering into a treaty with the Dominion of India, covering the three essential subjects of defence, communication and foreign affairs. By the time of independence, it became clear that no concrete development had taken place. For a period of 3 months, there was a stalemate in the negotiation process. Finally, on 29th November 1947, the state of Hyderabad signed the Standstill Agreement.
In 1948, Kasim Rizvi rose to prominence by assuming leadership of Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen. The militia wing of this organization was known as the Razakar. The organisation reached a million members, and roughly 10% of these members were now receiving arms training (Guha, 2008, pp. 54-55). Kasim Rizvi saw himself not just as the head of this powerful organisation, but as someone who could restore the status of Hyderabad as a powerful Muslim kingdom. He thus saw the conflict between the Government of India and the state of Hyderabad, in communal terms, much like the Muslim League. He made the members of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen take an oath in the name of Allah to "fight to the last to maintain the supremacy of Muslim power in the Deccan.” (Guha, 2008, pp. 54-55).
This conflagration also had an implicit effect in the backdrop of India’s Partition which had stroked communal tensions like never before. The Razakars also combined forces with local goons to force the Hindus out of Hindu-dominant cities such as Aurangabad. Muslims from adjoining states, fearing reprisal attacks were entering the state. (Guha, 2008, pp. 54-55).
By mid-June of 1948, negotiations completely broke down followed by Mountbatten leaving India, and C. Rajagopalachari assuming the post of the Governor- General. Increasing uncertainty and tensions prevailed across the state. Border raids and breaches of the Standstill Agreement took place at both ends. Widespread violence had engulfed the city. The months leading to the final showdown were fraught with grave incidents of violence. This posed a threat to the communal harmony in the entire nation, and shed light on the ineffectiveness of the Hyderabad government to settle the issue.
It was in this context that a contingency plan was prepared by the Indian Government. This was the groundwork of Operation Polo. Mountbatten, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, General Roy Bucher were dismayed by the plan. However, Nehru assured them that the plan was only in case the Razakars would launch an all-out offensive against the Hindus.
The Government of India was always hesitant to resort to Military action. The use of violence was associated with colonisers, and not a democratic government. Perhaps, the situation in Hyderabad was seen as a law-and-order problem, and not the result of actions of a belligerent government. Thus, naming this as a ‘police action’ would shield the Government of India from criticism from the international community. To this effect, military intervention has usually been a tool of last resorts in most political conflicts that India has been involved in. This is especially true in the case of Hyderabad.
At this point, VP Menon had written to the Cabinet that the Military option must be planned out. The plan was prepared by then GOC-in-C of Southern Command, Lt. Gen. Eric Goddard. The new GOC-in-C of Southern Command, Lt. General Rajendrasinhiji Jadeja was tasked by Sardar Patel to narrow down the details and requirements. (Basu N. , 2020, p. 349)
In April 1948, the GOC-in-C informed him that the plan could be implemented within a week. However, this could be done only by the end of the monsoon season, i.e., mid-September. (Basu N. , 2020, p. 349) He also requested permission to begin the construction of airfields to fly in men and materiel. The GOC was given clearance for both. Operation Polo was finally in the formal planning stage. The monsoon season gave the Nizam some time. However, it also gave India time to deal with the war in Kashmir, UN's scrutiny, and the fallout from the shoddily implemented Partition plan.
A version of this plan was in fact brought up in early 1948. However, it focused not on liberating Hyderabad, but on supplying or evacuating the military in case of civil disturbance. The GOC-in-C of Southern Command at the time, Lt. Gen. Eric Goddard observed the dysfunctional rulership of the Nizam, and thus, came up with this plan. (Subramanian, 2016, p. 172)
Before Governor-General Mountbatten left his post, he prepared and submitted a plan to the Government of India that would extend the Standstill Agreement with Hyderabad. However, this plan was not considered as a viable option by the government. After the Nizam dispatched a delegation to the UN in September 1948, Prime Minister Nehru was offered the plan to intervene militarily. After a few debates that almost led to Sardar Patel resigning from the post, Nehru signed the plan into action. Governor-General C. Rajagopalachari gave his assent as well. Even though there was no military threat levelled against the state of Hyderabad, there were incidents where the military of Hyderabad would act belligerently with the Indian Army.
On 6 September 1948, a squadron of the Poona Horse was fired at by the Hyderabad Lancers. Finally, the armoured squadron of Poona Horse chased away the Hyderabad Lancers back to Kodar, in Hyderabad territory, and forced the surrender of the garrison. (Subramanian, 2016, p. 173)
After assessing all other alternatives and realizing that taking this step became an absolute necessity, on 9th September 1948, Operation Polo was launched. Indian troops would now be sent into Hyderabad to restore normalcy. The strength of the Indian Army for the mission to liberate Hyderabad was two-and-a-half divisions. (Subramanian, 2016, p. 176) At this point as well, many were uncomfortable with the plan to invade and liberate Hyderabad. This included Colonel J.C. Chaudhari, who would eventually lead the Indian Army. (Basu N. , 2020, p. 356) Around 5 columns of Indian Army, along with troops of 8 princely states were present.
Major-General J.N Chaudhuri was the assigned commander in charge of the 1st Armoured Division. Under him, his force headed East along the Solapur- Hyderabad road. His forces consisted of:
- Two infantry brigades
- An armoured brigade
- A strike force, which included Stuart and Sherman tanks.
Another smaller diversion moved along the Bezwada-Hyderabad road. Brig. K.N. Varma led the 1st Armoured Brigade and advanced from Bangalore, to reach Hyderabad. The role of the IAF, commanded by Air Commodore A.N. Mukherjee was displayed while conducting aerial bombing raids. Helping the Indian army were policemen (around 9,700 in number) who hailed from different provinces.
On 12 September 1948, a five-pronged thrust of the Indian Army started at 01:45 PM from Central Provinces, Bombay, Mysore, and Madras. 1 Armoured Division under Major General Chaudhari was leading the main thrust from the Solapur-Hyderabad highway. (Subramanian, 2016, p. 175) The other thrusts were: (Subramanian, 2016, p. Page 176)
- North-west - To capture Aurangabad and Jalna
- North-east - To capture Adilabad
- South - To capture Kurnool
- South-east - To capture Bezwada
The success of an operation of such scale depends on either capturing or destroying the enemy’s logistical resources such as railways, shipping, communications, etc. Thus, many of the operations focused on securing railway lines, bridges, etc., and preventing the movement of Razakars. An example of this can be seen from the task assigned to 7 Punjab.
On 12 September 1947, two companies of 7 Punjab were tasked with a mission to capture the railway bridge near Balharshah. (Raghavan, 1997, p. 79) It was decided to trick the enemy guarding the bridge. A section of troops was boarded onto a railway flat, loaded with wheat bags. What seemed to be just a goods train, was actually occupied by troops of the Indian Army. The section reached close enough to the bridge to engage in a fire fight and capture it. However, a few casualties were sustained.
On 13 September 1948, Indian troops entered Hyderabad.
At the same time, securing towns and cities was also of immense importance. A key incident involving the 4th Battalion of the Rajputana Rifles is a case in point. (Das, 1997, p. 61) On 13th September 1948, the Battalion moved out of Gudeg at 04:15 AM in an armoured train with a company under Major BD Bhanot. It thus came to be known as the Gudag Column.
At 06:15 AM, it reached Koppal without any opposition. At their arrival, the local police force surrendered. The Battalion faced maximum action at Hosahalli. The Razakar force here was estimated to be around 1000. They sustained their opposition using light machine guns, and heavy rifle fire. Lorries with almost 250 Razakars and their families escaping from the city were captured by the personnel. However, 60 of the arrested people trying to escape were killed in action. On 18th September, a patrol unit of the 4th Battalion contacted the Mysore Infantry at Munirabad. The entire railway stretch from Gudag to Hospet was thus brought under control.
By 18 September, with Indian troops entering the Hyderabad city, Operation Polo was completed with the physical surrender of the Nizam’s Army at 04:00 PM. On 23rd September, the Nizam addresses the state via radio, and deplores the schemes of the Razakars and Kasim Razvi. On 26th January 1950, Hyderabad became an official state of India.
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