This is the first of a two-part article on the Nizam’s surrender on 17 September 1948, thus paving the way for Hyderabad’s accession with India.

The controversy of whether 17 September should be commemorated as Hyderabad Liberation Day as proposed by the BJP or Telangana National Unity Day, as the TRS and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) choose to call it, compels us to revisit how the erstwhile Hyderabad State became a part of India. This examination is also crucial to understand the political psychology of a party like the AIMIM
Telangana that was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 largely comprises land that once formed a part of Hyderabad State. Historically Hyderabad State owed its origin to the fragmentation of the Mughal Empire after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 and fancied itself as the successor state of the Mughal Empire.
At the time of independence from the British, Hyderabad was ruled by 7th Nizam of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, Mir Osman Ali Khan and was the largest of the princely states extending over nearly 80,000 square miles. Lording over enormous wealth the Nizam was considered to be one of the richest men on earth. He was also known to be a progressive ruler who founded several public institutions like Osmania General Hospital, Osmania University and the State Bank of Hyderabad; he is also credited with building the Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar reservoirs to prevent flooding.
However, Hyderabad was an Islamic state that overtly favoured Muslims and discriminated against its Hindu majority who constituted 85% of its population. A Time magazine report from 1948 states: “The Indian government’s biggest objection to the Nizam is that he has elevated the Moslem minority of the population to a position of power and privilege. Of Hyderabad’s 17 million, only two million are Moslems. Yet in the army and police, Moslems outnumber Hindus nine to one, and in other government services, six to one. The privileged Moslem minority rules on the principle that Hindus must be kept ‘in their place.’ For instance, in Hyderabad railway stations, there are separate refreshment rooms labeled ‘Moslem Tea Room’ and ‘Hindu Tea Room.’”
In 1947, when the British decided to leave, the Nizam refused to accede to India. He nurtured ambitions of remaining as an independent ruler or at worst preferred to align with Pakistan. To this end he adopted a series of machinations to undermine India’s claim to Hyderabad.
First, he enlisted the services of a high profile, well-connected British lawyer, Sir Walter Monckton to present his case to the British government. There were voices within Britain, especially within the Conservative Party that sided with the Nizam. Sir Winston Churchill argued in the House of Commons that the British had a “personal obligation…not to allow a state which they had declared a sovereign state to be strangled, starved out or actually overborne by violence.” Another Member of Parliament, R.A. Butler declared that Britain should press for the “just claims of Hyderabad to remain independent.” (Ramchandra Guha. India After Gandhi. Picador. 2007).
Second, despite a personal animus against Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All India Muslim League and the founder of Pakistan, the Nizam colluded with him to conspire against India during this indecisive period, both during and after partition.
In a letter to Jinnah on 28 July 1947, he averred: “H.E.H. would of course much prefer to have close relations with Pakistan rather than with the Dominion of India. It is the landlocked position of Hyderabad in the belly of the most Hindu part of Hindustan which makes it inevitable for H.E.H. with his vast Hindu population to make, if possible, some friendly arrangement with Hindustan… H.E.H. has definitely made up his mind not to accede but he may be driven to closer unity by treaty in regard to External Affairs than he would have wished. But a treaty, as the British have shown, can be denounced. If and when Pakistan and Hyderabad are in a strong enough position to enable Hyderabad to resist political and economic pressure by the surrounding Hindustan, H.E.H. would review the position to make his ties closer with Pakistan and less close with the Dominion of India… so far as Defence and Communications are concerned, it is difficult to resist the view that Hyderabad must, at least by treaty, accommodate itself to the policy of the Dominion of India … With regard to External Affairs, in the light of Mr. Jinnah’s criticism, the draft letter has been modified….” (A.G. Noorani. Jinnah & the Nizam of Hyderabad: A Tragic Liaison.
The Nizam’s correspondence with the Viceroy and his negotiations with India were all subject to Jinnah’s approval. Jinnah vetted the documents and modified them to serve his purpose as the above extract indicates.
The Nizam also assured Jinnah that “I shall decide my affairs with your concurrence and knowledge.” Jinnah seized on this sentence in his reply on 21 July: “Please do not take any final decision; and I hope, as you say in your letter you will do so with my concurrence and knowledge.”
Jinnah in return supported the Nizam’s quest for independence. He warned the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, on 12 July that “if Congress attempted to exert any pressure on Hyderabad, every Muslim throughout the whole of India, yes, all the hundred million Muslims, would rise as one man to defend the oldest Muslim dynasty in India.”
Even after partition Jinnah continued to press Hyderabad’s case. On 1 November, Mountbatten proposed the following approach to resolve the Kashmir and Hyderabad dilemma: “The Governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a State does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the State has not acceded to that Dominion whose majority community is the same as the States, the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other of the Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people.”
To this Jinnah responded that he could not accept a formula if it was so drafted as to include Hyderabad, since he pointed out that Hyderabad did not wish to accede to either Dominion and he could not be a party to coercing them to accession.
When the Nizam found that Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy was not willing to entertain his idea of an independent Hyderabad, he agreed to negotiate with the new Indian government, still insisting on his own terms: he wanted Hyderabad to be an Islamic state with a majority vote for the 15% Muslim population.
By 15 August 1947, no settlement had been reached between the two parties. On 29 November, the Nizam agreed to sign a Standstill Agreement rather than the Instrument of Accession. As per the terms of the Standstill Agreement India would continue to honour the same arrangement that the Nizam had with the British Raj during the period of negotiations. The Nizam is also supposed to have given a secret assurance that he would not accede to Pakistan.

The second part of the article will be published next Sunday.