Is September 17, 1948, a liberation day for Hyderabad State or just a day of merger with the Indian Union? Is there anything in September 17 that was relevant for the separate Telangana movement? And who owns the political legitimacy of this people’s movement in today’s Telangana?
There is near unanimity that this day has played a crucial role in the liberation of the Telangana people. So, it is of high historical and contemporary political importance to understand the background of the day as well as the developments thereafter. It is equally important to understand that it was the people’s movement, which objectively reinvented the past, redefined its unfinished agenda and relocated itself in the contemporary stage of the realignment of political forces on the way towards emergence of the new Telangana State.
To explain these developments, we need a clear understanding of key issues such as: Why should we define September 17 as a liberation day for the people of Telangana? Which political, economic and social issues motivated the people of Telangana to struggle for the liberation of Hyderabad State? What happened to this agenda after the formation of Andhra Pradesh State? What relevance did this unfinished agenda have for the separate Telangana movement? And finally, do we need any rhetoric by political parties to own the political legitimacy of this historic people’s movement today in a new State?
In one of the most feudal systems in the world, the rights and duties of Nizam, his family and other elites were clearly defined and protected. The Nizam’s system of ruling his State rested on a well-knit network of Police Patel (law and order), Mali Patel (Revenue) and Patwari (land record and collection) at the village level. At the upper level, there were Girdawars and Tahasildars (Revenue Inspector) and Talukdar (Collector).
Importantly, the posts of Police Patel, Mali Patel and Patwari were hereditary and continued for decades. Of the 5.3 crore acres in the whole of Hyderabad State, about 3 crore acres (60%), was under the government land revenue system called Diwani or Khalsa area, about 1.5 crore acres (30%) was under the Jagirdari system and about 10% was under the Nizam’s own direct estate, ie, the Sarf-e-Khas system.
While the land under the Jagirdari system was under different Jagirdars (landlords), the Sarf-e-khas system was exclusively to finance the Nizam and his family. The income out of the most cruel exploitation of the peasants under this Sarf-e-Khas was Rs 2 crore annually. Apart from this, the Nizam got Rs 70 lakh every year from the state treasury. Regarded as the highest in India in those days, these earnings were considered as ‘official earnings’ of the Nizam and his family.
In the Jagir areas, the Paigahs played a key role. Paigahs were granted by the Nizam to Muslim feudals, especially his own family members and nearest relatives. As this and the Sarf-e-Khas lands were meant for private earnings of Nizams, the taxes on land used to be 10 times more than those collected in Diwani (government) areas, amounting to Rs 150 per acre or 20-30 mounds of paddy per acre. An estimated Rs 10 crore was collected annually by the top 110 Jagirdars and Paigahs through taxes and extractions from the peasantry. Combined with the brutal form of exploitation of ‘Vetti Chakiri’, the Nizam and his men systematically squeezed the economic resources and livelihoods of the Telangana people and ran a regime of social and cultural oppression.
Formed in 1928, Andhra Mahasabha was organised under the leadership of Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Suravaram Pratapa Reddy and others. The Mahasabha used to pass resolutions demanding reforms in the administrative structure, more schools, concessions for the landed gentry and certain civil liberties but it did not try to mobilise people and launch struggles against the Nizam’s government.
In those wretched and tremendously oppressive conditions in Hyderabad State, it became a forum for the rising democratic aspirations of the people. It is this background, which culminated in the historic Telangana Armed Struggle against the Nizam.
The Communist Party of India organised this peasant-led armed rebellion against the rule of the Nizams under the banner of Andhra Mahasabha. At the forefront of the movement were great leaders of Telangana like Raavi Narayana Reddy, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Hassan Nasir, Bhimreddy Narasimha Reddy, Mallu Venkata Narasimha Reddy, Mallu Swarajyam, Arutla Ramachandra Reddy and his wife Arutla Kamala Devi. As part of this historic rebellion from 1946 to 1951, lakhs of people in Telangana resisted the exploitation of the Nizam and the Razakars as well as Jagirdars, Deshmukhs and Deshpandes, etc. About 60,000 people left their homes, joined actively as leaders of the movement and waged an armed struggle.
According to official records, 35,000 people were arrested in the Hyderabad State and tortured. About a lakh bogus cases were booked against the participants of the movement. However, the Nizam continued his brutal oppression and was not ready to recognise India’s independence in 1947. As part of this historic struggle to liberate the Hyderabad State, 4,500 people sacrificed their lives.
For example, in Baharanpally village of Warangal district alone, 90 people, resisting the oppression, were killed by Razakars and the police of Nizam. In Mandhapuram of Karimnagar district, Anabheri Prabhakar and Singi Reddy Bhupathi Reddy, along with 14 others, lost their lives. Komaram Bheem, the famous Telangana Gond tribal leader from Adilabad, heroically fought against the cess that was imposed by the Nizam government on forest produce. He inspires millions of people, including tribals, even today.
Chakali Ilamma, belonging to Rajaka caste, revolted against zamindar Ramachandra Reddy, who tried to usurp her four acres of land. Her revolt inspired many to join the movement. Today, we see hundreds of statues of Ilamma installed in Telangana. The song, Bandenaka Bandi Katti, by Suddala Hanumanthu, narrates this struggle even today.
The rebellion or the armed struggle and the subsequent police action by the government of India led to the liberation of Hyderabad State from the Nizam’s rule on September 17, 1948.
An important socio-economic agenda implemented thereafter in about 3,000 liberated villages was the distribution of 10 lakh acres to the landless, abolishment of Vetti Chakiri, minimum wages for labour and access to irrigation water, forests and other common property resources to the poor. For the first time in history, democratic forms of local governance with equal participation of village communities were implemented in the liberated areas.
Separate Telangana Movement
After the liberation of Hyderabad and its merger into the Indian union in 1951, the people of Telangana faced two key problems. Though the Nizam was overthrown, he was made Raj Pramukh of Hyderabad by the government of India. This had political implications on the decision-making by the ruling elite. Secondly, due to the prolonged resistance and armed struggle, tens of thousands of people belonging to the leadership were still in jails or at despair as their cases were not withdrawn. In the first elections to Hyderabad State in 1952, the Congress was elected and Burgula Ramakrishna Rao became the first Chief Minister. As part of the overall consolidation process in political, economic and social life in this crucial period, the issue of reorganisation of States emerged. The States Reorganisation Commission was constituted by the government of India under the States Reorganisation Act and consisted of Fazal Ali, Kavalam Madhava Panikkar and HN Kunzru. The report submitted by the Committee in 1955 went into the problems of Telangana and Andhra regions.
The Fazal Ali report clearly stated that Telangana be made an independent State. However, a number of problems during that period – lack of consolidation among Telangana forces, lack of participation of emancipated Telangana leaders in decision-making, Visaalandhra concept by the Communist parties, linguistic concept of Nehru as well as the role of Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in the name of search for a new capital – gave the forces that wanted to merge Telangana with Andhra the upper hand.
The history of Telangana tells us a story of the absence of its people and their representatives in positions of political power. With the integration of Hyderabad into the Indian Union, the First General Elections of 1952 brought the elected representatives of people to power. Before the elected elite could consolidate power, the State of Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1956. Thus began the systematic marginalisation of Hyderabad State politicians in the politics of Andhra Pradesh.
In other words, there was never any political power in the hands of Telangana since the formation of AP. The violation of the tenuous arrangement that is implied by the term ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ began a five-decade long process of systematically depriving political power to the Telangana region. The Andhra leadership from Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy onwards ensured the marginalisation of well-known Telangana leaders. This meant:
- A shift in political power in favour of established political families of Seemaandhra with business interests leading to define their own new political and economic agenda
- The agenda of Telangana rebellion and armed struggle could not find any appropriate governance to implement it
- The regional voice of Telangana was suppressed leading to the suspension of the consolidation process
Though the people of Telangana could liberate themselves from the Nizam’s rule and set their own socio-economic and political agenda in the Indian union, they were marginalised in realising their aspirations due to the merger of their land with Andhra.
A Complete Revolution
However, it would be a very hollow view if we do not mention the historic role played by the Communist parties within and outside the legislature, for example, to implement land and tenancy reforms in the Telangana region. It is interesting to note that the people of Telangana and their movement for a separate State saw many facets of socio-economic and political emancipation aspirations, which also drew from other people’s movements in the past 70 years. (See infographics)
It is important to note and understand, particularly today, that it has indeed been the culmination of the divergent forces, which uncompromisingly demanded a separate Telangana State. These forces undoubtedly looked at the unfinished political, economic, social and cultural agenda to be implemented in the new Telangana State. Thus, the agenda for Telangana was born out of the lives and struggles of diverse communities in the region.
One pillar for the demand for statehood was owing to the economic hegemony and the appropriation of the assets in Telangana by the ruling classes and business interests in Andhra. The opposition to economic inequality and hegemony that provides the primary justification for the emergent State must travel its full course and draw an irreversible road map for the equitable distribution and access of resources to all people. The central focus of the Telangana struggle was the liberation of women from violent subjugation. The participation of women in this struggle is historic – Mallu Swarajyam and Chakali Ilamma continue to be widely revered icons.
Adivasis of the Telangana region have a history of resistance against all forms of hegemony and provided vital support to the movement. A new policy to promote Dalits as well as Muslims must belong to the new agenda of the Telangana State.
September 17 should be celebrated to honour and respect the sacrifices of the people for the liberation struggle of Hyderabad State as well as to reaffirm our political commitment to complete the unfinished agenda of political, economic, and cultural emancipation in Telangana
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Uniqueness of Telangana movement lies in the fact that seven decades ago, it witnessed an armed struggle against feudal forces, driven by its own economic and social agenda
Six decades ago, predominantly Leftist forces fought to implement agrarian and tenancy reforms for Telangana peasants
Five decades ago, students’ movement raised the banner for separate Telangana State
Four decades ago, it was the epicentre for the most vibrant civil liberties movement in the country and was home to Marxist-Leninist ‘rythu coolie udyamam’ against landlordism
In the aftermath of Emergency to the formation of the first autonomous women’s rights groups in the country in the mid-70s, Dalit and Adivasi movements have been always at home in Telangana
(The author is an MLA)