By Dr Ramesh Chennamaneni A most powerful Marxist quote and a very relevant one for many struggles says: “social conditions determine social consciousness”. It tells us that if you put a population under conditions of extreme inequality and injustice for sufficient time, then they will eventually rise up. Social consciousness may also stimulate working towards […]
By Dr Ramesh Chennamaneni
A most powerful Marxist quote and a very relevant one for many struggles says: “social conditions determine social consciousness”. It tells us that if you put a population under conditions of extreme inequality and injustice for sufficient time, then they will eventually rise up. Social consciousness may also stimulate working towards a common goal.
‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, commemorating 75 years of independence, undoubtedly reflects such social consciousness and proudly remembers the sacrifices of thousands of people to achieve the common goal of freedom to India from the British Raj. People’s struggles, including those of democrats, leftists, Communists, workers and peasants, have a prominent place in this saga. All those forces who have combined political independence with economic and social emancipation from the feudal landlords and the state, starting from the Meerut conspiracy case in March 1929 for organising an Indian railway strike convicting 27 leftist trade union leaders to the glorious Telangana Armed Struggle by peasants — they all belong to this facet. It was highly appreciated by the Telangana people that the liberation struggle against the Nizam and the Merger of Hyderabad into the Indian Union, called ‘Liberation Day’ and ‘Integration Day’, found its due place this year with the Central and State governments officially conducting various activities to commemorate it.
The concept of inclusive India was a product of a continuous battle between three schools of thought and visions that emerged during the course of the independence struggle. The mainstream Congress vision had envisioned that independent India could be a secular democratic Republic. The Communists and Socialist forces, while agreeing with this, went further to say that such a secular democratic structure would be untenable if independent India pursues the path of capitalist development. These forces, thus, envisioned that the political freedom we achieve must be extended to the socio-economic freedom of every Indian — possible only under socialism. This was also their objective during the Telangana Armed Struggle.
Antagonistic to both these is the third school of thought which argued that the character of independent India should be determined by the religious affiliations of its people. This vision had a twin expression — the Muslim League championing an ‘Islamic State’ and the RSS championing its ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The former succeeded with the partition of the country, engineered, aided and abetted by the British, with all its consequences that continue to fester tensions till date. The latter, having failed to achieve their objective at the time of independence, continued with the efforts of shedding away their original swadeshi concept and adopting a rigorous private monopoly capitalist mode of development to transform modern India into ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Today’s ideological battles, including that regarding the character of Telangana liberation or merger or even betrayal, and the political conflicts in different parts of the country, are in a way, a continuation of this battle between these three schools of thought.
Banner of Telangana Armed Struggle
It is important to understand that peasants led by the Communists, Socialists and farmer organisations, based on their above-mentioned vision, played a key role in the evolution of an inclusive India by bringing the crucial issues on to the agenda of national movement through their struggles. The struggles on the land unleashed predominantly by the Communists in various parts of the country such as Punnapra-Vayalar in Kerala, Tebhaga movement in Bengal, Surma Valley struggle in Assam and the Warli uprising in Maharashtra — the highlight of which was the armed struggle in Telangana — brought the issue of land reforms and exploitation of the poor to the centre stage.
Before independence, Hyderabad was a princely state within the territory of British India. In one of the most feudal systems in the world, the rights and duties of Nizam, his family and the other elites were clearly defined and protected. Nizam’s feudal system of ruling his state rested on a well-knitted 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). The posts were hereditary and involved loyalists of Nizam.
Land ownership was extremely exploitative. Forty per cent of the land was either directly owned by the Nizam or given by the Nizam to elites in the form of jagirs (special tenures). The remaining was under the government’s land revenue system, which relied on powerful landlords who collected up to 50% of crop rent from kauludarlu and gave no legal rights or security from eviction to the people actually cultivating the land. The ‘vetti’ (forced labour) system consisted of different works performed by lower castes at the will of the landlord. Another practice was the prevalence of keeping girls as ‘slaves’ in landlords’ houses, used by landlords as concubines.
Against this background, formed in 1928, the Andhra Mahasabha organised under the leadership of Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Suravaram Pratapa Reddy and others became a forum, a focal point, for the rising democratic aspirations of the people. In conferences, it used to pass resolutions demanding certain reforms in the administrative structure, for more schools, concessions for the landed gentry, certain civil liberties, etc. This and the continued resistance of the oppressed culminated in the historic Telangana Armed Struggle against the Nizam. The Communist Party of India organised this peasant-led armed rebellion under the banner of Andhra Mahasabha.
The well-known individuals at the forefront of the movement included Ravi Narayana Reddy (President of Andhra Mahasabha in 1947), Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Hassan Nasir, Bhimreddy Narasimha Reddy, Mallu Venkata Narasimha Reddy, Mallu Swarajyam, Arutla Ramchandra Reddy, his wife Arutla Kamala Devi, Raj Bahadur Gaur, Baddam Yella Reddy, Anabheri Prabhakar, and Chennamaneni Rajeswara Rao.
As part of this historic rebellion from 1946 to 1951, lakhs of people in Telangana resisted the brutal exploitation of Nizam and his Razakars as well as Jagirdars, Deshmukhs and Deshpandeys. About 60,000 people left their homes and joined actively as leaders of the movement and took to arms to wage an armed struggle against Nizam and his Razakars liberating thousands of villages and marching to overthrow them. According to official records, 35,000 people were arrested in Hyderabad state and put to torture. About a lakh bogus cases were booked against the participants of the movement. In spite of this upsurge, the Nizam continued his brutal oppression and was not ready to recognise independence to India in 1947. As part of this historic struggle to liberate the Hyderabad state, 4,500 people sacrificed their lives.
Police Action, Peasants Rebellion
On 13 September 1948, in a ‘police action’ aimed at countering the violence in Hyderabad, the Indian Army marched into the state. Within a week, the Nizam, the Razakar squads and the police surrendered. A military administration was set up under General JN Chaudhuri, and a military offensive was directed at the peasant rebels in the Telangana region. During the next three years, in more than 2,000 villages about 3 lakh people were tortured, and some 50,000 arrested and kept in detention camps. More than 5,000 were imprisoned for years.
The Indian Army’s presence transformed the struggle, as it was no more a liberation struggle against the Nizam, but against the army of the newly-formed Indian government. In an effort to co-opt peasant support, the military administration issued the Jagir Abolition Regulation (August 1949) and set up an Agrarian Enquiry Committee to recommend comprehensive land reform legislation. It was clear, though, whose side the state was on; within two weeks the landlords started returning and regaining their lost land.
General Chaudhuri, the military governor, made a statement from Hyderabad, calling all Communists to surrender within a week, failing which they would be exterminated. Certain sections, predominantly led by Ravi Narayana Reddy, felt that giving up arms was essential as India became independent, Nizam’s rule came to an end and people welcomed this change. He argued that the core feudal system in rural Telangana was severely damaged by overthrowing Nizam’s state and the next stage of the fight had to be aimed against the ruling Indian capitalist bourgeois democracy. Other sections felt that giving up arms could lead to loss of gains and appear as a betrayal of the people. However, severe military repression led to a huge loss of life. The movement weakened and the CPI formally declared the struggle as withdrawn on October 21, 1951.
The uniqueness of Hyderabad Liberation Day of 17th September has to be, therefore, seen in a larger context today. Should we make an attempt to objectively understand the causality effect underlying it? The Telangana Armed Struggle undoubtedly paved the way for the defeat of Nizam’s rule in Hyderabad State enabling its merger into the Indian Union. None other than Ravi Narayana Reddy said “we would have overthrown Nizam even if the Indian army would have not started police action”.
To portray the Telangana peasants’ movement against the Nizam as an anti-Muslim struggle and the merger of Hyderabad princely state with the Indian Union as ‘liberation’ is absolute distortion of history
Seventy-one years after Telangana joined the Indian Union, the occasion turned the erstwhile princely state into a testing ground for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s polarised political agenda. History establishes that neither the Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha nor the RSS, from which the BJP claims to inherit its legacy, played any role in this struggle. What they did was to create religious animosity among people and break their unity in Hyderabad State which was until ‘a couple of decades back’, an ‘ideal place as far as relations between the various communities are concerned’. This was documented by none other than the Sunderlal Committee, appointed by the Indian government to inquire into the ‘massacre of Muslims’.
Over the past 75 years, this region never had a strong affiliation with any religion despite being a Nizam state in the past. Pertinently, in the historic Telangana Armed Struggle against the Nizam — a Muslim and independent ruler under British suzerainty — none of the antecedents of the BJP participated. The BJP thus has no history in the State to showcase, and this predicament is forcing it to hunt for an issue to soft-land the Hindu-Muslim polarisation agenda. The idea is to portray Telangana as the land of Hindus who fought against the Nizam, and Sardar Patel, the first Home Minister of India, would be reintroduced in the State as the true liberator of Telangana. This absolute distortion of history lies in the fact to portray the Telangana peasants’ movement against the Nizam as an anti-Muslim struggle and the merger of Hyderabad princely State with the Indian Union as ‘liberation’!
What the Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, from which the BJP claims to inherit its legacy, did was to create religious animosity among people and break their unity in Hyderabad State which was until ‘a couple of decades back’, an ‘ideal place as far as relations between the various communities are concerned’
In fact, the Telangana Rebellion of the people against Nizam represents the culmination of efforts by Communist and Socialist parties in the first few decades of the Communist movement. This mobilisation and organisation of the peasantry against grave injustices represented a breakaway from traditionally more moderate reformist movements within the peasantry in pre-independent India.
Thus, though Telangana people could liberate themselves from the Nizam 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 leading to a new State. It is this marginalisation which enabled the people of Telangana and their movement for a separate State culminating in many facets of socio-economic and political emancipation aspirations.
Although the exact significance and value of the Telangana Rebellion are often debated, one cannot deny the pivotal role of the movement in bringing the question of the peasantry to the fore of the country’s agenda as well as for the Communist movement. One of the implications of such struggles led former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao to boldly push the long pending implementation of tenancy and land reforms.
This upsurge, combined with tenancy Act implementation, land reforms and land struggles in Telangana contributed towards a distribution process of land assets. Under ‘Land to the Tiller’, about 25 lakh acres was distributed in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. However, this distribution took place under severe political pressure of the elites and a lack of legal and institutional framework leading to unsecure, inefficient, litigation-based land rights to farmers. Property rights provide incentives to allocate resources efficiently, giving entrepreneurs an incentive to create new wealth. Countries and regions with secure property rights grow, while those that lack stagnate.
After the achievement of a separate State, it is this unfinished task which was the highest priority of the Telangana government and Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao. As part of modernising small farming to increase the real incomes of farmers and boost the rural economy, the policies of the Telangana government focused on securing land rights to the farmers by introducing comprehensive revenue reforms on one hand combined with direct transfer of subsidies (Rythu Bandhu) as well as improving agriculture infrastructure, predominantly irrigation, on the other. This transformed agriculture within a short span of about six years ending more than six decades of agricultural crisis.
As India and Telangana’s liberation and merger into the Indian Union marked its 75th anniversary of independence, it is necessary to understand and analyse what should be the character of the political and social structure of post-independent modern India as well as the development path we should strive for. The four foundational pillars upon which the Constitution rests are: secular democracy; federalism, social justice; and economic self-reliance. However, each pillar today is under severe strain and poses a big challenge to all democrats and progressive forces to protect them!
(The author is MLA, Telangana)