Book Review: Destruction of Hyderabad

Noorani’s account questions the narratives put forth by the “court historians of Indian nationalism” who misleadingly called an army operation “police action”.

Published on:January 18, 2014 12:49 pm

Book: Destruction of Hyderabad

Author: AG Noorani

Publication: Tulika Books

Pages: 388

Price: Rs 825

The recent public spat between the leadership of the BJP and the Congress about the political legacy of Vallabhbhai Patel has led to a debate on the ideological moorings of the first home minister of independent India. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who plans to set up a 600-foot-high statue of Patel in Gujarat, designed an entire poll campaign around the memory of the Congress stalwart, even as PM Manmohan Singh countered that Patel was “in principle a secular man”.

Constitutional expert AG Noorani’s thoroughly researched Destruction of Hyderabad, a revisionist account of the “police action” led by the Indian army against the government of Nizam of Hyderabad in 1948, sheds new light on this debate. To do so, it cites a detailed record of letters, diaries, memoirs and diplomatic exchanges between various players — it also reproduces in full the Sunderlal committee report on the massacre of Hyderabad’s Muslim population.

A four-member goodwill mission led by Pandit Sunderlal had spent a month in Hyderabad at the request of Nehru in November 1948. The report filed at the end of it estimated that 27,000-40,000 people died in communal violence during and after the “police action”. It was never made public by the Indian government, as Patel repudiated the report, says Noorani.

Noorani’s account questions the narratives put forth by the “court historians of Indian nationalism” who misleadingly called an army operation “police action”. But it is the contrasting portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel which explain why the BJP is so eager to claim Patel’s legacy ahead of the crucial general elections this year. “Their (Nehru and Patel) differences were fundamental and stemmed from their different conceptions of what India should be. Nehru was not against the military option (to annex Hyderabad) in principle. He supported it only as a last resort. For Patel, it was the first resort. He had no patience with talks,’’ Noorani writes.

In Noorani’s telling, Nehru was contemptuous of the Nizam’s government but bore no malice towards him. He also held Hyderabad’s culture in high regard. In contrast, “Patel hated the Nizam personally and was ideologically opposed to Hyderabad’s composite culture. Nehru’s concern was to … [defeat] Hyderabad’s secessionist venture. Patel wanted to go further. He wanted to destroy Hyderabad and its culture completely. In Hyderabad, as in Kashmir, Nehru was an ardent Indian nationalist. On both states, Vallabhbhai Patel was a strident Hindu nationalist”, he writes. When Patel repeatedly described Hyderabad as an “ulcer in the heart of India”, the metaphor, says Noorani, revealed a vindictive mindset .

“Gandhi had noted that the massacre of Muslims in Jammu in 1947 was little known in India. Even less is known of the massacre of Muslims that followed the army action in Hyderabad in 1948. Patel’s communal outlook was fully reflected in his behavior… He repudiated the report of an independent inquiry into the massacre,’’ Noorani writes.

The Patel who emerges from Noorani’s account is a man who harboured a …continued »

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