Last month, a day before India celebrated its 75th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that August 14 would henceforth be observed as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day. While making the announcement, the Prime Minister stated that the pains of Partition could never be forgotten and the day should remind us of the need to remove the poison of social divisions and disharmony and strengthen the spirit of oneness, social harmony and human empowerment.
The Prime Minister’s decision to commemorate the horrors of Partition has a larger message — that the inconvenient truths of history cannot be brushed under the carpet because of the perceived discomfort of a particular community. In fact, if the wounds of the past need to heal, one needs to engage in an open and honest conversation. In such cases, sunlight is the best disinfectant for complete reconciliation.
Given this background, one needs to look again at an event of history that occurred on September 17, 1948, but which hardly finds mention in our books. While India got her independence from British rule on August 15, 1947, and large swathes of the country joyously celebrated as the national flag was unfurled, not everyone was so fortunate. The erstwhile state of Hyderabad, which was under the autocratic rule of Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan, had to wait an additional 13 months before it could achieve freedom. The liberation of Hyderabad required the political nous of India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the tactical brilliance of JN Chaudhuri. It was the resultant “police action” through Operation Polo that secured the liberation of Hyderabad state.
Why is it, then, that when parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka celebrate this day as Marathwada Mukti Sangram Diwas and Hyderabad-Karnataka Liberation Day, respectively, all we get is an eerie silence from the Telangana government? In the case of Maharashtra, only the Marathwada region was under the Nizam and in Karnataka the north-eastern districts of Bidar, Kalaburagi and Raichur were part of the erstwhile Hyderabad state. On the other hand, all of present-day Telangana came under the Nizam. While leaders such as Swami Ramanand Tirtha, PH Patwardhan, Govindbhai Shroff, and Vijayendra Kabra are celebrated by other states, Telangana refuses to acknowledge the heroics and sacrifices of leaders such as Komaram Bheem, Shoebullah Khan, “Vande Mataram” Ramachandra Rao, Narayan Rao Pawar and Chakali Ilamma.
This downright refusal to acknowledge the past is steeped in the inexplicable logic of communal appeasement. The state government is protecting its ally, the Majlis-e- Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), and its inglorious past. The MIM’s leader at the time of India’s independence, Qasim Rizvi, believed in establishing Hyderabad Deccan as an independent nation and supported the Nizam by providing about 1,50,000 MIM volunteers to augment the Nizam’s regular army of 24,000. These became the Razakars who would later unleash carnage in the princely state. The Razakars were instrumental in executing the Nizam’s orders to establish an exploitative regime and to suppress the people of Telangana. They plundered and raided villages and killed those who protested against the tyrannical rule of the Nizam.
The MIM fears that the commemoration of Telangana Liberation Day would bring to everybody’s notice their ideological roots and their ghastly actions. In an attempt to hide this treacherous past, the MIM is equating the September 17 celebrations with insulting the Nizam and, by extension, angering the Muslim community. This appeasement streak is so strong that the state government forgets the contributions of journalists, such as Shoebullah Khan. After working in an editorial capacity at the Urdu weekly Taj and the daily Rayyat, Khan founded a daily, Imroze, that wholeheartedly supported the merger of Hyderabad with the Indian Union. On August 22, 1948, he was killed by Razakars on his way home from Chappal Bazaar. Ordinary Indians were at the forefront of the agitation and were killed for advocating a merger with India. By not celebrating this historic day, we would be turning a blind eye to the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who fought so that they could see their land be integrated with the Indian Union.
Burying our history, especially inconvenient truths such as the struggle for the liberation of Hyderabad, is nothing but a perverted form of appeasement that will neither serve a purpose nor benefit anyone. In the 75th year of India’s independence, a large number of ordinary citizens are participating in various programmes being organised under the 75-week long Azadi Ka Amrit Mahostav. The Mahotsav is also identifying unsung heroes of movements such as the liberation of Hyderabad to give them the recognition they truly deserve. Like the governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra, the Telangana government must also acknowledge the sacrifices made and observe September 17 as Telangana Liberation Day by setting up a memorial honouring the brave who fought for the region’s liberation. This will ensure that the present and future generations know the contributions and sacrifices that our forefathers made for our today.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 18, 2021 under the title ‘An inconvenient truth’. The writer is the Union Minister for Culture, Tourism and Development of Northeastern Region and represents the Secunderabad parliamentary constituency.