V.P. Menon wrote his book “The story of the integration of the Indian States” in 1961, narrating the story of how modern India was crafted. The magnum opus of a retired civil servant, which spoke about the merger of 565 princely states into the Indian Union. Inexplicably, for many decades, it was difficult to find this book in bookstores across the country.
In no other nation would a stalwart be relegated to the past in this manner. One would imagine that a book that lauds an unmatchable hero like Sardar Patel and his superhuman effort to craft the map as it stands today would be read by every Indian. Instead, as India walked on the path of altering-history soon after the Independence, Menon’s book became more and more difficult to find. This changed only in the last two decades, as electronic copies of the book surfaced and were widely circulated.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the Statue of Unity to the nation on Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary, there is no better time to read what Sardar Patel achieved for India, creating a modern nation from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Junagadh to Assam. The unification of Hyderabad would remain the most glorious of these hundreds of stories, which Sardar Patel helmed.
The unification of Hyderabad with the Republic of India was so glorious; it continues to hurt the modern day political considerations.
Hyderabad state, ruled by the Nizam, preferred to stay independent. As India started taking shaping up, with princely states signing the Instrument of Accession, the Nizam instead appointed diplomats to European countries. Nizam tried to persuade the Portuguese to sell him the Goa region, then controlled by the Portuguese. This would have given naval access to the Nizam.
Hyderabad was not an insignificant state. With an area of over 82,000 square miles, it was home to more than 17 million Indians. An overwhelming 87% of them were Hindus, though the state was ruled by Nizam Osman Ali Khan, and seen as close to Pakistan. Sardar Patel knew Hyderabad was non-negotiable – it was the link between North and the South, between what was known as Hindustan and Deccan in the centuries gone by.
Nizam found support in Razakars– a ragtag army of locals, owing allegiance to the Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen. This army plundered the state as voices in the run-up to the unification with India started to rise. From 1946 to September 1948, when Hyderabad finally acceded, this army continued to commit unthinkable atrocities in the Nizam’s territory against an unhappy citizenry.
This is the army Sardar Patel destroyed as part of Operation Polo, which resulted in Hyderabad becoming an integral part of India. Between September 13 and September 17 in 1948, Indian Army fought with the Razakars, a battle which culminated in the Nizam receiving a firm and tall Sardar Patel with folded hands and a bent back at the airport. Unfortunately, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the ensuing battles, before Sardar Patel got his job done in Hyderabad.
V.P. Menon has described these events candidly and vividly. The modern-day Hyderabad, however, does not celebrate September 17 as the Telangana Liberation Day. There are two reasons.
Firstly, any such celebration would bring forth the glory of Sardar Patel, and match him in the official historical pantheon of exclusive heroes of Indian Independence – Gandhi and Nehru.
Secondly, the All India Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) is now a political force to reckon with in Telangana, especially in Hyderabad. The party has controlled the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat uninterrupted since 1984.
No government in Telangana and in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh wants to upset either the Nehru-Gandhi clan or the Owaisis of the All India Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen. This is also true of the current Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government.
When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah raised the issue of the Telangana Liberation Day in an election rally in the state earlier in the week, he was not just talking about important symbolism but also about honouring the real legacy of Sardar Patel and of celebrating his heroics.
The Telangana BJP leader G. Kishan Reddy recently wrote about the need to celebrate the historical events of September 17, 1948. He wrote – “In September 1948, Sardar Patel sanctioned Operation Polo and ensured that Indian troops freed millions of patriotic Hindus and Muslims from the whimsical tyranny of the Nizam. Seventy years later, it is to appease the political inheritors of the Nizam’s legacy that the people of the modern-day state of Telangana are not allowed to celebrate the Hyderabad Liberation Day.”
India today bows its head in deference to the great Sardar Patel. India today takes price in the Statue of Unity. One can only hope that the tallest statue in the world can serve as a permanent reminder to our citizenry about the importance of reclaiming Sardar’s legacy. One can only hope that the imposing Statue of Unity can also remind us, that it is time we reclaim the History of various parts of the country, especially, Hyderabad.
Amit Shah has already hinted that the BJP will make reclaiming of Hyderabad pride as a poll issue. Even if it does not manage to generate enough interest in the 2019 assembly election, focusing on September 17 celebrations will eventually be a true tribute to Sardar Patel.
Statue of Unity is not just a great symbol for generations to come, but it is also a great opportunity to amplify individual works of the Sardar. Hyderabad is a great first candidate.