October Issue 2012
Book Review: October Coup: A Memoir of the Struggle for Hyderabad
If anybody has any doubts about the need for a reassessment of the events that culminated in India’s annexation of the Asif Jahi state of Hyderabad in 1948, Mohammed Hyder’s eye-witness account provides a comprehensive answer.
Hyder was at that time collector of the Osmanabad district, one of the most troubled areas of the state. As such, he had ample opportunities to see the goings-on at the Nizam’s court, the conduct of civil and military bureaucrats, and the rise and fall of the Razakar chief, Qasim Razvi. The narrative should enable Pakistani readers to get rid of the many myths they have nourished about what they usually describe as the ‘fall of Hyderabad.’
For instance, it is generally believed that New Delhi exploited Pakistan’s moment of national mourning — the Quaid-i-Azam’s death on September 11, 1948 — when its state of unpreparedness was obvious, to march its troops into the state. Hyder’s account offers evidence that September 9, 1948 had been fixed as the D-day some time earlier.
Another question often asked is, why was India in a hurry to take military action. One reason could be the reports, quite surely exaggerated, that huge quantities of arms were being flown into the state, and that the state authorities had convinced themselves and the public at large that Pakistan’s rescue operation would clinch the issue in their favour. The most plausible explanation is that India wanted to settle the matter to avoid any possibility of UN intervention. About this Hyder says:
“One evening, I think it was 10 September, we were at last informed by the army officers that 11 September would be the day. As Hyderabad had decided to go to the UN Security Council, the Government of India would try to over-run it before the council took the case on its agenda.” (p 70)
About the collapse of the Hyderabad defences, Hyder says: “We had fed our people lies about the strength of the Hyderabad Army; its sudden collapse was seen with incredulity, suspicion and resentment.” The target of resentment was the C-in-C, Gen. Edroos. Hyder adds: ”He (Edroos) was always made to believe that Pakistan would not stand by and see India attack Hyderabad. He believed all along that India would be deterred by this… Apart from that, he (Edroos) said, the whole affair, at least the military aspect of it, was one vast bluff. Hyderabad never wanted to fight.” (pp 80-81)
Edroos knew his facts. The prime minister of the state did not. He told Hyder that the state army was “fifty times stronger than you seem to imagine.” And that “if it came to a fight after all, Hyderabad will not find itself alone.” (pp 66-67)
One wonders whether Hyderabad’s hopes of effective intervention by Pakistan were based on any commitment/assurance by the latter but the possibility of some loose thinking in Karachi those days cannot be ruled out. After all, those banking on bluff were not confined to Hyderabad.
The author does not conceal his reservations about Qasim Razvi, whom he found boastful and out of sync with the times. At one stage Hyder accuses Razvi of planning a massacre of the non-Muslims, after the police action had started (p 76). “It seemed bizarre,” says Hyder, “that this little man, both absurd and frightening, should be able to make his way to a position of mastery over Hyderabad.” (p 15). But Qasim Razvi became popular because he said what the dominant Muslim elite of Hyderabad wanted to hear. Hyder seems to be right when he says that “to blame Qasim Razvi for the tragedy of Hyderabad, therefore, is to miss the point: he did not lead Hyderabad astray; the people chose him for the job, fully aware of his political inclinations and his shortcomings, as the individual most likely to reflect their hopes and fears.” (p 16)
The Muslim elite of Hyderabad had many reasons to be proud of what the Nizams had done for them and for the Muslims in British India. For them Hyderabad was the last surviving remnant of Muslim rule over the subcontinent. But they were living in a dream-world, a characteristic they shared with other Muslim communities and an affliction Pakistani Muslims are still suffering from.
Their dreams could never become a reality. The trauma they suffered was a result of the failure of the Muslim League leadership to resolve the contradiction, clearly pointed out by its Foreign Committee in 1938, in claiming Kashmir on the basis of the belief of the population and denying that principle in the case of Hyderabad.
It is possible that Hyder’s account will please the ultra-nationalists in India and displease Pakistani lotus-eaters but that is neither here nor there. History is history.
The book includes a detailed description of Hyder’s tribulations during his imprisonment and prolonged trial in the course of which he met some good judges and prosecutors and some cussed ones, but these things are common during great upheavals.
Hyder wrote the story of Hyderabad state’s final days in jail and then put it aside for many years. To his son, Masood Hyder, students of history owe thanks for editing the text and getting it published.
This review was originally published in the October issue.
Mr. I.A. Rehman is a writer and activist living in Pakistan. He is the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretariat.
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