Role of Progressives in Telangana Peasant Armed Struggle

A painting portrays the First Andhra Mahasabha held at Jogipet in 1930 | Image: Wikipedia

After 1934, the political landscape in Telangana started to change very quickly, with the Andhra Maha Sabha (AMS) being at the forefront. By 1938, the contact between Communists of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh and the people of Telangana had been established. Arya Samaj also had a considerable presence in the Hyderabad state however, the Arya Samaj and Communists were in concurrence on some issues, given the power of Nizam and the necessity to fight him.[1] To discuss the history of Armed Struggle in Telangana, Andhra Maha Sabha serves as a good focal point.

Satyagraha and the Hyderabad State Congress

Until 1938, the AMS functioned more as a forum for the achievement of their reformative objectives. In 1938, the Indian National Congress (INC) in its Haripura Resolution declared that all princely states are an integral part of India. Encouraged by these developments, a Hyderabad State Congress was formed, which was later outlawed by the Nizam.[2] As the efforts to give legitimacy to Hyderabad State Congress had failed, the activists of the congress formed a Satyagraha Committee. This satyagraha was also supported by the Arya Samaj- Hindu Maha Sabha combine. However, the Indian National Congress was not very enthusiastic about support to this Satyagraha. This was partly on account of Mahatma Gandhi’s reluctance to push the nationalist agenda in princely states as this could slide into violence and partly also because of the communal nature of some members within the state Congress unit. While the Satyagraha was started in October 1938, there were ripple effects in the universities. The students who chanted Vandea Mataram in the Osmania University were expelled and Nagpur University had to admit them.[3] One such student was Devulapalli Venkateshwar Rao, who was later instrumental in the propagation of leftist ideology in the districts of Khammam.[4] However, this Satyagraha movement later got diluted through several compromises made between the activists and the Nizam and lost its prominence. 

Andhra Maha Sabha- Radical Transformations

People participating in Hyderabad State Congress’ movements were also members of Andhra Maha Sabha. This meant that the 7th Session of AMS could not be conducted until 1940, despite its 6th session having taken place in 1937. The AMS, it was felt, should not just be seen as an apolitical organisation which worked within the bounds of political neutrality. Raavi Narayana Reddy, one of the more radical members of AMS says in his book that even though some AMS leaders strove to put the organisation within the ambit of political neutrality, the fact that an organisation like that existed within an environment where there were/are no political rights is in itself a political achievement. However, it also cannot be seen as some liberal organisation which was outright against the Zamindari system or the general oppression prevalent in the state. AMS did have a good number of Zamindars, affluent and influential conservatives who were in the organisation for its political clout.[5]

The 7th session of AMS happened while World War II was going on, in 1940. It is just before this session that Raavi Narayana Reddy had joined the Communist Party of India. Since the Communist Party was working underground, the rest of AMS members did not know that Narayana Reddy was a member of the CPI. In the 8th Session of AMS in 1941, Narayana Reddy was elected as the president of the session. Between the 1941 session and the 1942 session, the ban on the Communist Party was lifted and the members of the party started to work in public. As a result, Narayana Reddy announced himself as a member of the Communist Party while continuing to work as the president of AMS.

Before 1942, the membership criteria of AMS were liberalised, some language restrictions were also removed. This was the strategy of the radicals to overwhelm the conservatives with the participation of people. The AMS also started to undertake movements that are political and socially reformative in character.  There were awareness campaigns against Vetti, a form of forced labour inflicted on agrarian workers for the local zamindars without any wages. After the 8th session, the next two sessions were presided over by the conservative section of AMS. Due to the Communist Party’s emphasis on building the party at a national level, no special care of the AMS was taken and as a result, the AMS, both in 1942 and 1943 had a conservative leadership and this conservative trait reflected in its activities.

By the 11th session of AMS in 1944 in Bhuvanagiri, the Communists worked tirelessly for the promotion of the Andhra Maha Sabha among the people. Not only a huge number, close to 12,000 people attended this session, but the membership criteria was also further liberalised. The entry fee which had already been reduced from one rupee to four annas, was reduced further to one anna. The 11th session of Andhra Maha Sabha also saw the participation of Chandra Rajeshwar Rao, another influential communist leader. Due to the growing influence of Communists, the conservative section of the AMS started to harp on the fact that the Communists are a breakaway faction and the Bhuvanagiri session was not the real AMS session. However, many important members of the AMS did participate in the Bhuvanagiri session. The communists surprised the nationalists by holding a session without their cooperation in Bhuvanagir in 1944. This move allowed the communists to freely pursue their revolutionary politics and implement their anti-feudal agrarian program, which aimed to overcome the obstacles imposed by the Nizam-led feudal system. The moderates in the government, operating under the Nizam’s authority, were viewed as a constraint on the progress of the people’s movement.

The last and 12th session of Andhra Maha Sabha was conducted in Khammam in 1945. Khammam, being a communist a stronghold in the state, saw an attendance of 40,000 people. Here, the leadership also called people to engage in an active struggle to achieve their demands. With people’s movements spreading across the state and with the radical nature of those movements, the AMS could not hold its annual sessions thereafter.

It is important to keep in mind the social and economic condition of Telangana, for this large a movement to have taken over. As discussed here, the Vetti system, the taxes and also the concentration of land ownership with powerful Zamindars meant that the people needed an organised movement to present their opposition against the Nizam. The end of world war in 1945 would also mark the start of a people’s movements in the Hyderabad state whole legend still reverberates in among the masses today.

(The author is a legal researcher with the organisation)

[1] Charitratmaka Telangana Poratam, Chandra Rajeshwar Rao, 1982

[2] Mantoo, I.A., Policy of Indian National Congress towards Princely States of India.

[3] Hugar, G.B., 2015. Vande Mataram Movement in Hyderabad Karnataka 1938–39, India. International Research Journal of Social Sciences4(9), pp.30-3.

[4] Thirumali, I., 1996. The Political Pragmatism of the Communists in Telangana, 1938-48. Social Scientist, pp.164-183.

[5]  Narayana Reddy, R. 1972. Veera Telangana- Na Anubhavalu, Na Gnapakalu



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