Understanding role of progressives in Telangana Peasant Armed Struggle is crucial to combatting Hindu majoritarianism

As history continues to be weaponised by despotic rulers who want to create their own version of the past, it becomes imperative that we record, document, understand, analyse and propagate a counter-narrative. In pursuance of such endeavour, this article is Part I of the series on the role played by progressive forces in the state of Telangana in people’s movement- famously known as The Telangana Peasant Armed Struggle against the last Nizam of Hyderabad-Mir Osman Ali Khan from 1946 to 1951.
Armed peasants of the communist-led Telangana struggle, which began in 1946 in the princely state of Hyderabad. COURTESY CPI(M) ARCHIVES

Why is there a need to understand the role of progressives in Telangana Peasant Armed Struggle? First, it has not received the attention and place in history that it should have. The only thing that everyone knows about the integration of Hyderabad is that the Operation Polo was conducted, and that the Nizam surrendered. Secondly, parties with vested interests have tried to magnify the religious contrast between the Nizam’s Islam and the majority population’s Hinduism to gain electoral benefits now. The Telangana state BJP Chief wants to demolish the domes on the newly constructed state secretariat, once their party comes to power, since “they reflect the culture of the Nizam regime.” In these conditions, it is important to understand what precisely the history of Telangana is, especially with respect to the peasant struggle against the Nizam. This part is a precursor to understanding the struggle. This article is to briefly portray the conditions of people of Telangana and how the organisation of masses began.

The Socio-Economic Conditions of Hyderabad

Exploitative Land Revenue System

Even though the British stopped annexing new territories after the revolt of 1857, the princely states knew that the British were a powerful enemy to make and therefore used to maintain friendly relationships with the British. Hyderabad was no exception. However, the internal systems were exploitative in nature, especially the land ownership.

Sixty per cent of the land in the state was under the control of the government land revenue system called the Khalsa Area. Thirty per cent of the land was under the Jagirdari system. Under the Jagirdari System, the king would bestow upon his nobles- the right to collect revenue from villages and their activities. Jagirdari System was first introduced by the Mughals. Ten per cent of the land was Nizam’s own direct estate, i.e., Sart Khas system. In jagir areas the land taxes on irrigated lands used to be tentimes more than those collected in diwani (government) areas, amounting to Rs. 150 per acre or 20-30 mounds of paddy per acre.[1]

The Vetti Labour system

The Vetti system meant that people-especially those belonging to the marginalised castes- would work for free when the need arises in the houses of landlords or whenever the officials of Nizam visit the village. This was a system in which the people offered their services as a rule, without getting paid. While peasantry used to pay the landlords a fixed amount of grain or other produce, castes engaged in different occupations were required to give to the landlord a free service. The blacksmiths were required to supply implements for free, the weavers were to supply the clothes for free etc. The worst of all these feudal practices was the prevalence of keeping girls as “slaves” in landlords’ houses. When landlords gave their daughters in marriage, they presented these slave girls and sent them along with their married daughters, to serve them in their new homes. These girls were also sexually exploited by the landlords.[2]

Discrimination on the basis of Religion

While scholars differ on how intense the discrimination was and whether the word oppression can be used in the context of treatment of Hindu people by the Nizam or not, it is amply clear that Islamic culture took prominence and dominated the state.  Three out of four gazette officers’ posts were filled by Muslims, 1/3rd of posts in state run schools were filled by Muslims. However, this does not mean that all Muslims lived in riches while all Hindus suffered in poverty. Many Muslim peasants found themselves at the bottom rung of the economic order while many Hindus were Zamindars and affluent professionals. Irrespective of this disclaimer, Islam was the religion of the king, Urdu was the language of the king. Therefore, Islam and Urdu took centre stage in administration, appointments etc.[3]

Arya Samaj had a decent presence in Hyderabad. As different organisations backed by the Nizam tried to convert people into Islam, the Arya Samaj was putting its effort to get them back into the fold of Hinduisms. The Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen, an organisation backed by the Nizam and led by a charismatic orator Bahadur Yar Jung is credited with almost 20,000 conversions in the state.[4]

This was the state of affairs in Hyderabad. An exploited rural populace, a religious king and systemically exploitative land revenue.

Formation of Andhra Jana Sangham.

No understanding of Telangana Rebellion against the Nizam can emerge without understanding the role of Andhra Maha Sabha-whose precursor is the Andhra Jana Sangham. In 1921, a social reform conference was organised in which the Telugu speaking members were not allowed to pass a resolution in Telugu. Marathi speaking people, though less in number than the Telugu speaking people of the state, used to occupy important positions and therefore could speak in Marathi, unlike the Telugu participants of the conference. 

Aggrieved by this, a small association called Andhra Jana Sangham (AJS) was formed. When the membership reached 100 members, an all-member meeting was thereafter, village committees of AJS were formed in villages and towns. Consequently, a central Andhra Jana Sangham was formed.[5]

Programmes of the AJS revolved around the following:

1)      Establishing Libraries in towns and villages.

2)      Assisting and helping Telugu Students

3)      Respecting Scholars and Archiving important cultural documents.

4)      Educating the masses.

5)      Increasing awareness over physical exercise.

6)      Establishing hostels for Boys and Girls.

The Andhra Jana Sangham was not a progressive mass body. It was a body consisting of elite urban and rural individuals among whom some had some progressive ideals. Even with this moderate stance, the AJS was not able to get permissions for its meetings from the Nizam. The Andhra Jana Sangham had many functions as required by the programmes listed above, and therefore, different sub-branches of AJS came into existence. In 1928, under Madapati Hanumanth Rao’s leadership, all these sub-branches of AJS, Telangana and AJS, Telangana came together to form Andhra Maha Sabha.[6]

By now, AJS has published different pamphlets against Vetti, and the need for education of people of Hyderabad etc. It did not have an inherently feudal character, but neither did it have an anti-feudal or anti-Nizam stance. In one way, it was equivalent to the Indian National Congress in its formative years as far as its stance on various socio-political issues is concerned. Just like the Congress, even when it acquired a mass character, the organisation did not see a substantial leadership emerge from marginalised castes.

The Andhra Mahasabha conducted its first session in 1930, second session in 1931 and third session in 1934.

Andhra Mahasabha

The formative sessions of Andhra Mahasabha (AMS) saw the participation of a young Raavi Narayan Reddy and other Gandhians as volunteers. These volunteers went on to become communists in the later stages of their lives and led Andhra Mahasabha. For now, Andhra Mahasabha’s sessions gradually saw debates on social issues such as child marriages and widow remarriages. As the youth rung of the AMS saw more participation, the rigour of debate and discussion on social issues also increased. A Resolution on Education for All and education for women were passed in the second session off AMS.[7] 

By 1934, two important developments took place. Raavi Narayanreddy, the leader of the younger rung of AMS was appointed as the secretary of Harijan Sevak Sangh’s Hyderabad unit. Harijan Sevak Sangh was founded by Mahatma Gandhi after the Poona Pact. The second development is that the younger rung of the AMS had, by now, gained more followers and momentum.[8]

Back to the 1934 conference. The permission to hold a public conference was given to AMS by the Nizam government after imposing many conditions. These conditions mandated that the speech texts should be first submitted to the government and the undesirable portions be removed. Some conservative sections of the AMS did not want progressive resolutions to be passed in the session and tried to jeopardise the efforts of younger members of the AMS. With AMS’ main session not being a fertile ground for the progressive resolutions, the same resolutions were passed in the Women’s conference of the AMS. 

This tussle between the conservative, feudal section of the AMS and the young progressives continued until 1938. One of the most important developments of the century was about to take place, sending waves through all regions of the world including the state of Hyderabad. In 1939, World War II would begin and provide impetus to the progressives of AMS for a complete takeover. 

In the next part, the journey of Raavi Narayanreddy from an ardent Gandhian to a militant communist, and his role in strengthening the AMS will be discussed along with other developments until 1944.

(The author is a legal researcher with the organisation)

[1] Vaikuntham, Y., 1981, January. GROWTH OF ECONOMIC NATIONALISM IN HYDERABAD STATE (1920-1938):(A Case Study Of Telangana). In Proceedings of the Indian History Congress (Vol. 42, pp. 517-524). Indian History Congress.

[2] Sundarayya, P., 1972. Telangana people’s struggle and its lessons. Foundation Books.

[3] Copland, I., 1988. ‘Communalism’in Princely India: The Case of Hyderabad, 1930–1940. Modern Asian Studies, 22(4), pp.783-814.

[4] Ibid

[5] Jitendra Babu, K. 2007 Nizam Rashtra Maha Sabha, Part I.

[6] Ibid

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


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