Telangana Movement

 

Introduction

  • The Telangana movement (1946-51) was an armed revolt of peasants, under the leadership of the Communist Party of India against oppressive landlordism patronized by the autocratic rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
  • It was a pivotal moment in Indian history because of its impact on the future of the communist movement in India, and its highlighting of the condition of the Indian peasantry.

Background

  • Social
    • Before Indian independence, Hyderabad state was a princely state within the territory of British India, comprised of three linguistic regions: the Telugu-speaking Telangana area (including the capital city, Hyderabad), the Marathi-speaking Marathwada area, and a small Kannada-speaking area.
      • The ruling elites, including the Nizam, were Muslims, while the majority were Hindus.
    • The nature of land ownership in the region was extremely exploitative.
      • 40% of the land was either directly owned by the Nizam or given by the Nizam to elites in the form of jagirs (special tenures).
      • The remaining 60% was under the government’s land revenue system, which relied on powerful landlords and gave no legal rights or security from eviction to the people actually cultivating the land.
    • Other exploitative practices were widespread.
      • The vetti (forced labour) system consisted of work performed by lower castes at the will of the landlord.
      • For example, each so-called “untouchable” family was required to send one man everyday to do household labour and other jobs for the landlord.
    • The large landowners had taken over significant tracts of land, either through forced occupation or debt-sales.
  • Political
    • In the 1920s, the suppression of languages and cultures provoked resistance, which eventually led to more wide-ranging agitations.
    • In 1928, the Andhra Mahasabha (AMS) was organised, which later in 1934 conference demanded:
      • reduced land revenue rates
      • abolition of vetti, and
      • the introduction of Telugu into the local courts
    • The advent of the Second World War saw the beginning of communist influence on the AMS, and in 1942, with the removal of the ban on the Communist Party of India (CPI), the communists began to grow in Hyderabad.
    • Further, after 1944, the communists, along with AMS, began gaining ground in several districts, especially among the agricultural labourers, poor tenants and small landholders, and started forming Sanghams (village-level committees).

The Movement

  • The Spark
    • Tensions mounted when a hereditary tax collector, attempted to forcibly take land belonging to a member of a village sangham.
      • He sent a group of 100 goons and 100 servants to forcibly gather the harvest.
      • They were resisted by the local village sangham leaders and volunteers.
    • On July 4, 1946, a procession was organised by the villagers protesting the violence and terrorism of the landlord’s goons.
      • As they approached the landlord’s house, some of the goons opened fire on the procession, leading to the death of Doddi Komarayya, the sangham leader.
    • The death of Komarayya enraged the people, sparking a massive revolt amongst the Telangana peasantry, with people from neighbouring villages marching, holding meetings in front of the landlord’s house, and declaring: “Sangham is organised here. No more vetti, no more illegal exactions, no evictions”.
    • By the end of July, the movement had spread to about 300-400 villages across three districts.
    • In response, the police, with the help of landlords, conducted a series of search operations, leading villagers to arm themselves.
    • In October 1946, the Nizam’s government banned the AMS, and a spurt of arrests and military raids took place. Under these conditions of martial rule, some landlords began returning.
    • Thus, during this first phase of the movement, the people were able, in several area, to “put an end to vetti, illegal exactions, compulsory grain levies, and reoccupy the lands seized earlier by the landlords”, while also “resisting the landlords’ armed goondas” and facing “the armed police and the military forces of the Nizam”
  • Razzakar Terror
    • In August 1947, when India became independent, Hyderabad state exercised the option of remaining autonomous.
    • The bulk of the ruling majority, including the Nizam, the nobility and the Majlis-I-Ittehad (MII), a fundamentalist Islamic organisation within Hyderabad, supported the call for Azad (“Free”) Hyderabad.
    • At this point, the MII started growing in militancy.
      • Its paramilitary force, the Razakars, were sent in hordes to suppress the peasant insurrection.
      • They raided and plundered the troubled villages, arrested or killed suspected and potential agitators, terrorized the innocent, and also abducted women as part of the campaign of punitive measures against the turbulent villages all over Hyderabad, but particularly in Telangana.
    • In reaction, in February 1948, the CPI introduced a new policy aimed at encouraging guerilla offensives, largely influenced by the success of the Telangana insurrection.
      • The village republics started redistributing land to landless agricultural labourers and evicted tenants, increasing the popularity of the movement.

Police Acton and the Aftermath

  • On September 13, 1948, in a ‘police action’ aimed at countering the violence in Hyderabad, the Indian Army marched into the state. Within a week’s time, the Nizam, the razakar squads and the police surrendered.
  • In an effort to co-opt peasant support, the military administration issued the Jagir Abolition Regulation (August 1949) and set up an Agrarian Enquiry Committee to recommend comprehensive land reform legislation.
  • At this time, a debate ensued within the CPI. Certain sections felt that giving up arms was essential. Other sections were sceptical, as they felt that giving up arms could lead to loss of gains and appear as a betrayal of the people.
  • However, by the end of 1950, only isolated guerilla groups existed, there was little coordination among village republics, and the severe military repression had taken its toll on the population, with a huge loss of life, and the movement weakened.
    • By early 1951, Congress government made several conciliatory gestures towards the CPI, and, after several rounds of negotiations, the CPI formally declared the struggle withdrawn on October 21, 1951.

Conclusion

  • The Telengana movement represents the culmination of efforts by communist and socialist parties in the first few decades of the communist movement.
  • The untiring efforts organising and mobilising the peasantry against grave injustices represented a break away from traditionally more moderate reformist movements within the peasantry.
  • Although the exact significance and value of the Telengana movement is fiercely debated, one cannot deny the role of the movement, in bringing the question of the peasantry to the fore of the communist movement; in actively organising people against caste injustices; and in radically redefining the need for strong organisational structure, which was a key factor in the growth of the movement.