The Glorious Telangana People’s Armed Struggle – III Police Action and Withdrawal
THE Union government launched ‘police action’ on September 13, 1948, on Hyderabad State to force the Nizam to accede to the Indian Union and to suppress the spreading Telangana peasant movement. Except in a few pockets, the Nizam’s army did not resist the Union forces and surrendered themselves. The Nizam himself, surrendered within five days – on September 18, 1948.
People and armed squads utilised the opportunity of the ‘police action’ and attacked many razakar and police camps, destroyed them and seized arms and other material. People caught hold of the fleeing soldiers on the roads and across the fields and taught them a fitting lesson. Systematic destruction of buildings and other properties of the enemies of the people marked this campaign. Anywhere, in any village, wherever there was a gadi (landlord’s house), people in their hundreds and thousands marched on these fortresses of their sworn enemies.
On the eve of the ‘police action,’ Party instructed all the area and guerrilla squads not to come into clash with the Indian army as long as they were attacking the razakars and Nizam’s armed forces. They were directed to launch independent attacks against razakar and Nizam’s police camps, destroy them, seize weapons, re-equip the squads with modern weapons; wait for a few weeks, by which time the attacks on the Telangana peasantry by the Indian armed forces and the landlord-deshmukh gangs would shatter the illusions and hopes roused among the masses.
Within a week after the entry of the Indian army, the attacks began. There was a determined attack to destroy all the guerrilla squads and the Party. The Party leadership sent repeated instructions and explained the danger of the policy of disbanding armed guerrilla squads, dumping arms and how they would become easy targets of the Union military and police attacks and of the local landlords and deshmukhs. They were exhorted to be ready to defend themselves and the people when the Indian army launched attacks on them. Unfortunately, many of the squads and political organisers of the Party were not in a position to meet the offensive, having developed illusions about the character of the intervention by the Indian Union.
Within two weeks of the entry of the Indian armies, the deshmukhs and the landlords who had run away to the cities or Indian Union territory, returned to their villages, and joined hands with the authorities, to seize back the lands and grain. They got thousands of local cadre, a large number of zonal and area leaders arrested. The remaining squads and leaders were mercilessly hunted by large combing operations and whoever was caught, was brutally tortured and shot. Mass arrests and torture became a common feature in hundreds of villages.
Ordinary Muslims who stood against the atrocities of the Nizam, were pounced upon and untold miseries were inflicted on them. Hindu people in those villages rescued such ordinary Muslims, gave shelter to them in their houses. The Telangana movement can be proud of this important achievement – Hindu-Muslim unity was secured in villages. In other parts of Hyderabad State, where the democratic movement was weak, hatred against Muslims and attacks on them were widespread.
The Congress government was not interested in completely abolishing the native states and to merge them with neighbouring linguistic areas and build a really democratic, federal set up for different nationalities. The Nizam was formally declared Raj Pramukh when the Indian Constitution was ushered in on January 26, 1950. Practically, none of the old Nizam’s officials were punished for their crimes.
On the other hand, bogus trials were held of the fighters and some were sentenced to death. Many comrades were taken outside the jail and shot dead in forests and hillocks. The government of India was in undue hurry to carry out the death sentences of Telangana fighters in secret, before the new Indian Constitution came into force. They had sentenced 12 Telangana heroes to death. Many renowned personalities like Paul Robeson and democratic organisations worldwide condemned these sentences. Telangana Heroes’ Defence Committee was constituted. This wave of protests and condemnations forced the government to commute these death sentences to life imprisonment.
Some of the questions that confronted the Party during this phase were: whether to continue the armed guerrilla resistance against the attacks of the Indian Union’s armed forces, in defence of the peasant’s land and other democratic gains, or to surrender arms to the Congress government’s armies and betray the trust placed on the Party by the fighting people of Telangana? Whether to abandon the partisan armed resistance and adopt legal forms of struggle permitted by the military rule of the Congress government? If the struggle was withdrawn unconditionally and immediately after the armed intervention, would the Indian government declare amnesty for the thousands of guerrilla squads, cadre and members of the Party?
Two sharply opposed views had emerged on these questions. One section of comrades began advocating the abandonment of partisan armed resistance against the armed attacks of the Indian armed forces, and for the adoption of open and legal forms of struggle. The Visalandhra Party committee opposed this view and advocated the slogan of armed partisan resistance against the attacks of the Union armies to safeguard the gains of the Telangana peasantry. It felt that withdrawal of the struggle meant a betrayal of the fighting peasantry and irreparably damaging the cause of the Telangana people’s movement.
The return of the hated deshmukhs, landlords and their frenzied attempts to seize back peasants’ lands and the terror unleashed by them, roused the indignation of the Party cadre. The line of continuation of the armed guerrilla resistance, finally prevailed. Party cadre began re-organising themselves into squads to resist the armed attacks of the Union military and police.
Armed partisans belonging to the Party shed their blood in this unequal struggle with the far superior armed forces of the central government. Even though the Congress government deployed 50,000 armed personnel and spent on an average, ten to fifteen crores of rupees per year, their resistance could not be wiped out because of the death-defying courage of the Party cadres.
The leadership of the Telangana armed struggle, under the pressure of the fighting ranks on the one hand and provoked by the brutal repression let loose on the adjoining Andhra districts on the other, had attempted to extend the area of armed guerrilla resistance. But it did not succeed and the armed police and landlord goondas had resorted to brutal murder of communist cadres. Many militant workers of the Party were shifted to the forest areas or to some distant places in other states. As a result, Party organisation got dislocated and the leadership faced the question, ‘what next’.
The Communist Party at its Second Party Congress in 1948, gave the slogan, ‘Telangana way is our way’. It had declared all-out support to the armed struggle of Telangana; it had called for developing similar struggles in several other parts of the country and develop working class movement in support of the Telangana struggle – all ultimately leading to armed insurrection.
The Telangana armed struggle which had developed and was waged as a liberation struggle against the Nizam, was no more a liberation struggle when the Indian army intervened and Hyderabad State became a part of the Indian state. It became a peasant partisan armed struggle to defend the possession of the land which was in the hands of the peasants, i.e., a partial partisan struggle. Instead of being fought as a partial struggle for land, it was wrongly directed as a liberation war against the Congress regime.
However, the new Congress government was not isolated from the people all over the country. There were no solidarity working class struggles or strikes in support of the Telangana struggle, either before the intervention of the Army in September 1948 or during the three long years of the Telangana armed resistance till October 1951.
It was decided that in the then prevailing situation, the Telangana armed partisan resistance could not be continued and that the time had come to withdraw. The factors that led to this conclusion were: First and foremost, in the very bastions of the Telangana movement, mass participation had decreased, though mass sympathies were with the fighting guerrillas.
Secondly, faced with an increasing network of military and police camps and decreased mass participation, the guerrilla squads, became less and less effective in their actions on enemy’s armed personnel. In all areas, actions against armed personnel became fewer and fewer. Squad actions were directed more and more against individual enemy agents and individual landlords. If the armed struggle was continued, the danger of it deteriorating into individual terrorism was quite evident.
Thirdly, while the peasants held possession of a greater portion of the waste land brought under cultivation, they lost possession of most of the surplus land seized. Even on the lands in their possession, they were forced to pay rent, though in many cases, it was very small and even token. No longer could these be recovered or defended by armed resistance.
Fourthly, the ruling classes in the whole country strengthened their position and also there were no important solidarity actions and campaigns in defence of the Telangana struggle, in the rest of the country.
Fifthly, sharp differences in the leadership came up once again as to the future conduct of the movement.
Sixthly, in the fighting areas, among guerrilla leaders themselves, differences started accumulating and desertions began, even from amongst squad and centre organisers. That was a serious warning signal.
Finally, the clarity obtained about the need to distinguish between partial partisan struggles and partisan warfare as part of a liberation struggle, made it easier to decide the future course of tactics.
Leaders heading the Telangana movement trekked long distances into the forest areas to explain the new understanding and hear the squads on whether they would be able to continue till the minimum guarantee for the Telangana fighters’ safety and the guarantee of land that still was in the hands of the peasants, could be extracted from the government.
The resolution passed at the Amarabad Regional Communists’ and Guerrillas’ Conference explained the tactics of retreat and vowed to carry forward the legacy: “In the same manner and with the same skill with which one has to lead the movement when it is surging forward, one has to retreat boldly taking the initiative and adopting necessary steps, when unfavourable conditions force one to beat a retreat. We need not despair because of this retreat. On the basis of our experience of the movement, on the basis of our deep roots among the people, on the basis of the new Programme and new tactical line, we are confident that we will overcome the weaknesses in the Telangana movement and develop the Telangana people’s movement many times more powerfully by winning national unity and freedom. We swear that we will carry out our part in the people’s democratic movement in India”!
The decision to withdraw the Telangana armed struggle was announced on October 21, 1951.