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This article is written by Harman Juneja, a student of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Rai, Sonepat. The article talks about Operation polo of 1948 and why the rulers of princely states wanted to stay independent.


India was divided into two regions at the time of independence in 1947, one under direct British administration and the other under the British Crown’s sovereign control, with power over their internal affairs remaining in the hands of their hereditary rulers. The latter consisted of 562 princely states with various revenue-sharing arrangements with the British, which varied based on their size, population, and local conditions. In addition, France and Portugal held a number of colonial enclaves.

The Indian National Congress announced the political integration of these regions into India as a goal, which the Indian government pursued during the next decade. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and V. P. Menon persuaded the rulers of the various princely kingdoms to join India through a variety of causes. They then went about securing and extending the central government’s authority over these states and transforming their administrations in a step-by-step process. Until 1956, there was very little distinction between the territories which had been part of British India and those that had been princely states. Simultaneously, the Indian government gained de facto (true in fact but not officially) and de jure (officially or in accordance with the law) authority over the remaining colonial enclaves, which were also incorporated into India, using a mix of military and diplomatic measures.

Operation polo

The Hyderabad “police operation” in September 1948 was code-named “Operation Polo” by the independent Dominion of India against Hyderabad State. It was a military operation in which the Indian Armed Forces attacked the princely state controlled by the Nizam and incorporated it into the Indian Union. 

The princely states of India, while in theory enjoyed self-government inside their borders, were subject to subsidiary alliances with the British at the time of partition in 1947, granting them authority over their foreign ties. The British abandoned all such partnerships in the Indian Independence Act of 1947, leaving the states with the choice of complete independence. By 1948, nearly all of them had acceded to either India or Pakistan. However, the Nizam, Mir Sir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, a Muslim monarch who ruled over a mainly Hindu populace, chose independence and planned to preserve it with an irregular force drawn from the Muslim nobility, known as the Razakars, in the wealthiest and most powerful principality, Hyderabad. The Nizam was also troubled by the Telangana uprising, which he couldn’t put down.

Hyderabad signed a cease-fire deal with India in November 1947, keeping all prior agreements in place except for the stationing of Indian soldiers in the state. Following a crushing economic embargo, India invaded Hyderabad in September 1948, fearing the emergence of a communist state and the rising of armed Razakars. The Nizam then signed an instrument of accession, thus joining India.

The operation resulted in widespread communal violence, which was frequently carried out by the Indian army. The Sunderlal Committee was established by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister. Its study, which was not disclosed until 2013, found that the overall number of deaths in the state somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 was a very fair & conservative estimate. Other credible experts put the death toll at 200,000 or even higher.


Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah founded Hyderabad in 1724, a state that included much of the Deccan plateau. It was not just popular but also rich, with its own army, railway and airline networks, postal system, and radio network. Hindus made over 85 percent of the Nizam’s subjects. The Royal State of Hyderabad was the first to accept British protection under the Subsidiary Alliance strategy in 1798.

Mir Sir Osman Ali Khan, Nizam of Hyderabad, first sought the British government with a request to join the Commonwealth of Nations as an independent constitutional monarchy. The last Viceroy of India, the first Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, turned down this proposal. The Nizam said that he would not join any new dominion after the British left India, and went on to appoint trade representatives in European nations and initiated discussions with the Portuguese to lease or acquire Goa so that his kingdom might have access to the sea.

As a result, the Indian government offered Hyderabad a standstill agreement, promising to maintain the status quo and refrain from taking military action for a year. India was to manage Hyderabad’s international affairs under this arrangement, but Indian Army forces stationed in Secunderabad were to be evacuated.

Hyderabad broke every clause of the agreement in external affairs, by conducting intrigues with Pakistan, to whom it secretly loaned 15 million pounds in defence, by establishing a large semi-private army and in communications, by interfering with border traffic and Indian railway through traffic. India was also accused of breaking the pact by imposing a trade embargo. It found out that without the knowledge of Delhi, the state of Bombay was interfering with supplies to Hyderabad.

Commencement of war

The turmoil, the muddled discussions, and rumours that Hyderabad was arming itself with help from the Portuguese authority in Goa and Pakistan sparked communal riots and heightened tensions.

The Indian government did not like the concept of Hyderabad arming itself with Pakistan’s help. The concept of an independent Hyderabad was defined by Sardar Patel as an ulcer in the heart of India that needs to be surgically removed. India and Hyderabad began discussions at this time, and India chose to annex Hyderabad. This operation was dubbed “Operation Polo” and has also been dubbed “Operation Caterpillar” on various occasions.

The war started. Despite the fact that the battle only lasted five days, from September 13 to September 18, it was significant because the Indian Army seized control of a powerful state, and Hyderabad was annexed to India.

Faced with a certain loss on September 16, Nizam Mir Sir Osman Ali Khan called his Prime Minister, Mir Laiq Ali, and asked for his resignation by the following morning. The resignations of the whole government were presented at the same time.

What other princely states wanted to be independent 

The princely states, pampered and manipulated by the British, retained semi-autonomy under the colonisers and posed the most difficult obstacle to free India. As the moment started to annex these states, Bikaner, Baroda, and a few other Rajasthani states were among the first to join the union. Other states, on the other hand, were emphatic about not shaking hands with India. Some of them believed that this was the greatest time to gain independence, while others desired to join Pakistan. The following are examples of a few states that resisted India’s accession: 


One of the first princely kingdoms to refuse to join the Indian union and dispute the Congress’ leadership of the country was this southern Indian maritime state. The state was well-positioned for the marine trade and had a plethora of people and natural resources. By 1946, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, the dewan of Travancore and a renowned lawyer, had proclaimed his desire to create an independent state of Travancore that would be willing to sign a treaty with the Indian union. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was the driving force behind Travancore’s bid for independence. Travancore gave Britain an advantage in the nuclear arms race in exchange for exclusive access to a mineral called monazite, which was rich in the area. While the Dewan remained committed to his viewpoint until July 1947, he altered his mind after surviving an assassination attempt by a Kerala Socialist Party member. Thus, Travancore became a part of India on July 30, 1947.


Bhopal, which had a Muslim Nawab, Hamidullah Khan, reigning over a majority Hindu populace, was another state that wanted to declare independence. The Nawab, a close ally of the Muslim League, was an ardent opponent of Congress authority. He’d made it obvious to Mountbatten that he wanted independence. The latter, on the other hand, said that “no king could run away from the domain nearest to him.” By July 1947, the prince had become aware of the vast number of princes who had acceded to India and had made the decision to do so as well.


Apart from Hyderabad, the Gujarati state of Junagadh was the only state that had not joined the Indian union by August 15, 1947. Among the Kathiawar states, Junagadh was the most significant. Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III, the Nawab, reigned over a significant Hindu community here as well. When Lord Mountbatten addressed the princes on July 25, 1947, the Dewan of Junagadh had made it plain that he would advise the Nawab on joining the Indian union.

Nabi Baksh, the Dewan of Junagadh, asked Muslim League leader Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto to join the state council of ministers in early 1947. In the absence of the dewan, Bhutto assumed control of the office and pressured the Nawab to join Pakistan. The Indian authorities were outraged when Pakistan approved Junagadh’s bid for membership since it contradicted Jinnah’s two-nation doctrine. The unstable situation in Junagadh caused the economy to collapse, and the Nawab was forced to flee to Karachi. Vallabhbhai Patel asked Pakistan to hold a referendum in Junagadh, and then deployed soldiers to conquer three of the country’s principalities. The Dewan was obliged to submit to the Indian government because of a severe lack of finances and soldiers. On February 20, 1948, the state held a referendum in which 99 per cent of the voters voted to join India.


Although the operation seemed to be a successful one, there were a lot of unseen problems that didn’t come to the fore. During the operation, the Indian military captured hundreds of individuals, including Razakars, Hindu militants, and communists. This was primarily based on local informants who took advantage of the occasion to settle grudges. An estimated 17,000 individuals were imprisoned, resulting in overcrowded cells and a crippled criminal justice system. 

To pursue these cases, the Indian government established Special Tribunals. There were several legal anomalies, including denial or difficulty to access attorneys and delayed trials, which the Red Cross was pushing Nehru about. The government was under pressure not to punish those who took part in communal violence, which exacerbated tensions between communities. Patel died in 1950 as well. By 1953, all but a few people had been freed by the Indian government.

Like the case in Hyderabad, some other states were also not willing to join India. As princely states wanted autonomy and even some states under the influence of some people refused to join India. These states like Bhopal, Travancore wanted to be independent nations, and states like Jodhpur wanted to join Pakistan. 


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