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Telengana peasant uprising 1946-51: Path breaking period in Communist movement

By Harsh Thakor 

Telengana armed struggle from 1946-51 was path breaking period in the Indian Communist Movement, enabling it to reject the Russian insurrectionist path and emulate the Chinese model. The intensity of the movement escalated people’s democratic power to a scale unparalleled in Indian history. It literally dawned a new era. Revolutionary zeal climbed heights rarely traversed in semi-colonies. The death defying spirit which the comrades displayed in giving a blow to the Nizam ruler of Hyderabad and the Razakar landlords will be written forever in the red letters of history. Tragically it was crushed by the Congress party led by Nehru, who mercilessly ordered the army to swoop on the rebellion, with the Communist Party of India adopting a compromising position. It was ample proof of how Nehru and the Congress party collaborated with the feudal landlord class.
From September 11th 1947 to September 11th, 1948, the people of Telengana heroically waged a battle of resistance in confronting the Nizam of Hyderabad. Revolutionary combative spirit touched superlative heights; the era will be inscribed in red letters, in the history of people’s liberation. It proved the integrity and credibility of the military theories of Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese revolutions, with the peasants encircling the cities. Classic example of establishing liberated areas.
On 13th September we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the merciless counter attack unleashed by the Nizam, supported by Nehru led Congress, to inflict a crushing blow. It was Nehru who patronised the Nizam. The event will be written as a black day in history. An anonymous member of the Communist Party wrote in his report, "In the initial stages of the battle we hoisted more Congress flags than the Congressmen themselves…we extolled Nehru and Gandhi more vociferously than the Congressmen themselves."
Canadian peasant historian John Roosa has argued, "The communists had been engaged in essentially non-violent struggles in the early 1940s and had supported stone throwing and beatings as defensive measures against police raids. They turned to rifles and revolvers for offensive warfare against the state only after Independence, about the same time that the leftists within the Congress… the Hyderabadi communists decided to take up arms only after the party's Central Committee in Bombay gave its approval in September 1947."
Communist leader P Sundarayya notes, "The sweep of the anti-feudal and anti-landlord movement and the mass character of the anti-Nizam movement that was taking shape cooled the ardour of the Congress leadership. Having no stomach for such a radical programme, their squads degenerated into raiding and launching attacks on the people, in support of the exploiting landlords. Our squads had to act and disarm many of these Congress squads. It is to be noted that quite a large number of militant and honest members of these Congress squads joined us later and fought together."
Ironic that earlier in May we marked the 75th anniversary of the Andhra thesis of 1948 ,of the Communist Party of India unit of Andhra Pradesh. From 1947August to September 1948 the land distribution struggle launched by the party by Comrade DV Rao enabled resistance in the Anti-Nizam phase to blossom. .A scenario reminiscent of an inferno was created with the distribution of 10 lakh acres of land, formation of Gram Rajyas in 3000 villages mainly of Nalgonda and Warangal districts, and 10000 armed volunteers who launched the armed struggle against the Nizam’s military and the Razakars.
In the Second Party Congress in 1948 in DV Rao orchestrated a 2 line struggle against the left opportunist leadership. which rejected the mass line. In many areas the party leadership disbanded the armed squads and surrendered the arms. The Union military ripped the flesh of those unarmed cadres launching a major massacre.Exhibiting death defying resilience DV reorganised the squads in the forest areas. Appropriate tactics were devised to mobilise the people against the Union military which was re-introducing the rule of landlords in the villages, Thus he revived he struggle by knitting the wounds inflicted on the movement. In Suryapeta-Manukota he elevated the struggle to a crescendo. When the Indian army marched into Hyderabad on September 13, 1948, it was the Communist Party that bore the brunt of the attack. By December 1949, 6,000 communists were rounded up in jails/detention camps, out of which 108 prisoners were tried under a sentence of death.
As many as 4,000 Communists and peasant militants perished; more than 10,000 Communist cadres and people’s fighters were flung into detention camps and jails for a period of 3-4 years; no less than a minimum of 50,000 people were dragged into police and military camps , to be beaten, tortured and terrorised for weeks and months together; several lakhs of people in thousands of villages were victims of police and military raids and suffered cruel lathi-charges.Captain Nanjappa was appointed as the Special Commissioner of Hyderabad. He would execute unwarranted or random arrests or executions on the grounds of mere suspicion.
Despite his notorious image, the support the communists got from the people of Telangana provoked him to write in May 1950, "The Communist does not loot or rob or trouble the average villagers, nor does he molest their women. They indulge in regular propaganda in the villages, collect their food from the villages, and subscriptions to their party funds. Many of them are highly educated and are educated by high idealism. Communists have inspired in their (the poor peasants) a certain amount of sympathy, if not for the ideals for which they are preaching, at least for the practical good they sometimes do to the average villager by way of distribution of land etc. During the Razakar Regime, these Communist leaders, helped the villagers to defend themselves against the Razakar atrocities and thus gained their affection also to a great extent. A large section of the rural population thus feels that the Communists are trying to help the poorer classes."

15th August 1947 to 13th September 1948 (based on extracts from ‘Telengana People’s Struggle and Some Lessons’ by P Sundarayya)

The Party and the Andhra Mahasabha embarked during the first four months of 1947, in re-knitting the scattered Party and AMS organisation, under the mortal blows of Nizam’s repression. The Party was also under ban and attack in the Andhra area. Yet, Guntur, Krishna and Godavari had been the protective base for the Telangana fighters. On August 15, 1947, power was transferred from British imperialism to the bourgeois-landlord Congress. The Nizam declared that he would not join the Indian Union but would remain independent (Azad Hyderabad). The Indian National Congress was forced to launch a satyagraha struggle in Hyderabad state to bring pressure on the Nizam Nawab to accede to the Indian Union.
It sowed the seeds for constructing a platform of developing the Telangana people’s struggles. Communists joined hands with the State Congress in its struggle for the merger of the state with the Indian Union. Since our Party and Andhra Mahasabha were the major political force, with great political and mass influence and organisation, especially because of the struggles of 1944-46, we had a decisive voice in this movement.
Quoting P.Sundarayya, “Our Party and the Andhra Mahasabha did not confine itself to transforming the items of the Congress programme into action, into one of large-scale mass participation. We actively turned it into a definite anti-feudal agrarian revolt. –We led the people to stop all kinds of forced labour and illegal exactions. –To refuse to deliver the forced grain levies.”
“Communists led the people not only to retain the lands they were cultivating on lease from the landlords, but also to restore all the lands illegally seized by the landlords. Reduction in rent and later total non-payment of rents to the bigger landlords and to the enemies of the people, was also enforced. –Occupation and cultivation of waste lands of the Government and of the big landlords. –Communists started seizing the grain stocks of the hated landlords and started distributing it to the needy rural poor.–Along with the records of pateland patwaris, we burnt the records of the landlords, the records of moneylenders, and all promissory notes and bonds executed in their favour. –And, finally, within a few months, the seizure of the surplus lands of the landlords and their distribution to the poor peasantry, along with draught cattle and agricultural implements. The ceilings started with 500 acres, then by stages were reduced to 100 acres dry and 10 acres wet as the movement developed, and as the urgency to meet the poor peasant demand for land grew and as experience got enriched. The movement became a wide-spread people’s movement.”
The people of Telangana, trapped by the clutches -- old dark feudal oppression, from forced labour and illegal exactions of a hated feudal rule, paved way gradually towards creating a new life. They started out for some elementary relief in their miserable life; no vetti (begar), no illegal exactions, no land evictions, no torturing and dishonouring; for elementary civil liberties; for education and culture and for responsible self- government. It developed under the leadership of the Communist Party and Andhra Mahasabha into a powerful armed people’s struggle for land and liberation, against feudal exploitation and against the hated Nizam’s rule. It spread to about 3,000 villages, to nearly one-third of the Telangana area where gram raj (village panch – people’s self-government) fighting committees were established. The Nizam’s officials, the hated landlords had to quit the villages, leaving the panch committees to carry on people’s administration. 
Not only vetti (begar), illegal exactions, land evictions, usurious loans, torturing and dishonouring by corrupt officials and village oppressors were abolished, waste lands and surplus lands of the landlords, to the extent of a million acres along with the necessary cattle and agricultural implements were distributed to the 83 rural poor; fair wages for agricultural labourers were enforced and grain distributed. People used to say that for the first time in their lives, they could have two full meals a day. Regular guerrilla squads and village defence squads were organised, the Nizam police, army and the village oppressors were confined to big camps; only from there could they go on their forages during certain hours of the day. Even the enemy press had to admit that the Communists were like lords at night, meaning thereby that it Communists that established governance during night , while the landlords and the police ruled only during daytime.
The whole Nizam’s state and his society were shivering in their pants. The movement was spreading like wildfire, to the whole of Telangana and beyond. It was at this juncture that the Indian Government stepped in , to send its own army to crush the Razakar violence on the people and making the Nizam accede to the Indian Union, but also with the goal of suppressing Communist violence.
The people, all sections, in the Andhra areas, left no stone unturned in offering support to this state people’s movement. In mere two or three days in just the one town of Vijayawada Rs. 20,000 for providing arms was collected for fighting the Razakars and the Nizam. Joint meetings and demonstrations were staged with the national and red flags fluttering their banner together. Whatever programme the Congress embarked on , the Communists converted it it a huge mass affair, drawing thousands of people to participate in them. If the Congress called for a demonstration or picketing by a limited number of satyagrahis, Communists converted it to make it a huge mass demonstration or mass picketing. When the Congress gave the call for boycotting colleges and schools and courts, they again turned it into a mass affair. Communists recruited a large number of students into their volunteer squads and the Andhra Mahasabha organisation. It was the penetration of students that helped the movement intensify drastically; many of them, later on, developed themselves as local and area leaders of both the mass organisation and of the guerrilla organisation.
There was a most striking dichotomy between the Congress and the Communist party, whose actions were often divergent. The Congress gave the slogan of breaking the customs barriers between the Indian Union and Nizam’s territory, resignation of patels and patwaris. The Communist Party and the Andhra Mahasabha converted it into destroying all the records of these posts. The Congress gave a call for cutting toddy-yielding sheaths of palm and date trees and called for boycott of toddy shops to deprive the Nizam state of one of its main sources of revenue, as also because of its own fad of prohibition. Communists converted it for days into large-scale destruction of date and palmyra trees and also physically preventing the toddy-tappers from making toddy. 
However they realized that the toddy-tappers, who constituted a large percentage of the rural poor, through this programme were losing occupation and livelihood and were turning vengeful. The Party rectified this error, changed its slogan and gave a call, “Tap the toddy, give it clean and cheap to the people. But do not pay taxes.” This shook the hearts of the people. The Party banned drinking toddy by our guerrilla squad members and political organizers of even village level. This was strictly observed. The Congress gave the slogan of merger of the state with the Indian Union. Communists propagated at the same time dissolution of the state, merging its linguistic components into the respective linguistic areas and the formation of united linguistic states in an Indian people’s state, and the abolition of Nizam rule. The whole national sentiment was in favour of this movement. The bourgeois- landlord Government of independent India, headed by the big bourgeoisie, also wanted Hyderabad’s merger.
All the democratic forces of the whole of India were in favour, because they wanted that the lackey of British imperialism, the Nizam Nawab, should be thrown out; the whole Hindu population wanted the Muslim feudal Nawab’s rule to be overthrown ; the three linguistic nationalities wanted liberation because of their desire to merge with their own linguistic areas, and develop their language and culture; the growing bourgeoisie, the capitalist landlord and the rich peasantry also wanted to be liberated from the stranglehold of Nizam’s autocracy and its feudal set-up to go and be replaced by a “democratic and responsible government, as part of India” for their own economic and political development; the toiling peasant, the rural poor wanted the complete abolition of feudal landlord exploitation, of vetti (begar), of forced labour, illegal exactions, of forced grain levy and wanted land for cultivation. The workers wanted employment and better wages. All currents converged into the all-in anti-Nizam struggle, for a democratic regime, as a component of the Indian Union. A progressive section of the Muslims also joined the movement.
The Agrarian Programme of the Communist Party and the Andhra Mahasabha did not confine itself to transforming the items of the Congress programme into action, into one of large-scale mass participation but to give it the shape of a concrete anti-feudal agrarian revolt. ·To refuse to deliver the forced grain levies. Communists led the people not only to retain the lands they were cultivating on lease from the landlords, but also to recover all the lands illegally seized by the landlords. Reduction in rent and later total non-payment of rents to the bigger landlords and to the enemies of the people was also enforced. · Occupation and cultivation of waste lands of the Government and of the big landlords. · We started seizing the grain stocks of the hated landlords, and started distributing it to the needy rural poor. Along with the records of patels and patwaris, we burnt the records of the landlords, the records of moneylenders, and all promissory notes and bonds executed in their favour.
And, finally, within a few months, the seizure of the surplus lands of the landlords and their distribution to the poor peasantry, along with drought cattle and agricultural implements. The ceilings started with 500 acres, then by stages were reduced to 100 acres dry and 10 acres wet as the movement developed, and as the urgency to meet the poor peasant demand for land grew and as experience got enriched. The movement like a spark turning into a prairie fire became a wide-spread people’s movement. The same enthusiasm, as in the days of Devaruppula, Patasuryapet, Balemula and Mallareddigudem sparked But the intensity was deeper and statewide. People started feeling that once again “Guttapalu Sangham” (i.e., lathi sangham) was on the march, but this time it was not only lathis, but whatever fire-arms that could be obtained; people were arming themselves, all groups, the Congress, the Communist and Andhra Mahasabha squads. The Nizam’s rule was sent shivers down it’s spine. 
He resorted to large-scale terror. He organised the Razakars under the leadership of Kasim Razvi, of the Majlis Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen. He assigned them the task , with full army backing, to undertake a merciless combing operation on the villagers.. The people had to defend and fight back, with whatever available weapons affordable with whatever organisation they could garner. Facing heavy terror, a large number of persons, especially from the rich top sections, left for the Union territory for protection. Congress satyagraha camps and squads also left the area and migrated to the Indian Union territory and established their armed camps on the borders, and from there they started counter-raids. It was only the Communist and Andhra Mahasabha squads that could carry on to operate inside the state and fight back the Razakar and Nizam terror.
The cooperation that had existed in the initial stages of the integrated movement between the Congress and the Andhra Mahasabha cadre diffused completely within a few weeks. The sweep of the anti-feudal and anti-landlord movement and the mass character of the anti-Nizam movement that was being constructed, nullified the intensity of the Congress leadership. Further, with their having no quest for such a radical programme, with no roots among the toiling people, their squads launched attacks against the people, and acted in support of the exploiting landlords.
The squads had to act and disable many of these Congress squads. Quite a large number of militant and honest members of these Congress squads left their ranks to join the Communists. It is a matter of historical evidence that the Indian Government concluded a stand- still agreement with the Nizam, went in providing the Nizam’s forces with arms and ammunition, while the Nizam Government and its police and army personnel trampled on the people and on the freedom fighters in the state. Once when the Nizam police raided and seized the wounded fighters on their way from the Munagala enclave to Vijayawada, the Government of India for long refused to adopt any measures to get them released or prevent such actions being repeated. The anti-Razakar, anti-Nizam armed struggle crystallised in the Telangana area rapidly; village squads with about 10,000 members and regular guerrilla squads with more than 2,000 members were formed; innumerable struggles, heroic deeds, nearly 2,000 militants, fighters and leaders shed their lives but taking a heavy toll of the Nizam’s armed personnel, police agents, Razakars, landlords and their goondas; driving them away from villages; 3,000 villages administered by village panch committees or gram rajyams; land distribution, education and health, and all rural services administered by these fighting people’s committees.

Weaknesses (based on ‘Telengana People’s Struggle and Some Lessons’ by P Sundarayya)

The biggest weakness, from the military point of view was absence of any kind of military training: knowledge of use of fire-arms, its manufacture or its repair was so appalling that even great enthusiasm and sacrifice could not rectify it. Elementary lack of military tactics, for planning attacks or retreat, was so comprehensive that we failed to coordinate small guerrilla squads’ actions against the enemy. It could not convert small-scale guerrilla actions to niggle the enemy, into sufficiently large-scale operations to disperse the enemy from their scattered posts and vacate the enemy from larger and larger areas.
One of the biggest flaws during the whole of the Telangana movement was the weakness of the democratic movement engulfing the cities and towns in Hyderabad state. There was very little industrial development in these cities; as such the working class was very small. Whatever existed, there was hardly organised working class movement, and in what was there our Party was even weaker. There was sparse growth of the intelligentsia, and a good portion of whatever comprised the big feudal or other landlord families. They were pro-Nizam.
The Telangana movement was essentially a peasant partisan movement which could not be woven into a real united worker-peasant onslaught on the enemy! The weakness of the democratic movement, especially the revolutionary working class movement and the Communist Party in the cities prevailed. Arguably, in important phases the secret party structure could not be preserved, allowing for enemy infiltration.
By the time the Telangana peasant movement adopted its armed partisan character against Nizam’s rule; the postwar upsurge in the rest of India had been checked or curbed by the ruling classes. Political power was transferred by the imperialists to the Indian bourgeois-landlord classes. The sectarian approach adopted by the Communist Party had further isolated it from the people. No moral solidarity actions in support of the Telangana movement could be organised. When time the Indian army stormed into Hyderabad state, it was left to fight on its own. Only in the Andhra part of the Madras state, the Party and the people had become the backyard of the Telangana struggle. The Congress Government mercilessly crushed it , the first attack in the first half of 1947 and the second attack beginning from January 1948 and lasting till the middle of 1951.


In my personal view the correct course of the Telengana armed struggle was not the Russian insurrection path of or Chinese path of peoples war ,even if it has striking similarities in important respects with Chinese path, but a model unique for Indian conditions or terrain. It still has relevance today for Indian revolutionary movement Communist party to construct a genuinely correct path to tread path o mass line and rectify left or rightist deviations.
Quoting the thesis 1948 Andhra Secretariat.” Our revolution in many respects differs from the classical Russian Revolution, but to a great extent is similar to that of the Chinese Revolution. The persitectivt tiekly is not that of a general strike and armed uprising leading to liberation of the rural side but of dogged resistance and prolonged civil war in the form of agrarian revolution, culminating in the capture of political power by the Democratic Front.”
This passage does not contain anything which can be interpreted as Indian revolution being an imitation of Chinese revolution. It only says that our revolution is similar, to a great extent' to that of Chinese revolution. Taking similarities as the basis, we are expected to apply the Chinese path to the concrete practice of Indian revolution.
Important to highlight that it was not merely a struggle directed at the Nizam,but an agrarian revolutionary struggle that relentlessly seized lakhs of acres of land from the possession of the landlords, and sent tremors in the belly of feudal landlords, as well as delivered a fitting blow ,to traditional forms of feudal oppression. The mass base and character of mass movement was determined by the distribution of land, .The agrarian revolutionary programme propelled the armed actions. People’s preparation or readiness to withstand the landlords and armed forces, traversed heights unscaled in Indian revolutionary history and the retaliatory counter attacks manifested surgical strategic planning. At junctures the enemy forces were mortally struck. After gaining heavy losses, it brilliantly created reserves to replenish it’s forces and resurrect itself.
Ironic that DV Rao revealed that military action did not wipe out the movement, giving concrete examples of Manukota area, Palwancha area,Bhuvanagiri area,Huzumagar area ,Janagaon,Warangal area,Mahbubnagar district and Adilabad district. Reports illustrated that people’s capacity for struggle was not exhausted, who are prepared to extend their revolutionary gains and pursue path of armed struggle.
Quoting DV Rao, “The Experience of Telengana prove that since people’s army was formed in the course of anti-feudal armed struggle in Telengana ,It is also possible to develop people’s armies ,in other parts of India by developing anti-feudal armed struggles. there. How incorrect it is to say that armed struggles cannot be victorious without the rear of countries like Soviet Russia and China is proved not only be the revolutionary experiences of Cuba and Algeria but also by those of Telengana armed Struggle which went on for five years. In situations where socialist countries are not at the rear, we have to carry on defensive battles for a protracted tenure. It would be imperative for the struggle to spread to other parts of the country.In vast countries with centralized administration like India it is only through protracted armed struggle that we can weaken the centralised power and break it to pieces and victoriously complete the revolution. Only by undertaking armed struggle the heavily fortified machinery of the rulers can be challenged.”
Tragically, the Communist Party of India, capitulated to the parliamentary path in 1951. No doubt there has been drastic change in India, in every sphere, with the advent of globalisation and digital age, with imperialism adopting a more pernicious form and escalating it’s influence or control of feudalism, and Hindutva neo-fascism sharpening it’s fangs as never before. Today the same geographic terrain does not exist as in time of Telengana in terms of the fusion of the peasantry and working class, with vast changes in communication systems.
I highly respect the thesis of DV Rao, but assert that thesis of Stalinists on partisan warfare cannot be completely rejected on Telengana experience. Neverthless more than anyone, I recommend studying DV Rao’s works on the Telengana Armed Struggle available in Proletarian line publications. DV Rao’s Telengana Armed Struggle and the Path of Indian Revolution’ most surgically make a diagnosis of why it blossomed and was later defeated. A most important work also is ‘In Refutation of Wrong Trends advocating withdrawal of Telengana Armed Struggle ,which encovers or unravels ever aspect. Very important chapters are those on dealing with fascist repression, mass struggles and mass organisations and differentiation between insurrection and guerrilla struggles.
I strongly feel in the prevailing scenario or conditions in India, the fusion of the Working class and peasantry, and application of Chinese Peoples War path cannot be applied as DV Rao prescribed. ’Telengana Peoples Struggle and Some Lessons’ by P.Sundaraaya is also a must read, being a most remarkable piece of research and historical summary. July, August and September issues of ‘Class Struggle’,organ of the CPI(ML) contain a most lucid and well analysed historical account of the uprising ,by Viswam.
Today, when the Indian peasantry has been trapped by neo-liberal policies and caused farmers' suicide, we must imbibe the lessons of the Telangana revolution. We learn that oppression has its roof, whereas liberation knows no boundaries has no limitations. A liberated world can be born, which comrades of Telangana laid an example.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist



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