Hyderabad, Deccan, Pakistan, India, Indian Subcontinent, 1947, International Law

In 1947, the British Empire gave independence to the Indo Pak subcontinent forming the states of India and Pakistan. The British left the local rulers of the princely states the choice of whether to join one or the other; or to remain independent. The three most important of these states were Hyderabad Deccan, Kashmir and Junagadh. On June 11, 1947, the Nizam, who was the ruler of Hyderabad, issued an affirmation to the effect that he had determined not to partake in the Constituent Assembly of either Pakistan or India.

On 9 July, 1947, the Nizam in a letter to the Crown Representative requested that Hyderabad be granted dominion status. However, this approach was rife with hurdles. Given the Nizam’s resolve not to join either India or Pakistan, this would have left Hyderabad as an independent country entirely surrounded by the state of India. The ruler was a Muslim, but the Hindus outnumbered the Muslims by a considerable majority in the state of Hyderabad.

The Nizam was in a weak position as his army numbered only 24,000 men, of whom only some 6,000 were fully trained and equipped. Also, the additional factors of Hyderabad’s geographical location and Hindu majority in Hyderabad made the Nizam sign a Stand Still Agreement pending the settlement with India on 29 November 1947, in order to counter India’s persistence on accession to it. The agreement was to remain in force for a period of one year. It stipulated that the disputes could be referred to the arbitration of two arbitrators, one appointed by each of the parties, and an umpire appointed by those arbitrators.

The Indian government refused to accept Hyderabad’s independence, and initiated its efforts to carry out a so-called “Hyderabad Police Action” against the Nizam.

On 21 August, 1948, the Secretary General of the Hyderabad Department of External Affairs requested the President of the United Nations’ Security Council under Article 35(2) of the United Nations’ Charter, to consider the “grave dispute, which, unless settled in accordance with international law and justice, is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.”

On 4 September, the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, Mir Laiq Ali, announced to the Hyderabad Assembly that a delegation was about to leave for the United Nations’ at Lake Success, headed by Moin Nawaz Jung. The Nizam also appealed, albeit unsuccessfully, to the British Labour Government and to the King of England for assistance, to fulfill their obligations and promises to Hyderabad by “immediate intervention”. Hyderabad only had the support of Winston Churchill and the British Conservatives.

At 4 a.m. on 13 September, 1948, India’s Hyderabad Campaign, code named “Operation Polo” by the Indian Army, began. Indian troops invaded Hyderabad from all points of the compass. On the same day, the Secretary General of the Hyderabad Department of External Affairs in a cablegram informed the United Nations’ Security Council that Hyderabad was being invaded by Indian forces and that hostilities had broken out. The Security Council took notice of it on 16 September in Paris. The representative of Hyderabad called for immediate action by the Security Council, under chapter VII of the United Nations’ Charter. The Hyderabad representative responded to India’s excuse for the intervention by pointing out that the Stand Still Agreement between the two countries had expressly provided that nothing in it should give India the right to send in troops to assist in the maintenance of internal order.

At 5 p.m. on 17 September, the Nizam surrendered. India then incorporated the state of Hyderabad into the Union of India, and ended the rule of the Nizams. The annexation of Hyderabad was generally welcomed by many Hindus in the state, but Muslims emphasized the unlawfulness of the invasion. It was reported that nearly one hundred thousand Muslims’ lost their lives due to this police action with higher estimates, according to non-official resources.  This prompted many Muslims to migrate to Pakistan, mainly to Karachi, which has a sizeable Hyderabadi Muhajir community.

On 6 October, 1948, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Zafarullah Khan, requested the President of the United Nations’ Security Council that Pakistan be permitted to participate in the discussion of the Hyderabad question in accordance with Article 31 of the United Nations’ Charter.

It is necessary to observe whether or not this act that occurred between the two states fits in the paradigm of International Law or not. For this purpose it is necessary to examine the action in light of the Article 2 of the UN Charter.

“The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

  1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
  2. All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
  3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
  4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
  5. All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.
  6. The Organization shall ensure that states which are not Members of the United Nations act in accordance with these Principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.
  7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.”

Looking upon the relevant article, it can be observed that India stood in gross violation of Article 2(3) and Article 2(4). Not only did India not utilize peaceful means to settle the issue with Hyderabad, but it violated an agreement that it had already signed with the Nizam. India violated Article 2(4) when it attacked and incorporated the territory of Hyderabad into its own. Hyderabad did not remain in its original shape but was divided among the Indian states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. This was allegedly done to “erase the culture, language, history and literature of Hyderabad”; and shows the intent to harm the territorial integrity of Hyderabad.

The Government of India did try to use loopholes to justify their annexation of Hyderabad. First of all they labeled their invasion of Hyderabad as a “Police Action” instead of a military action or war as it is commonly known, which would have invited UN intervention. However, Article 2(4) does not use the term “war” but rather refers to “the threat or use of force.” Although clearly encompassed by the article, it is ambiguous whether the article only refers to military force or economic, political, ideological, or psychological force.  However, in this case, the utilization of the Indian military shows that the action fits the criteria of force as mentioned by Article 2(4). Furthermore, police actions are only justified or authorized specifically by the Security Council under Article 53 (for regional action) or Article 42 (for global action).

Furthermore, the invasion and subsequent annexation of Hyderabad is in itself a contradiction to the past practice of India. The majority of Princely States that acceded to India did so when their rulers signed the instruments of accession by free will. The same pleas are used to justify the Indian claim to the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, whose Hindu Raja acceded to India over the wishes of his majority Muslim subjects. Such a selective use is not justifiable under any tenant of International Law.

At the end it can be concluded that the invasion and annexation of Hyderabad, a separate state by India, is an act which violates Article 2 of the UN charter; a stark violation of International Law. While the reaction of the UN to this crisis was extremely lackluster to say the slightest. Yet, still a course of action can be taken to provide justice to the victims of this violation. At the least, tribunals can be set up to investigate the matter of killing and looting that occurred during India’s Operation Polo.

Jawad Falak

is an M. Phil scholar in the discipline of International Relations at the NDU. Previously he has attained a Gold medal in M.Sc IR and wrote a thesis on the evolution of Militant Hindutva. He is also an ACCA member. Currently Jawad looks after the academics of the CSCR.

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