Telangana Movement was a peasant uprising which took place in the Princely State of Hyderabad in the Telangana region in 1946. It was a communist-led rebellion against oppressive landlordism patronised by the autocratic rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad. The peasants started turning towards communism, organised themselves through the Andhra Mahasabha and launched the Telangana uprising. The Movement continued until 1951 in one way or the other. The rebellion ended when the military administration set up by the Nehru Government took over the Princely State of Hyderabad.
Before India’s independence, the Princely State of Hyderabad retained a feudal system in its agricultural economy, which had two main types of land tenure: Diwani (or Khlasa) and Jagir (a distinct category of land).
The lands designated as jagir were granted to aristocrats called jagirdars. A portion of the jagir lands was held as the crown lands (sarf-e-khas) of Nizam. The civil court had no jurisdiction over the jagir lands, which allowed the jagirdars to impose several forms of exorbitant arbitrary taxes on the peasants and extract revenue through private agents.
The diwani tenure resembled the ryotwari system introduced by the British in other parts of the country. It had hereditary revenue collectors: Deshmukhs and Deshpandes. These revenue collectors were granted land annuities called vatans based on past revenue collections.
The diwani lands legally held by the Government were divided into small sections called pattas. The pattas were registered to occupants, who were responsible for the payment of land revenue. The registered occupants included peasants who cultivated their own land or occupants who either employed agricultural labourers or rented out the lands to the tenants. The tenants, called shikmidars, had tenancy rights and could not be evicted on the condition that they fulfil land revenue obligations.
Over three-fourths of the tenants were ‘tenants at will‘ (asami shikmidars) who retained land revenue obligations but did not have tenancy rights. They could become shikmidars after a period of Twelve years, though in practice, they were evicted within three to four years.
The responsibility for registration lay with the deshmuks and deshpandes, who had access to land records. There was a lack of literacy among the peasants. The system turned deshmuks and deshpandes into a hybrid of a feudal lord and a bureaucrat who frequently acquired more lands from the peasants and forced them into the status of ‘tenants at will’ and landless labourers. The individual deshmukhs and deshpandes had several villages under their domains, and they appointed personal officials called seridars to manage each town.
Hyderabad was a feudal monarchy, where most of the land was concentrated in the hands of landed aristocrats known as Doras in Telangana. The feudal system was particularly harsh in the Telangana region. The powerful Deshmukh and jagirdar aristocracy, locally called ‘Doras‘ (or Durras), additionally function as money lenders and as the highest village officials.
Feudal exploitation in the Telangana region was more severe. The Doras had complete power over the peasants and could subject them to agricultural slavery. The conditions worsened during the 1930s due to the Great Depression and a transition towards commercial crops.
In the 1940s, the peasants began turning towards communism, organised themselves through associations such as Andhra Mahasabha and began the rights Movement.
The first incursion of the Communist Movement in Telangana occurred in the Warangal district through the peasants. The first communist organisations were established in Warangal and Nalgonda districts through the efforts of Chandra Rajeswara Rao.
The Andhra Conference grew in popularity among the peasants and started being referred to as the Andhra Mahasabha (AMS) in Telangana. Prominent feminists, disappointed with the Congress, who formed the Mahila Navjeevan Mandali in 1941, also joined the AMS and eventually became Members of the Communist Party of India.
Agitation of 1944-46
Between 1944 and 1946, the Communist Movement became widespread in the Telangana region The ‘Andhra Mahasabha’ controlled by communists substantially increased its membership in the districts of Warangal, Nalgonda, and Karimnagar.
The Movement formed a class alliance between disparate caste groups, the middle peasantry with small landholdings, the rural poor and landless labourers. Numerous villages were entangled with communist organisations. Agrarian radicalism was heightened and a mass movement developed with a series of Agrarian agitations against the Doras aristocrats beginning in 1944. These agitations were non-violent and employed tactics such as non-cooperation, withdrawal of services and refusal to pay technically illegal taxes.
The presence of organised groups within the villages intimidated Doras and the administration. As the Movement went on, the private militias of the landlords and the police were sent to conduct violent attacks on the agitators with greater frequency. Hyderabad State passed legislation for minimum tenurial security in 1945, which only worsened conditions as landlords resorted to frequent mass evictions to prevent the accrual of tenancy rights. The rising prices and food scarcity after the Second World War further aggravated Agrarian distress.
Course of Uprising
The post-war economic distress after the Second World War and political development played a catalytic role in a feudal system, which was already conducive for the uprising. The village-level agitations against the aristocratic Doras landlords escalated into an insurrection.
By early 1946, the influence of the communists in the Warangal and Nalgonda districts had become so powerful that the administration, including Nizam’s order, was unable to function in large areas.
One major incident on 4 July 1946 marked the beginning of the Telangana rebellion when a local peasant leader, Doddi Komarayya, was killed by thugs of Deshmukh in the Kadavendi village of Warangal district. The peasant group proceeded to set fire to the residence of the Deshmukh before they were dispersed by the arrival of the armed police. In the following days, 200 acres of land in a neighbouring village were seized from the Deshmukh’s estate and redistributed by the peasants.
Beginning in the districts of Warangal and Nalgonda, the uprising evolved into a revolution across Telangana in response to continued repression by the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan. By the end of July, around 300-400 villages in the districts of Nalgonda, Warrangal, and Khamman experienced militant action by the peasants against the local estates and officials.
In August 1946, the press wing of the Communist Party of India announced that the villages were under the control of peasants and launched a national campaign to rally support for the uprising, publicising the demands of the peasantry and highlighting feudal exploitation and brutality. In October 1946, the Andhra Conference was banned, and the police began arresting communists.
The peasant organised themselves into village sanghams and attacked using lathis, stone slings and chilli powder. They had to face brutal repression. While the rebel forces went on a successful guerrilla offensive, the Hyderabad State Forces and the police, along with the paramilitary Razakars (Nizam’s stormtroopers), were unable to suppress the rebellion & were routed.
Telangana rebellion was at its highest intensity between August 1947 and September 1948, covered nearly all of the Telangana region and had at least 4,000 villages directly administered by the communes. The Movement was supported by the left-wing faction of the Hyderabad State Congress, many of whom later joined the Socialist Party of India.
The communist peasant rebellion set up a parallel system of governance called village communes or gram rajyams, which managed all administrative and judicial functions. They consisted of ‘samitis’ (committees) elected in village meetings. The samitis supervised the redistribution of land and organised systems for dispute resolution and to address complaints, conflicts, and abuses. These systems replaced the former role of the Deshmukhs.
This new system of governance, composed of village communes (gram rajyams), marked a radical shift from a feudal autocracy to a network of decentralised village democracies, causing a ‘social revolution‘ in the course of rebellion. With the ‘social revolution’, the caste and gender distinctions were reduced, increased women’s workforce participation, including in the armed squads, and the conditions of peasants significantly improved with land redistribution.
Decline of Uprising
Telangana Rebellion ended when the Nehru Government sent the Indian security forces, which unexpectedly launched an attack on the communes immediately following the annexation of Hyderabad.
In September 1948, the Dominion of India launched a military intervention for the Annexation of Hyderabad. The intervention, officially described as “police action”, was justified on the grounds of ending the undemocratic feudal regime of the Nizam and the Razakar repression enabled by him.
The Indian army marched into the Princely State of Hyderabad on 13 September 1948. The peasant communes perceived the military intervention as a positive development, not an attack on them. The villagers believed the army was helping them defeat Nizam’s Government.
Once the security forces took over Hyderbad, the rebellion fizzled out. The Movement continued until 1951 in one way and another. On 25 December 1951, the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued an eventual call for the rebels to lay down arms and officially declared the end of the Telangana rebellion.
The Telangana Movement was the biggest guerrilla war in modern Indian history, affecting 3000 villages and 3 million population. The Movement had many positive achievements to its credit:
- In the villages controlled by the peasant communes, the forced labour (vethi) disappeared.
- Illegally seized lands were restored.
- Agricultural wages were raised.
- Steps were taken to fix ceilings and redistribute lands.
- An improvement in the condition of women was witnessed.
- The Movement shaken-up the autocratic-feudal regime of India’s biggest Princely State, clearing the way for the formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic lines and realising another aim of the national movement in the region.