Dinesh C. Sharma | How the Nizam in 1947 waged propaganda war against India

We live in the information age, bombarded with thousands of messages, news stories and data daily. Political parties, governments and corporations leverage the power of the mainstream media and social media to influence public opinion. Just imagine doing the same when there were no social media platforms, smartphones and the Internet. How did governments and rulers try to sway public opinion in such times? How did they reach out to editors and journalists with their side of the story?

The Nizam government designed a well-crafted strategy to wage a propaganda war against India when negotiations were underway for the standstill agreement with the Government of India after August 1947. The task of moulding international public opinion in its favour was given to Mir Nawaz Jung, who was to be appointed Hyderabad’s agent-general in London. He worked in tandem with a well-oiled information department in Hyderabad. In anticipation of the standstill agreement getting sealed, Jung was deputed to London to renew existing contacts in the British press and to make new ones with newspapers and journals. Jung cabled Hyderabad on September 25, 1947, saying “heavy publicity would be needed to explain Hyderabad’s point of view to the press in London”. He was staying in Dorchester Hotel at the government’s expense. An account of his activities in London has come to light in the declassified papers of the ministry of states (now the ministry of home affairs).

Jung intensified the propaganda effort after being appointed Hyderabad’s agent general in London. He prepared two booklets giving “the background of Hyderabad’s views about the constitutional changes in India” for the British and American press. These were meant for private circulation and given to “a few friends confidentially”, Jung informed A.M. Razaki who was director of the information bureau in Hyderabad. The booklets contained copies of the correspondence between the Nizam and the Viceroy, and a detailed note on Hyderabad’s historical and constitutional position as explained in letters and speeches of the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. The booklets were published in the name of Sir William Barton and vetted by solicitor John Brynyste from the firm that was advising the Nizam on constitutional matters.

Besides briefing friendly journalists in London, Jung also arranged press visits to Hyderabad. In April 1948, Jung wrote to Prime Minister Mir Laik Ali about a journalist, Irwin Douglas, who was visiting Hyderabad. “He is a writer of great repute and has written several books. He is a representative of the Sydney Morning Herald in London and his reports will be published not only in the Commonwealth of Australia where they are particularly interested in the affairs of the continent of India but also in London through Reuters and in the United States,” Jung wrote. He requested Laik Ali to make all the arrangements for a comfortable stay of Douglas in Hyderabad.

The information bureau had to incur heavy expenses, including secret payments to lobbyists. In February 1948, the bureau sent 450 pounds sterling to be paid to two people but requested complete confidentiality. “The object of our arrangement with Sir Frank Brown and Mr Richter is delicate; the former is to keep us informed of political developments in the UK while the latter does publicity on our behalf. Thus, it is undesirable to expose their identities,” M. Ikramullah, deputy secretary in the information bureau wrote to the agent general. Jung asked Hyderabad to inform the Reserve Bank of India that the fund was meant for “salaries and allowances of the office of the agent general in London”.

The propaganda war and political lobbying did result in some gains for the beleaguered Nizam. During the debate on foreign affairs in the House of Commons in May 1948, an independent member, R.A. Butler, criticised Jawaharlal Nehru for using “warlike and undesirable language for Hyderabad”. Referring to Hyderabad as “an unhappy state”, he said the question of Hyderabad could not be solved by war or accession. In his reply to the debate, Prime Minister Attlee mentioned that “if a war is fought, the only reason for this would be interference by the Government of India.” The story was played up in the pro-Nizam Hyderabad press. Ittehad commented that “the warning given by [Clement] Attlee should open the eyes of India,” which had lost prestige due to its acts of interference and oppression. Delhi did not respond to the mentions in the House of Commons or Hyderabad newspapers but decided to end the uncertainty with military action just a few months later.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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