The Gujarat election will revive charges that Narendra Modi killed a thousand Muslims in the 2002 Gujarat riots, with the BJP accusing Rajiv Gandhi of killing 3000 Sikhs in the 1984 Delhi riots. To get a sense of perspective, i did some research on communal riots in past decades. I was astounded to find that the greatest communal slaughter occurred under neither Modi nor Rajiv but Nehru. His takeover of Hyderabad in 1948 caused maybe 50,000-200,000 deaths. The Sunderlal report on this massacre has been kept an official secret for over 60 years. While other princes acceded to either India or Pakistan in 1947, the Nizam of Hyderabad aimed to remain independent. This was complicated by a Marxist uprising. The Nizam’s Islamic militia, the Razakars, killed and raped many Hindus. This incensed Sardar Patel and Nehru, who ordered the Army into Hyderabad. The Army’s swift victory led to revenge killings and rapes by Hindus on an unprecedented scale.

Civil rights activist AG Noorani has cited Prof Cantwell Smith, a critic of Jinnah, in The Middle Eastern Journal, 1950. “The only careful report on what happened in this period was made a few months later by investigators – including a Congress Muslim and a sympathetic and admired Hindu (Professor Sunderlal) – commissioned by the Indian government. The report was submitted but has not been published; presumably it makes unpleasant reading. It is widely held that the figure mentioned therein for the number of Muslims massacred is 50,000. Other estimates by responsible observers run as high as 200,000.”

A lower but still horrific estimate comes from UCLA Professor Perry Anderson. “When the Indian Army took over Hyderabad, massive Hindu pogroms against the Muslim population broke out, aided and abetted by its regulars. On learning something of them, the figurehead Muslim Congressman in Delhi, Maulana Azad, then minister of education, prevailed on Nehru to let a team investigate. It reported that at a conservative estimate between 27,000 and 40,000 Muslims had been slaughtered in the space of a few weeks after the Indian takeover. This was the largest single massacre in the history of the Indian Union, dwarfing the killings by the Pathan raiders en route to Srinagar which India has ever since used as the casus belli for its annexation of Kashmir.

“Nehru, on proclaiming Indian victory in Hyderabad, had announced that ‘not a single communal incident’ marred the triumph. What action did he take on receiving the report? He suppressed it, and at Patel’s urging cancelled the appointment of one of its authors as ambassador in the Middle East. No word about the pogroms, in which his own troops had taken eager part, could be allowed to leak out. Twenty years later, when news of the report finally surfaced, his daughter banned the publication of the document as injurious to national interests.”

Perry Andersen is accused by some of anti-Indian bias. This cannot be said of author William Dalrymple. In The Age of Kali, Dalrymple says the Sunderlal report has been leaked and published abroad, and “estimates that as many as 200,000 Hyderabadi Muslims were slaughtered.”

Our textbooks and TV programmes show Sardar Patel and Nehru as demi-gods who created a unified India. The truth is more sordid. You will not find any mention of the Hyderabad massacre in our standard history books (just as Pakistani textbooks have deleted reference to the East Pakistan massacre of 1971). The air-brushing of Patel and Nehru is complete. My friends ask, why rake up the 1948 horrors now? You sound like an apologist for Modi’s killings of 2002.

I can only say that the killings of 1948 cannot possibly justify the killings of 2002, or 1984, or any others. Modi has blood on his hands, whether or not he was directly culpable. But why pretend that others had spotlessly clean hands? There is a macabre logic in the praises Modi has recently heaped on Patel: the two were not entirely dissimilar. Nations need to acknowledge their past errors in order to avoid them in the future. Germany acknowledged the horrors of fascism and militarism, and this helped it build a new anti-war society focused on human rights.

Something is terribly wrong when Indian citizens are kept in dark about the biggest pogrom since Independence, even after foreign sources have lifted the lid. India’s jihadi press is fully aware of the 1948 massacre, and projects its censorship as evidence of Hindu oppression. This is not how a liberal democracy should function. India cannot become a truly unified nation on the basis of suppressed reports and sanitized textbooks. The Sunderlal report must be made public.