Last week, readers of DC got a chance to see a secret telegram sent in cipher by the Nizam.
Briefly, it was a telegram to his legal adviser, Sir Walter Monckton, in the UK.
The coded text was: LBHJVYYOR FHECEVFRQ GBXABJGUNG ABGJVGUFGNAQVAT VAQVNA HAVBA CEBZVFVAT GBFHCCYL HFBHE DHBGNBS NEZFQHR SEBZ SVSGRRAGU NHTHFG YNFGNAQNYFB NAQNYFB NFXVAT HFGB FRAQ BHEZRA GBSRGPU GURZ GURL WHFG VAGVZR VFFHRQ BEQREF GBGURVEZRA ABGGB GNXR NPGVBA JUVPU ZRNAF HCUBYQVAT FHCCYL GVYY SHEGURE BEQREFFGBC VNZ ERNYYL NFGBAVFURQ GBFRR GUVF XVAQBS GNPGVPF CRECRGENGRQ OLGURZ NAQGUVF FUBJF JUNG UBCR VFGURER SBEBHE YBATGREZ NEENATRZRAG JUVPU JRCEBCBFR GBZNXR JVGU GURZFGBC BAGUR BGUREUNAQ ARTBGVNGVBAF PNAABGTBBA VAQRSVAVGRYL FBGURL ZHFG PBZR GBNARAQ FBBA FVAPR ABTBBQ CYNLVAT GURTNZRBS UVQRNAQ FRRX NAL YBATREFGBC CYRNFR OEVAT GURFR GUVATF GBGUR ABGVPRBS UVTU NHGUBEVGVRF VARATYNAQFGBC UBCVAT GBFRRLBH OLGURRAQBS GUVF ZBAGUAVMNZ
How does one decode this? This code is known as the Caesar Code or the Shift Cipher. For each letter, another would replace it, at a fixed distance from the original letter. As an example, a shift of 3 would mean that A would be replaced by D, B by an E, and so on. The name DECCAN CHRONICLE would, in this case, be coded as GHFFDQ FKURQLFOH. Some people also use the frequency of occurrence of letters in the English language: the most frequent is E, then T, then A. Also, the most frequent first letter of a word is T, then A. Using this information, one can decode easily. Nowadays, with the use of a computer, a telegram such as this one can be cracked in less than one minute.
The Nizam’s telegram uses a right shift of 13. This means A becomes N, B becomes O, and so on. So the word NIZAM would be AVMNZ. As you can see, the letters AVMNZ are the last 5 letters of the telegram.
Applying this code, the telegram reads: YOUWILLBE SURPRISED TOKNOWTHAT NOTWITHSTANDING INDIAN UNION PROMISING TOSUPPLY USOUR QUOTAOF ARMSDUE FROM FIFTEENTH AUGUST LASTANDALSO ANDALSO ASKING USTO SEND OURMEN TOFETCH THEM THEY JUST INTIME ISSUED ORDERS TOTHEIRMEN NOTTO TAKE ACTION WHICH MEANS UPHOLDING SUPPLY TILL FURTHER ORDERSSTOP IAM REALLY ASTONISHED TOSEE THIS KINDOF TACTICS PERPETRATED BYTHEM ANDTHIS SHOWS WHAT HOPE ISTHERE FOROUR LONGTERM ARRANGEMENT WHICH WEPROPOSE TOMAKE WITH THEMSTOP ONTHE OTHERHAND NEGOTIATIONS CANNOTGOON INDEFINITELY SOTHEY MUST COME TOANEND SOON SINCE NOGOOD PLAYING THEGAMEOF HIDEAND SEEK ANY LONGERSTOP PLEASE BRING THESE THINGS TOTHE NOTICEOF HIGH AUTHORITIES INENGLANDSTOP HOPING TOSEEYOU BYTHEENDOF THIS MONTHNIZAM
There are a few observations to make here: firstly, the spaces between words have been eliminated, perhaps deliberately to throw codebreakers off track; secondly, some words were repeated either due to clerical errors (such as “ANDALSO”, above) or due to confusion during the coding process (bear in mind that there were no computers in those days); and lastly, they maintained the protocol of telegraph language, using STOP to indicate a full stop in the message.
Knowing that STOP occurs in the text, and applying several shift ciphers easily leads us to decode the telegram.
The context of the telegram is straightforward. It was sent in March 1948. The Nizam complains to Sir Walter that the Indian government is not honouring its word of supplying arms. Around this time, the atmosphere of discussions between Hyderabad and India had started to erode. The Nizam had decided to invoke the offices of the United Nations in his dispute with India.
What is the subtext of the telegram?
Surely, the Nizam must have known that the Indian Government would intercept and decode the telegram? In any case, looking at the telegram, it is obvious that it was sent from the Telegraph office at the Hyderabad Residency, which was already under Indian control. What then is the purpose of the telegram?
Was the Nizam trying to signal his intentions to the Indian government? By asking Sir Walter to bring the information to the “high authorities in England”, was the Nizam playing up as a “faithful ally” of the English government? Or was he plain and simple telling the Governor General Lord Mountbatten that he was bypassing him? Or something else?
We have to leave it there as we are now in the realm of conjecture, tyring to guess the Nizam’s motivation.
After the publication of the coded telegram last week in Deccan Chronicle, I got emails with the correct decoding from Mrs Ramadevi Venkateswaran, Narla Dattatreyulu Reddy, Amrith Konda, Srirama Moorthy Mangalampalli, Fr Antoine J. Lawrence Chrysos-tom, Hari Krish-nan, Nitin Dudhyal, Anita Sivakumar, Shivani Mothey, Rajesh Dev, El Shaikh, Sagar Siripuram, Abhinav Baid, Srikanth Yashas-wi and Abhijeet Bhalkikar.