Even though the The First Indian War Of Indepedence , 1857 started of with an aggressive note and jolted the British empire , it failed to sustain the momentum for long and ended unsuccessfully. The officers of The East India company putdown the uprising in the major centres inflicting severe causalities among the Indian soldiers and their leaders. Thousands of Indian soldiers were either killed in the battles or taken as prisoners and then hanged shot down brutally by the company’s Officers .
Of the main leaders of the rebellion,Nana Sahib learnt to have escaped to Nepal in 1859 and believed to have died there.His commander Thantya Tope carried on the fight adopting guerrilla tactics which frustrated the British, finally betrayed by one of his compatriots.He was tried in a military court and was hanged on April 18, 1859, in General Meade’s camp at Shivpuri. Another brave warrior Rani Lakshmi Bai died fighting in the battle near Gwallior on 18 June 18.The aged king Bahaddur Shaw Zafar who was declared by the rebel Indian soldiers as their emperor was arrested and tried for rebellion and treason against the British. He was accused of aiding killing of English soldiers and civilians. He was exiled to Rangoon on 7 October 1858. The symbolic leader of the revolt 1857 known as the ,the “Last Mughal” died in his prison at Rangoon four years later on 7 November 1862.
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Begum Hazrat Mahal the queen of Oudh King Nawab Wajid Ali II , was another illustrious leader of the rebellion and was a pivitol figure in organising the resistance in Lucknow .Having been defeated and loosing Lucknow city ,she escaped to Nepal and sought asylum there. She died in exile in 1879 at Kathmandu Nepal. The rebellion in Arrah Bihar was headed by the peasent leader and landlord Raja Kunwar singh of Jagdishpur.He fought valiantly and regained his small kingdom defeating the company’s forces in April 1858 and died soon after on 26 April 1858.After his death the British forces easily gained control in Eastern part of India.
With the defeat of all the major leaders ,it was curtains down for the First Indian War of Independence which had lasted for more than a year before being finally suppressed by the middle of 1858.Having seen how the brave Indian soldiers lost their valiant rebellion against their British officers in East India Company, let us examine the reasons and circumstance which caused them to lose the rebellion.
Causes of Failure of the Revolt: Why the rebellion failed?
- The most important cause of failure was that the revolt failed to envelop the whole of India. It was estimated that not more than one fourth of the total area and not more than one tenth of the total population was affected. The entire southern states were not at all affected by the revolt and the big kingdoms of Mysore under Wadeyars and Hyderabad under the Nizam refrained from participation. Thus South India remained quiet and Punjab and Bengal were only marginally affected. The revolt was mainly feudal in character carrying with it some nationalist elements.
- Of the three British Presidencies only Kolkatta Presidency was affected and there was no revolt in the Bombay and Madras presidencies with their armies free of any revolt by the Indian sepoys.
- Even in northern part of India ,some of the local rulers like Scidia of Gwalior, the Holkar of Indore, the Raja of Jodhpur, the Nawab of Bhopal, the rulers of Patiala (Punjab), Sindh and Kashmir and the Rana of Nepal provided active support to the British thus effectively weakening the resistance movement.
- Some sections of society like the money lenders, merchants, modern educated Indians didn’t support the cause. The modern intelligent Indian civilians and intellectuals were against the rebellion and thought it was very uncivilised revolt by undisciplined soldiers.
- The military resources like artillery, cannons and superior rifles at the disposal of the British were far superior than the ones available to the Indians .In contrast the military equipment of the rebels was inferior.
- The important resources and facilities like Telegraph and Postal were at the disposal of the British aiding their communication channels which helped them to manoeuvre their troops according to their needs. Overall they were far ahead compared to the Indian soldiers.
- It was an unplanned revolt and it lacked central organization and strategy. Company’s British generals were able to give more systematic centralised leadership. Comparative lack of efficient leadership among the rebel forces.
It was not a universal revolt; it was sporadic and inconsistent.
- Just as early victories against the British had earlier encouraged rebellion and spurred Indian soldiers, the subsequent series of defeats of rebel forces encouraged desertions thus depleting their strength. This resulted in the rebellion petered out gradually.
- the rebel Indian soldiers were poorly led by their leaders. Most of them failed to realize the significance of the Revolt apart from a commonly shared hatred for alien rule. Neither the rebel soldiers nor their leaders had clear planning , lacked political perspective and could not fight the British with a concerted effort and strength.
- The rebels represented diverse elements with differing views with differing grievances and their leaders did not have a definite vision of the future. Almost half the Indian soldiers not only did not Revolt but fought against their own countrymen. The revolt was poorly organized with no co-ordination or central leadership.
The British took advantage of these weaknesses and given their superior artillery and better weaponry were able to defeat the revolution with their astute leadership and strong support from their government.
After the Revolt of 1857, power was transferred from the East India Company to the British Monarchy.
Impact and Effects of the Revolt on the British government:-
Though the armed forces of the East India Company succeeded with a resounding victory against the rebellious Indian soldiers, It exposed the failure of their policy and the inherent deficiencies of Company’s administration drew adverse criticism from the British media and their citizen at large. The British parliament realised that the revolt of 1857 was not just a mere product of Indian Sepoys’ rebellion against their officers but was accumulated grievances of the people against the Company’s administration and of their dislike for the foreign regime.
Consequently the British government decided to correct the fault lines and end the East India Company’s rule in India passing the Government of India Act, 1858 by Queen’s Proclamation of November 1, 1858. , thereby the control of Indian administration was passed on to the British Crown.
- This Proclamation was called the Magna Carta of the Indian people.
Its main provisions were:
- It gave up the policy of any extension of territory in India.
- It promised religious tolerance among the subjects.
- It guaranteed the rights of Indian princes ,nawabs promising non-interference in their rule.
- It pledged equal treatment to all subjects, whether Indians or Europeans.
- The Governor-General was given the new title of ‘Viceroy’. Lord Canning had the unique distinction of becoming a Governor-General, as well as, the first Viceroy of India. Lord Canning proclaimed the new Government at Allahabad on November 1, 1858.
- The Revolt of 1857 gave a severe jolt to the British administration in India and made its reorganization inevitable. The Government of India’s structure and policies underwent significant changes in the decades following the Revolt.
- The main significance of the Revolt of 1857 that it voiced, through violently, the grievances of various classes of people. The British were made to realize that all was not under control in British India and it is time to address the deficiencies existed in the reign of the East India Company .
- Reorganisation and restructuring of the armed forces in India:
With a view to prevent the recurrence of another revolt, the British government introduced the following drastic Changes in the composition of their army.
- The Indian army was carefully re-organised after 1858, They ensured and guaranteed the domination of the army by its European branch suitably increasing the proportion of Europeans to Indians in the army .
- The crucial branches of artillery, tanks and armored corps were put exclusively in European hands. Care was taken to control vantage positions in the garrisons and armoury.
- The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions.
- the organization of the Indian section of the army was done precisely on the policy of ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent its chance of uniting again in an anti-British uprising. A new section of army like Punjabis, Gurkhas and Pathans were recruited in large numbers.
- Changes in the administration in British India:
The Britsh government brought many Changes in Administration ,to mention a few:
- By the Act of Parliament of 1858, the power to govern India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown. The authority over India, wielded by the Directors of the Company and the Board of Control, was now to be exercised by a Secretary of State for India aided by a Council.
- Provincial Administration was introduced in British India. The British had divided India for administrative convenience into provinces, three of which- Bengal. Bombay and Madras- were known as Presidencies. The Presidencies were administered by a Governor and his Executive Council of three, who were appointed by the Crown. The other provinces were administered by Lieutenant Governor and Chief Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General.
- Local Bodies concept was established . Financial difficulties led the Government to further decentralize administration by promoting local government through municipalities and district boards. Local bodies like education, health, sanitation and water supply were transferred to local bodies that would finance them through local taxes.
Siignificance of the 1857 Revolton the Indian political scene:
The revolt of 1857 made the British sovereignty to recognise the fact that mere introduction of social reforms in the areas under their jurisdiction was not enough to assuage the feelings of the native Indians and erase the fast spreading feeling of dislike and hatred towards them. The result of all the afore mentioned facts was that the British government was forced to think and devise the ways to find a solution , because they did not want to lose the British India which was now considered by them as the Crown jewel in the British empire.
Therefore they came to conclusion that in order to avoid another political crisis like 1857, a vent was required to channelize the discontent of Indians. This theory is called the ”Safety Valve Theory”.
- The background for this theory was that the British had seen the political situation in the country leading to another rebellion on the lines of the Mutiny of 1857; and they wished to avoid such a situation. So, they wanted to provide a platform to the people, where they could discuss their political problems. Many leading British citizen like A O Hume and others thought that the educated Indians may become leaders of the Indian public and organize a rebellion against the government. So if the Government itself provides them a political platform to raise their voice, it may be possible to stop such nuisance, they thought.
- This paved the way for creation of Indian National Congress which was founded by a Retired Civil Servant A O Hume and other ex Civil Services members. This is a clever political ploy by the British who took care that the new entity is created by a British citizen and not an Indian and carried the blessings of Viceroy Lord Dufferin who opined that this will act as a “Safety Valve” against the popular discontent and diffuse it.
- Though we may think that it is a clever strategy by British, we cannot disregard the contribution of British in creation of first all India political front in which majority of the people were Hindus. The Muslims took congress negatively in the beginning but slowly joined the organisation with leading muslims leaders such as Badruddin Taybji and others who participated actively. The contribution of British in foundation of this organization was accepted and described by Gopal Krishna Gokhle in 1913 .To quote him,
“This theory has been discarded now. But still “No Indian could have started the Indian National Congress…if an Indian had come forward to start such a movement embracing all Indians, the officials in India would not have allowed the movement to come into existence. If the founder of the Congress had not been an Englishman and a distinguished ex-official, such was the distrust of political agitation in those days that the authorities would have at once found some way or the other to suppress the movement”
- The second session of Indian National Congress met at Calcutta in December 1886. The session was presided by Dadabhai Naoroji an eminent industrialist. There were more than 400 delegates and these delegates were elected by different local organizations and groups. Most of these were the educated class of India consisting of lawyers, journalists, traders, industrialists, teachers, and some of them were landlords.
- Thus the Indian national Congress or INC as it came to be known was able to garner the support of leading Freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi ,Gopal Krishna Gokhle , Lokamanya Thilak, Vallabh Bhai Patel, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose etc.
- Thus the INC became political pivotal hub for the Indians to voice and represent their grievances and problems therby seeking remedies from the British government.
- Another significant development was the important role that the revolt of 1857 played in bringing the Indian people together and imparting to them the consciousness of belonging to one country . It sowed the seeds of nationalism and anti- imperialism and created the concept of common nationality in the Indian people.
- Modern Nationalism was spreading all over the world and colonies in continents of Africa , Asia and in the south America were raising against their British, French, Spanish and Dutch masters. Before the revolt of 1857 ,the concept of “Modern Nationalism” was unknown in India, This also erased the impression that the British ,after all are not invincible.
- So the era of aggressive nationalist fighters like Nethaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Ras Bihari Bose , Veer Sawarkar,,Bhagath Singh , Sukhdev,Rajguru and others emerged on the Indian scene. They with their rebellious action and deeds threatened the British sovereignty.
- Intellectuals ,poets and authors like Rabindranath Tagore , Bankim Nath Chatarjee, Sharath Chandra Chatterjee with their writings fanned the spirit of nationalism among the people.
To sum it up, all one may say is that the revolt of 1857 was the first great struggle of Indians to throw off British Rule. It established local traditions of resistance to British rule which were to pave the way for the modern national movement. The political action through the Gandhiji led Indian National Congress along with the heroic deeds of freedom fighters culminated finally with the declaration of “Independence of India “ on August 15th 1947.