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Real Reasons for The First Indian War Of Independence , 1857 – Part 3

 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.

Read the previous part of the story here

         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:
  1. It gave up the policy of   any extension of territory in India.
  2. It promised religious tolerance among the subjects.
  3. It guaranteed the rights of Indian princes ,nawabs promising non-interference in     their rule.
  4. 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.      

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