Myths and misconceptions exclusion an important cause etc-part 4

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Major Agha H Amin (retired)

About the AuthorAbout the Author Agha H. Amin , Retired Tank corps major who served in five tank regiments and commanded an independent tank squadron and served in various staff , instructional and research assignments. In his Pakistan Army tenure he wrote three original tactical papers on Reconnaissance Troops Tactical handling, Reconnaissance support group , and RFS Concept. His writings were published in Pakistan Armys prime journals , Pakistan Army Journal and Citadel Journal of Command and Staff College Quetta. His recommendations regarding bifurcation of officer corps into command and staff cadre advanced in 1998 were later accepted. In addition his recommendation of grouping various corps into army commands advanced in an article published in Citadel Journal in 1998 were accepted in 2005 or so. Wrote The Essential Clausewitz in 1993, Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-59 in 1998 , Pakistan Army till 1965 in 1999 ,Development of Taliban Factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2010) ,Taliban War in Afghanistan (2009). Served as Assistant Editor of Defence Journal ,Executive Editor of globe and Founder Editor of Journal of Afghanistan Studies . An associate of the think tanks ORBAT and Alexandrian Defense group. Carried out various oil and gas and power transmission line surveys in West Asia. Editor in Chief of monthly Intelligence Review and monthly Military and Security Review. Heads the think tank Centre for study of Intelligence Operations established in early 2010.

Exclusion an important cause

It appears that one of the main cause of the rebellion was exclusion. The sepoys perceived themselves as the main reason for British success in conquest of India. Yet a sepoy even with forty years service and with outstanding ability could not even be deemed fit to command a company. Similarly inability of Indians to participate in the higher government appears to have been perceived by the Indians in a negative way. After 1857, therefore, various measures were taken by the British government to include Indians in the government of India at various levels to act as safety valves against any further rebellion against the British. Thus as per the Indian Council's act of 1861, the Viceroys Council and also the local councils at Bombay and Madras were increased, by the addition for legislative purposes only, of non-official European and Indian members493.The Triumph of FeudalismThe significant support rendered to the British in 1857 had another very negative impact both for the British and for the common Indian. For the British this loss was in financial terms, for the Indian this loss was in political terms. The British concluded after the rebellion that increased taxation which seriously affected the large land holders had been a principal cause in participation of the large land holders (Talukdars) in the rebellion particularly in Oudh where the British had to suppress the rebellion till the first half of 1859.Thus in India as a whole and particularly in Bombay and Madras the rate of land tax per acre began to decline. Thus gradually land revenue diminished in terms of percentage as a proportion of government income after 1857. Thus the most unfortunate result of the successful British suppression of the rebellion of 1857 was that for the sake of preserving their colonial hold on India, the British administrators adopted a policy of not taxing the feudals in particular and the agricultural classes in general as less as possible. The British thus after 1857 lost the nerve to tax the country side. All this happened at a time when income from agriculture all over India was rising. On the other side to compensate for this loss the British adopted with greater enthusiasm a policy which successively increased taxation levied on the professional and trading classes in the larger towns. This led to increased participation of the urban classes in anti-British parties like Congress etc.! This explains why the professional and business classes became more and more anti-British after 1858 and till 1947.It is an irony of Indo-Pak history that Lord Canning in order to quickly pacify the Oudh country side totally reversed the progressive policies of Lord Dalhousie to destroy feudalism in India. Pacifying the Oudh countryside was militarily a small affair but just to save money and European casualties the British adopted this negative policy which helped them in the short run but reduced their revenue from agricultural taxes in the long run. In 1858 he promised the Oudh Talukdars that they would regain the control of all their pre-1857 villages and land which had been confiscated during the pre-1857 period of Cannings viceregal tenure. Canning also promised them a much more lenient revenue settlement. It is true that some large estates in Oudh and other parts of UP and central India were confiscated by the British. But these belonged to those who were extremely anti-British and many of whom died in the fighting, were executed after the rebellion or went into voluntary exile to Nepal. These estates too were mostly awarded to feudals who had remained loyal to the British. Thus Ali Raza Khan Kizilbash of the Kizilbash family resident at Lahore in 1857 in recognition of his services was granted Talukdari of 147 villages in Bahraich district in Oudh494. The same was true for all districts of modern UP where land was merely re-allotted or sold to loyal Hindu and Muslim feudals!Subconscious fear of another rebellion played a major part in British policies after 1857India became an easier place to govern after 1857. The Indians were convinced that unilaterally it was impossible to defeat the Britishers. The British on the other hand out of a subconscious fear of another "mutiny" as they called it started some reforms in local self-government etc, which gave birth to a movement of passive political dissent against British rule. The key concept was to provide Indians with some safety valves through which they could channelise their frustration and sense of exclusion in some direction. Thus the introduction of local self-government in the early 1870s provided the Indian with a forum where they could tactfully and respectfully keeping in mind unwritten rules and etiquette of the Victorian era present their point of view and participate in a small way in the government affairs. Thus the British keeping in view their democratic traditions and a feeling that Indians must be given a sense of participation created the municipal board and corporations of Bombay Calcutta and Madras. These local bodies provided Indians a forum where they could in a very polite and harmless way take their frustrations out and simulate a mini-conflict with the colonial governments. India by and large remained calm till 1919 as a result of these measures. Bengal now assumed the leadership of the anti-colonial movement but by and large the rest of India remained calm. Michael Edward's made a very profound observation about this subconscious British fear when he concluded his book on 1857 with the following remarks "There is no doubt that fear of another, and greater, Mutiny had its effect upon the negotiations that ended with Indian's independence in 1947" 495 Another Britisher observed this much earlier i.e. Edward Thompson who in his book published in 1925 made the following profound observation, "Right at the back of the mind of many an Indian, the Mutiny flits as he talks with an Englishman an unavenged, an unappeased ghost".496

Bengal Sepoy the Principal cause of whatever success that the rebellion achieved


Many historians have tried to portray the feudals as the principal force behind the rebellion of 1857. The Bengal sepoy who belonged to the yeoman class of peasantry was, however, the main factor in the rebellion. The dispossessed and dissatisfied group of feudals in UP and Central India did manipulate the sepoys to some extent once the sepoys had rebelled. The sepoys also manipulated the feudals in a way by using them as figureheads to head the movement like in the case of Bahadur Shah Zafar at Delhi. Without the European trained Bengal Sepoy there could never have been a rebellion of the magnitude of 1857. The Sepoy was a patriot and only loser of 1857. The feudals were the winners whether Hindu or Muslim or Sikh! The rest is fiction. Thus in class terms the rebellion was an attempt by the lower middle class and some middle class small landowner class of soldiers to defeat the EEIC by means of an armed insurrection. In the process these brave men lost everything, but by this act of supreme sacrifice they forced the British to become more liberal and democratic, while dealing with the Indian. In this sense the rebellion was more important than any other movement launched by Indians from 1757 to 1947.

Confusion about political sovereignty removed

The removal of Bahadur Shah Zafar ended the contradiction and conflict about political sovereignty in India. The Mughal Emperor who should have been removed in 1803 was at last packed off to Ramgoon where he could devote extra time in composing his melancholic poetry.

Pre-1857 British policy attacked Hindu beliefs more seriously than Muslim beliefs

The pre-1857 policy of the EEIC was more anti-Hindu than anti-Muslim. The General Service Enlistment Act of 1856 was a serious piece of legislation which greatly demoralised the Hindu soldiers. Thus it is a simple fact that the rebellion was successful to some degree in 1857 because the Hindu soldiers who formed the majority of the Bengal Army soldiers joined the rebellion. It is true that most of the leaders of the rebellion were Muslim and the maximum casualties suffered by the British were in campaigns against essentially Muslim centres of rebellion like Delhi and Lucknow. It remains a fact that without support from Hindu soldiers who cons