Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-59

Even the Muslim League which won the elections in 1946 in Punjab or in Sindh was little more than a bunch of opportunists who changed their loyalties from Unionist to Muslim League, simply because they very correctly sensed that the average Muslim would vote for the Muslim League simply because of the immense emotional appeal of the “Pakistan Slogan” in the post-1940 and pre-1947 period! “Opportunism” and “Unconditional Loyalty to the British” were two hallmarks of the post-1857 Muslim leadership. The simple reason for this state of affairs was fear of Hindu domination and a very potent fear that they would lose all their privileges by the introduction of a system of western democracy which the British were bringing to India slowly and gradually in the post-1857 period. In the Muslim majority provinces this fear was less whereas in the Muslim minority provinces this fear was greater. What the Indian Muslims failed to understand was that fear is no rational response to a problem. If it was so there would have been no fear of Punjabi domination in East Pakistan or fear of Bengali domination in West Pakistan! Even today the fear of Punjabi domination is a far greater threat to the average Sindhi or Baloch than fear of Indian domination! Emotional slogans can galvanize the populace for some time but they cannot bring for them peace and prosperity in the long run. The widely believed notions of intellectual superiority of UP Muslims and the martial prowess of Punjabi Muslims are merely myths and have absolutely no historical basis. Both of the communities should be grateful to the British in this regard i.e. the Upites to the British for bringing in western education by establishing universities / colleges and in enabling the Aligarh MAO College to rise and prosper. The Punjabi Muslims for the great irrigation system that the British established in Punjab and for recruiting the Punjabi Muslims in greater numbers in the army in the post-1857 scenario something which has at least till 1998 enabled the Punjabi Muslims to dominate Pakistan and to make sure that the Bengalis had no choice but to secede. But the British did one very clever thing which has hampered us. They made sure that the most spineless and worthless toadies should lead the Indian Muslims in general and the Martial Muslims in particular! Through some very profound and subtle system they ensured mediocrity in higher Muslim ranks.
The Hindu of post-1857 India was a more confident man than the Muslim. The Hindu knew that the British had to take him seriously just because of the sheer weight of numbers. If the British wanted to rule India in peace they had to appease the Hindu for he constituted the great majority. Thus unfortunately while the Muslim in post-1857 period was taking every possible pain to prove his loyalty to the British for fear of Hindu domination, keeping in view the introduction of western democracy based on majority of votes, the Hindu was now a much more confident man. He knew that whatever happens a Hindu would lead the post-British India. Thus while a culture based on loyalty to the British was being actively adopted by the Muslims in both the Punjab and UP and in all other Muslim majority or Muslim minority provinces the Hindu was thinking big. He needed less of Hinduism while a Muslim needed much more of Islam in the post- 1857 scenario. The Hindu thus posed as the natural leader of the native public opinion in India. It is not to imply that this happened due to advent of the British. Even if the British had not come to India, it is a simple fact of history that the non- Muslims in the shape of Mahrattas and Sikhs were dominating India by 799. The British actually saved the Muslims from Mahratta or Sikh domination. Who can deny that the Sikhs kicked the Afghans out of Punjab and NWFP entirely based on their indigenous martial prowess? Who can deny that the Mughals were destroyed primarily due to the Mahratta guerrilla wars! The predators like Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali were half vultures; for the Mughal Empire they destroyed had already been half destroyed by the Mahrattas. Thus we see the EEIC first saving Oudh from the Mahrattas and then gobbling it up. Similarly the western UP Muslims were liberated from Mahratta domination by General Lake in 1803! The Bahawalpur state was saved by the Treaty of Amritsar of 1809 which discouraged Ranjit Singh from extending east of Sutlej. Similarly, the Ameers of Sindh were saved from Ranjit Singh who would have swallowed them within one winter campaign! Yet in 1857 the Indians or at least a part of them both Hindus and Muslims combined and made one very desperate yet valiant effort to oust the British. Till this time the Hindus acknowledged the Muslim political supremacy since we see the Bengal Army which was predominantly Hindu, fighting for Muslim sovereigns at Delhi and in Oudh! But when this great rebellion failed there was the parting of the ways! The Muslims of the post-1857 had no choice but to please the British to avoid Hindu domination! The Hindu’s problems had completely ended! All they had to do was to play a waiting game. They knew that one day the British will have to go and then they, the ones who had been ruled and subjugated by a minority from the 12th century till almost the 18th century would dominate the Indo-Pak sub- continent, just like they were about to do around 1799 and till 1803 when the EEIC challenged the Hindu Mahratta rule! The Muslim post-1857 problems were more complex, they had to escape Hindu domination and they also had to face the British. The policy they adopted after 1857 was “Loyalty to the British”. Sir Syed preached it at every forum. When the Sultan of Turkey during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 claimed to be the Khalifa (Caliph) of all Muslims and the Mullahs (Priests) of Mecca issued an appeal on the behalf of Sultan of Turkey for assistance in fighting the Christians.619 Sir Syed dismissed the appeal for assistance in the following words. “The Sultan of Turkey had no right to be Khalifa”, Sir Syed further explained dismissing the Turkish claim saying that not a single Indian Muslim considered the Sultan of Turkey to be Caliph of all Muslims620. during the second Afghan war of 1878-80 also Sir Syed justified the British role in thrashing the Afghans. When Alexandria in Egypt was bombarded by British ships in 882 Sir Syed again took considerable pains in dismissing any pro-Egyptian solidarity on part of Indian Muslims through the medium of the “Aligarh Institute Gazette”621. The fact that Sir Syed adopted sycophancy and ultraloyalism to the British as a creed outwardly seems nothing more than “docility” or “appeasement”. But here again there was a very big difference between Sir Syed and a Tiwana or a Chattari or a Mahmudabad Raja. These feudals were doing all the bootlicking for their personal gains and riches while Sir Syed was pursuing a pro-British policy keeping in view of the consequent gains for Muslims as a community. Sir Syed’s aim was collective good of the Muslims as a community while the Tiwana or Noon or Hayat aim was personal gain. This brings us to a conceptual road block or sandbar which has confused the vast majority of Indo- Pak historians in treating Sir Syed’s role vis-a-vis the 1857 “Rebels”. The “Rebels” were right in their own way. They pursued the course of “Armed Insurrection” but failed, though in a subtle way they succeeded in certain aspects, which we will discuss in later paragraphs.