Thursday, August 11, 2011

Was the Rebellion Inevitable ?

Was The Rebellion Inevitable

The rebellion was not inevitable but was the result of a series of administrative and policy decisions made in a period of two decades. Dalhousie’s basic policy was sound. He was administratively annexing regions which had been politically and militarily conquered and defeated long ago. But Dalhousie’s pace of annexation was fast. His modus operandi of routine administration and dealing with the Indian native princes as well as the British officials was rash. His treatment of the C-in-C  Charles Napier was unjust. His perceptions regarding Oudh were by and large correct but the manner in which he dealt with Oudh was not correct. Being the man on the spot he should have actively decided that immediate annexation was not the answer. But he suggested to the Directors of EEIC a number of options including annexation which they selected. Thus he made the Directors take a decision about which they had little first hand knowledge. Sleeman had prophetically warned Dalhousie that annexation of Oudh would have a very negative effect on the sepoys who were almost 50 to 60% part of the Bengal Infantry.

Despite all this we must not forget that the foundation of an educated and aware Indian middle class was laid essentially by Macaulay and Dalhousie rather than by any Indian Hindu or Muslim. The three universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were foundations of an Indian educated middle class. The British had resolved to introduce western education in India before 1857 and both Hindus and Muslims were to acquire if, even if Sayyid Ahmad Khan had died fighting for the rebel cause at Bijnor!

The greased cartridges case was an administrative lapse. Here the main fault lay with the Directors of EEIC who did not co-ordinate with the civil and military authorities in India about the religious implications of the cartridges.

The conduct of 3rd Light cavalry troopers was the most decisive factor of the whole affair. Their seizure of Delhi was the most tangible and concrete part of the whole affair. By occupying a militarily and politically crucial city they effectively transformed what was only a military mutiny caused due to an inadvertent lapse on part of the EEIC authorities in introducing a weapon system which was correctly perceived by the soldiers as an attack on their religion. The Oudh factor was important but was overplayed later on. Oudh took two more months after the Delhi affair for going into full rebellion. The crucial factor was the seizure of Delhi. Casualty wise and in number of concentration of rebel regiments; three fourth of 1857 was decided at Delhi in September 1857. If there is any event which may have turned the scales, it was a British defeat at Delhi. The British came very close to it, but perhaps men like Nicholson saved the day; just like Kemal at Gallipoli!

Equally crucial and decisive was the indecisiveness of General Hewitt and Brigadier Archdale Wilson at Meerut. These two individuals were the only two Britishers who could have prevented the Meerut Sepoys from capturing Delhi, keeping in view the means at their disposal and the time and space factors as on 10 and 11 May 1857. If this could have been successfully done and 3rd Light Cavalry effectively annihilated by the Meerut European units the Delhi garrison could have been disarmed and Delhi secured by the British. Without Delhi in rebel hands more sepoy units may still have mutinied but would have had no safe haven to withdraw to. Thus the EEIC could have effectively contained the sepoy units within four or five months. The loss of Delhi was the green signal for the Bengal Army to be bold, audacious and to perform the heroic act of rebellion, armed insurrection etc.!

There is nothing inevitable in history. There is by and large no good or bad luck or fate or destiny but consequences. The fall of Delhi was not an act of historic destiny but a simple result of a spinster like behaviour on part of two senior and responsible British senior military commanders! It is not the office but the man who holds it that matters ! Or, conversely it was an act made possible by the supreme elan and audacity of the sowars of 3rd Bengal Native Light Cavalry