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From Swadeshi to Swaraj
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Partition of Bengal
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The Monk Who Shook The Nation
Father of Indian Unrest
An Old Man's Dream
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Pressing On !
Europeans Take To The Street!
The British Raj in Black and White
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Hunger Deaths
The Delhi Durbar
Return to Swadeshi
Barbarous Britannia
‘Rani Ka Hookum’
Perishing in Peace
The Blue Mutiny
English Education
The Trial of the Last Emperor
Roll of Honour
The Empire Strikes Back
British Authority Collapses
Sepoys on the Move
Tribal Uprisings
The Empire Builders
For God and Country

1857 : British Authority Collapses

"All the world said the English Raj had come to end." – A sepoy while being court-martialed for desertion.  

WHEN the sepoys struck, both the civil and military authorities in Delhi were taken by surprise. Simon Fraser, the Political Agent was killed. Government offices were destroyed. The panic-stricken Englishmen decided to flee. Before leaving Delhi, however, they blew up the vast stores of ammunition to prevent it from falling into the sepoys' hands. Delhi was now in the control of the sepoys under the nominal authority of Emperor Bahadur Shah. At Kanpur the sepoys rose in rebellion and approached Nana Saheb whose claim to succession as the Peshwa had been rejected by the British. "Maharaj," said the sepoys," a kingdom awaits you if you join us, but death if you side with our enemies." Nana Saheb who was until then friendly towards the English, replied, "What have I to do with the British? I am altogether yours." Later, Nana Saheb was proclaimed Peshwa. Soon the revolt spread to Lucknow, Benares, Allahabad, Bareilly, Jhansi and Jagadishpur (in Bihar). North India and Central and Western India were in turmoil. But South India remained undisturbed and Punjab and Bengal were only marginally affected. Nearly half of the two-and-half lakh sepoys of the British army broke free from their loyalty to British masters. And these included both Hindus and Muslims. In Awadh, the nine-year-old son of Wajid Ali Shah the deposed Nawab, was placed on the throne. At Bareilly, Khan Bahadur a descendant of a former ruler of Rohilkhand was declared the Nawab.  

WAS THERE A CONSPIRACY?

British historian Malleson saw a conspiracy behind the events of 1857 with Maulavi Ahmadulla of Faizabad, Nana Saheb and the Rani of Jhansi as ring leaders. However, Malleson had no convincing proof to support his theory. The wide circulation of chapatis, preceding the outbreak of 1857, is cited as evidence of an organized conspiracy. However, witnesses at the trial of Bahadur Shah testified that nobody knew why chapatis were circulated, what it signified and where the practice had originated. The sepoys were definitely a discontented lot. They were perturbed about the issue of greased cartridges. They might have talked of rising in revolt. But there is no evidence to suggest that a day had been fixed for the revolt or that regiments in different parts of the country acted according to a plan. Was the great revolt then spontaneous? What started as a mutiny in Meerut soon snowballed into the great revolt as former rulers, zamindars, talukdars, small and big farmers and anybody who had some grievance or the other against the British jumped into the fray. There was a saying that if all Indians were to sneeze at the same moment, the British would be blown away. Something similar happened in 1857. In the British army there were about two and half lakh sepoys and about forty-five thousand Englishmen including some 6,000 officers. A lakh of sepoys 'sneezed' and British control collapsed — at least for a while and in some places. The events of 1857 showed how fragile the British armour was.

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