Tryst with 1857

Why did Jawaharlal Nehru not refer to First War of Independence in his Tryst with Destiny speech? Did he get the speech approved or edited from Lord Mountbattan or the British Parliament?

Hundred years after the defeat battle of Plassey and later the battle of Buxer, the Indian independence movement spans 90 years from 1857 to 1947.

Gangadhar Nehru, father of Pandit Motilal Nehru and grand father of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was appointed Kotwal of Delhi by East India Company just before the eruption of the first war of independence in 1857 according to the official history of Delhi Police. Gangadhar Nehru was the last Kotwal of Delhi because after the British repression of 1857 the institution of Kotwal came to an end. There is dearth of information regarding his role in the British repression of the freedom fighters under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar. A well-established army of 200,000 Indians officered by 40,000 British soldiers dominated India by 1857.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who was the first to call 1857 in his book "The Indian War of Independence" wrote: "So, in the truer sense, we said that the raising of Bahadur Shah to the throne of India was no restoration at all. But rather it was the declaration that the longstanding war between the Hindu and the Mahomedan had ended... For, Bahadur Shah was raised by the free voice of the people, both Hindus and Mahomedans, civil and military, to be their emperor and the head of the War of Independence... Let, then, Hindus and Mahomedans send forth their hearty, conscientious, and most loyal homage to this elected or freely accepted Emperor of their native soil on the 11th of May, 1857."

The Meerut troops had revolted on May 10, 1857. The very next day a royal proclamation was issued: "To all Hindus and Mahomedans! We, solely on account of religious duty, have joined the people. Whoever shall, in these times, exhibit cowardice or credulously believe the promises of the English impostors, will be very shortly put in shame and receive the reward for their fidelity to England which the rulers of Lucknow got. It is further necessary that all, Hindus and Mahomedans, unite in this struggle and following the instructions of some respectable leaders, conduct themselves in such a way that good rule may be maintained, the poorer classes kept contented and they themselves be exalted to rank and dignity."

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his Glimpses of World History and in The Discovery of India referring to 1857 as "The Great Revolt" but perhaps grudgingly he mentions it one place as "a war of Indian independence" but prefers to uses the words mutiny, revolt, rebellion and he felt that "Essentially it was a feudal outburst, headed by feudal chiefs and their followers... There was hardly any national and unifying sentiment among the leaders and a mere anti-foreign feeling, coupled with a desire to maintain their feudal privileges, was a poor substitute for this."

On 9 May, 85 troopers of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry at Meerut refused to use their cartridges. They were imprisoned, sentenced to ten years of hard labour, and stripped of their uniforms in public. The sepoys knew it was very likely that they would also be asked to use the new cartridges and they too would have to refuse in order to save their caste, religion and social status. Since their comrades had acted only in deference to their religious beliefs the punishment meted out by the British colonial rulers was perceived as unjust by many. When the 11th and 20th native cavalry of the Bengal Army assembled in Meerut on 10 May, they broke rank and turned on their commanding officers and liberated the 3rd Regiment.

The 21st Native Infantry stationed in Karachi declared allegiance to revolters, joining their cause on September 10, 1857. However, the British were rapidly able to reassert their control over Karachi and defeat the uprising.

On 22 July, 1853 Karl Marx wrote in The New-York Daily Tribune about the British East India Company's role in India. He said, "The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked. Did they not, in India, to borrow an expression of that great robber, Lord Clive himself, resort to atrocious extortion, when simple corruption could not keep pace with their rapacity? While they prated in Europe about the inviolable sanctity of the national debt, did they not confiscate in India the dividends of the rajahs, who had invested their private savings in the Company's own funds? While they combated the French revolution under the pretext of defending "our holy religion," did they not forbid, at the same time, Christianity to be propagated in India, and did they not, in order to make money out of the pilgrims streaming to the temples of Orissa and Bengal, take up the trade in the murder and prostitution perpetrated in the temple of the Juggernaut? These are the men of "Property, Order, Family, and Religion."

On August 28, 1857, Marx published an article in The New York Daily Tribune in order to "[show] that the British rulers of India are by no means such mild and spotless benefactors of the Indian people as they would have the world believe" (Marx 72). Marx cites the official Blue Books -- entitled "East India (Torture) 1855-57"-- that were laid before the House of Commons during the sessions of 1856 and 1857. The reports revealed that British officers were allowed an extended series of appeals if convicted or accused of brutality or crimes against Indians. Concerning matters of extortion in collecting public revenue, the report indicates that officers had free reign of any methods at their disposal (Marx 73).

Torture became a financial institution in colonial India, and was challenged by a petition from the Madras Native Association presented in January of 1856. The petition was dismissed on the basis of a lack of evidence, despite the fact that, according to the Marx, "there was scarcely any investigation at all, the Commission sitting only in the city of Madras, and for but three months, while it was impossible, except in very few cases, for the natives who had comnplaints to make to leave their homes" (Marx 74). Marx also refers to Lord Dalhousie's statements in the Blue Books that there was "irrefragable proof" that various officers had committed "gross injustice, to arbitrary imprisonment and cruel torture" (76).

In addition to torture, the Company levied extremely large taxes on the Indian people. Collier describes taxes as "a cynical outrage. A man could not travel twenty miles without paying toll at a river ferry, farmed out by the Company to private speculators. Land Tax, often demanded before the crop was raised, was made in quarterly installments ... the annual rent for an acre of land was 3s[hillings]., yet the produce of that acre rarely averaged 8s[hillings]. in value." (Collier 20)

Marx's position, as illustrated by the introductory quote to this page, is that the Indians were victims of both physical and economic forms of class oppression by the British. In Marx's analysis, the clash between the soldiers and their officers is the inevitable conflict that is the result of capitalism and imperialism.

Role of Gangadhar Nehru in 1857 War ?

Does anyone know as to what role did Gangadhar Nehru, grandfather of Jawaharlal Nehru play in the 1857 war as a Kotwal of Delhi while the repression of the freedom fighters were on?

Do we know as to whether he was with Bahadur Shah Zafar or with the East India Company?

Between 1857 and 1947 some important dates must be kept in mind to understand that after the repression of the freedom fighters, it was always the Britishers and their Parliament which had the upper hand in negotiating 'transfer of power'. Be it the formation of Congress in 1885, Government of India Act in 1935 or in 1947 when the British Prime Minister Attlee announced the British intention of leaving India by June 1948, and Mountbatten to succeed as Viceroy. In pursuance of the same the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Bill on 18 July, 1947.

British rule over the Indian states lapsed as per Article 7(b) of the India Independence Act 1947, and with it all treaties between the British Government and the Indian states also got a legal quietus. The Rulers of the Indian States became sovereign rulers from 18 July 1947, and they were free to accede to either of the two dominions or remain independent. As per the provisions of the Act, on 15 August 1947 two independent dominions of India and Pakistan were established.

The very fact that on 15 August, 1947 Jinnah chose to be Governor-General of Pakistan and Mountbatten sworn in as Governor-General of India. Nehru became the Prime Minister but was he as powerful as Jinnah and Mountbatten at that point in time.

But there are at least three moments which can be deemed exceptions.

1) They are the formation of 1942 Subhas Chandra Bose forms the Indian National Army (INA) and it assault on Brtishers, launch of 'Quit India movement' that led to declaration of Congress which was declared an unlawful organisation leading to the arrest of Gandhi and all members of the Congress Working Commmittee

2) On 18 April 1944 the INA broke through the British defence and captured Moirang in Manipur. The Azad Hind administration took control of the this independent Indian territory. Following Moirang, the advancing INA breached the Kohima road, posing a threat to the British positions in both Silchar and Kohima. INA had penetrated 250 miles into India. The Azad Brigade advanced, by outflanking the Anglo-American positions. INA's reliance on Japanese logistics and supplies and the total air-dominance of the allies and torrential rain, frustrated the INA bid to take Imphal.

3) The First trial of the Indian National Army in 1945

Have the freedom fighters of 1857 and INA been treated fairly by the Britishers and their successors in Indian Government? Is it surprising that they have largely been marginalised with the overt and covert means of the government dominated by the Indian Civil Service officers? Was Gangadhar Nehru a freedom fighter?

Note: The text above is a compilation from different books. It awaits analysis in political economy context amid a historical process wherein the precedent is yet to be set because invaders and exploiters of one period cannot be forgotten to interpret others. Or can it be?


Unknown said…
Somntah Chatterjee addressed the Lok Sabha saying 'Hon. Members, today a grateful nation is observing the 150th Anniversary of India’s “First War of Independence.”

The uprising of 1857, a watershed event in India’s struggle for Freedom, was the first ever mass upsurge of the simmering yearning for Independence among our countrymen. The revolt that began as a sepoy uprising in Meerut had a cascading effect across the country. This popular and almost spontaneous uprising fired up the imagination of the nation, and such revolts against the British Rule followed in other parts of the country. This event kindled the spirit of Swaraj, which spurred the Father of the Nation and other great freedom fighters to lead the Freedom Struggle culminating in Independence 90 years later in 1947. The supreme sacrifices made by the known and unknown heroes of the First War of Independence did not go in vain.

The uprising, which was a collective expression of the determination of the Indian people to end the foreign rule, also exemplified the spirit of unity and religious harmony.

On this solemn occasion, let us all recall with reverence the supreme sacrifices made by all the valiant freedom fighters and rededicate ourselves to the task of maintaining unity and communal harmony in the country.'

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