How India lost 1857 – its First War of Independence
Books: Rebel Sikhs in 1857 (Pages 119) ;
Letters of Spies and Delhi was Lost (Pages 128) and
Jeewan Lal: Traitor of Mutiny (Pages 117)
by Shamsul Islam, Vani Prakashan, Delhi. Rs 95 each.
Shamsul Islam, a teacher of Political Science (DU), has taken upon himself the task of testing unfamiliar waters, best left alone by his peers in the faculty of history. As usual, his painstaking research has produced one of the finest masterpieces of investigative journalism which provides many missing links in the history of India’s First War of Independence. Popular perception based upon the accounts by historians, including Sikhs, is that the Sikhs supported the British. In Rebel Sikhs in 1857 the author has torn this into shreds. If Sikh princely states of Punjab supported the British, the heroic deeds, valour and sacrifices of the common Sikhs have been thoroughly researched and documented. Sikh rulers of Patiala (Maharaja Narender Singh), Jind (Sarup Singh), Nabha (Bharpur Singh) and Kapurthala (Raja Randhir Singh) had been substantially “supplying war materials as well as sepoys to the British Army” for which they were suitably rewarded. William Howard Russell of London Times wrote in a dispatch: “Our siege of Delhi would have been impossible, if the Rajas of Patiala and Jhind (Jind) had not been our friends”. Shamsul Islam explodes the thesis of R.C Majumdar “who refused to treat 1857 rebellion either as ‘National’ or ‘War of Independence”; rejected the claim that it was led by any kind of an ideal like patriotism, and believed the Sikhs were won by the British to avenge the insults the Mughals had inflicted on their gurus.
The author has unearthed letters of British spies showing the Sikhs making supreme sacrifices. Nine soldiers of the British Army ran away from the camp to join the rebels on August 16, 1857. In the next few days, 200 Sikhs came from Punjab and stayed in Subzimandi to join the rebels. On August 18, 1857 another group of 125 sepoys of the Sikh cavalry joined the rebels. Around 1500 Sikh sepoys belonging to different regiments took charge of the gate of the city against the British. Two regiments of the Sikh sought audience with the Emperor and pledged to fight for the country on August 20, 1857. On May 28, 200 Sikhs arrived from Lahore and Ferozepore and two native regiments of Patiala joined the rebels. The list of such instances is never ending.
His other two books which he has compiled and edited, Letters of the Spies and Jeewan Lal Traitor, can be clubbed to avoid overlapping of events. They reveal the highly organised spy network run by Hindus and Muslims who outmatched each other in providing vital information to the British regarding the activities of rebels. Battle of Plassey, the British knew, would not have been won if the three principal generals of Sirajuddaulah had been faithful to their master. Spies acted as agents saboteur. Sir John Villiam Kay, a British military historian, admitted “that although the English were supposed to be fighting against the natives, they were in reality sustained and supported by the natives.”
Major Hodson of ‘Hodson Horse’ had established a highly efficient intelligence network and recruited the services of Rajab Ali, Mirza Ilahi Baksh, father-in-law of heir apparent, Mirza Fakhru, and Munshi Jeewan Lal. Ominous and treacherous shadow of this trio looms large and pales the heroic deeds and valour of the rebels. Rajab Ali and Mirza Ilahi Baksh organised the destruction of the Yamuna bridge which provided great strategic advantage to the British. Their agents had blown up the gun powder manufacturing factory of the rebels for a reward of Rs 1,000 which was never paid.
Rai Bahadur Jeewan Lal is an interesting character. He was the descedant of Raja Raghunath Bahadur (from Narnaul), Diwan Ala or Prime Minister of Aurangzeb. Jeewan Lal’s father entered the service of the British who destroyed the Mughal dynasty. Jeewan Lal followed his father and after ‘eating the salt’ of the British remained loyal to them. His opinion and advice were sought by the British which were invariably found to be sound and reliable, honest and useful. Caste activism of the father and son (Kayastha) was able to replace Brahmins from the administration for the first time. Jeewan Lal enjoys some sort of distinction to be instrumental to introduce income tax in India. Jeewan Lal employed two Brahmins and two Jats. He conspired with officials of Bharatpur State who facilitated the opening of the city gate at the sight of British Army. Through his agents he forwarded the letters of Williams and Murphy from Meerut to the Raja of Ballabgarh. Maulvi Ahmad Ali, Mukhtar of the Raja, met Munshi Jeewan lal on June 3, 1857 to acknowledge the receipt of the letters and assure him the loyalty of the Raja whom the Brithsh had favoured with Jagir and honour. The Maulvi informed the Munshi that the Raja was devising means for sending his motmid with troops to the Sahibs at the Duamdameh. Had the rebels not stormed Ballabgarh, Raja Nahar Singh would not have died a martyre’s death!
Mirza Ilahi Baksh remained inside the city during the siege and he was able to furnish important intelligence of the movements of the rebels. Later on he brought about the peaceful surrender of the King, and helped Hodson in effecting the capture of the princes Khizar Sultan and Abu Bakar, thus dealing the rebellion a death-blow by depriving the disaffected of their hereditary leaders.
A prolific writer, Shamsul Islam has provided sufficient stuff for research scholars and highly informative and informed reading for any reader interested in knowing how India lost.
Shamsul Islam RSS PRIMER: Based on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh documents, 32 pp., p/b, Rs 20 + Rs 19 postage / US$ 2.50 [ISBN-10: 81-7221-039-6; ISBN-13: 978-81-7221-039-7; Year: 2010] (details about the book)
Shamsul Islam, Golwalkar’s “We or our nationhood defined”: A critique with the full text of the book, 200 pp., Rs 120/ Euro 8 [ISBN 81-7221-030-2] (details about the book)
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