(The first thirteen chapters of this book were serialised in DJ from July 1999 till October last year. This analysis covers the first 150 pages, and is now being serialised in DJ).
Columnist AH AMIN re-interprets the so-called 1857 Indian Mutiny.
Deliberate British bias against Hindustani Hindus/Mussulmans and tribal Pathans recruitment
The post-1857 period witnessed a deliberate British
bias in recruiting “Hindustani Mussulmans” who they viewed as the
principal leaders of 1857. We have seen that the army was transformed from
a Hindu (as well as Hindustani dominated) army to a Punjabi dominated army
by 1914. After 1897 this bias was extended to the tribal area Pathans
also. Initially this policy was not as deliberate as it seemed. The main
factor in this policy's adoption was Lord Roberts who became the Commander
in Chief India in 1885 and continued to be so till April 1893. Two factors
influenced Robert's bias against “Hindustani Muslims” and
“Hindus”. First was his initial posting to Peshawar where he developed
a liking for the Pathan as well as the Punjabi Muslims. The second factor
was his personal participation in the rebellion of 1857. There is a
misconception in many quarters and specially in Pakistan that the British
used Muslim soldiers and particularly Punjabi Muslim soldiers to conquer
India. Thus in a book recently published a Pakistani scholar states “The
Punjabis went on to contribute manpower and logistic support for
imperialist conflicts on the northwest frontier and also helped Britain
conquer and police far flung overseas territories. About half the British
Indian Army came to be recruited from the Punjab; the British were fond of
calling the people of this province “the martial races of India629”.
This statement is only partially true. India was conquered before 1849 and
Afghanistan chastised in 1842 long before the Punjabis were recruited by
the British. As earlier discussed in 1883 three years after the second
Afghan War had ended the Punjabis constituted just 92 companies of the
total 352 companies of Indian infantry. The prime British motivation in
recruiting Punjabi Muslims was the “Reliability Factor” which they
could not ensure in recruiting the Hindu, the Sindhi, Baloch, the
Transfrontier Pathan or even the Hindustani Muslims. Philip Mason praised
the Punjabi Muslim reliability in First World War in the following words:
“A faint question mark hung over the Pathan throughout the war but the
Punjabi Muslims were as steady as a rock”630 the reason for “Punjabi
Reliability” was twofold. The first was British achievement in enabling
the Punjab for the first time in 150 years of its pre-British history for
becoming prosperous by virtue of uninterrupted peace and stability,
building of canals, roads etc. The second was the Sikh Muslim divide in
Punjab which was far more radical than the Hindu Muslim divide in
remaining parts of India. Even in Punjab the British recruitment was
selective i.e. only in areas north of Chenab since the remaining area was
prosperous by virtue of canal irrigated lands and not really interested in
joining the Indian Army! We have already discussed that the anti-
Hiindustani bias of the British had far more to do with political
reliability as implemented as a policy, however, late by Roberts whose
anti-Hindustani bias was essentially based on his experiences in Punjab,
Frontier, Delhi and Lucknow in the period 1857-58. This fact was admitted
by Philip Mason631 openly and has already been discussed under the heading
of “Martial Races Theory”. We have earlier analysed that Lord Roberts
played crucial role in the anti-Hindustani bias in army recruitment. But
it would be unfair to earmark Robert as the only culprit. The Eden
Commission Report of 1879 stated that632; the UP Muslims were too
dangerous for recruitment in the Army. The report further explained this
point by stating that “the lower stratum of the Muhammadan urban
population, the dispossessed landholders (many of whom were Muslims), the
predatory classes, and perhaps the cadets of old Muhammadan families were
the only sections of the people who dislike British rule. Thus by 1914 as
we have already discussed the army was a highly Punjabised (although not
Muslim majority by any definition) organisation. This British perception
was not individual or held by civilians but even by historians writing in
official histories published after the First world war. Thus an official
British historian wrote “After the mutiny, the Hindustani Sepoy —
hitherto the main stay of the Bengal Army — was condemned in the mass;
the ensuring experiment of recruiting from the lower classes proved
disastrous; and the need for efficiency, financial considerations and the
policy of maintaining a definite proportion of British to Indian troops
led more and more to recruitment of the material considered best633. This
bias was not just confined to Hindustanis but also to the Tribal Pathans
who were condemned as politically unreliable (and thus not suitably
martial as per the British Colonial definition!) by the same historian for
having risen against the British in 1897, as a result of which the
Britishers were forced to mobilise nearly 70,000 troops 634. The emphasis
on the words “material considered best” was in other words a veiled
reference to material considered most reliable. “Reliability” and not
merely “Martial Qualities” was the British standard in recruiting for
the Army. We cannot blame the British for doing what was in their best
interest. But we can certainly blame those who maintained the same policy
in the post-1947 Pakistan Army. Had more Bengalis Sindhis and Baloch been
recruited many problems of Pakistan's history may never even have
occurred. Even if this was not done, by merely giving them due political
representation, many problems could have been avoided. The British
perceptions regarding reliability were amply proved in the First World
War. The British premise about “Reliability” of the Punjabi troops
proved to be correct to the dot. This is true both for Sikhs and Punjabi
Muslims. (The Punjabis cannot be blamed for this since the British gave
Punjab the stability and prosperity that it had never known since 1698.
Unfortunately this prosperity reduced political awareness of an all India
level in the Province. But this was true only for the north of Chenab area
of the Punjab only from where most of the Punjabi Muslim soldiers were
recruited. The areas between Chenab and Sutlej still took active part in
the 1919 agitation which was a radical departure from Punjab Loyalty of
“1857”). The only serious incidents of mutiny/insubordination in the
Indian Army occured as we have earlier discussed in the Hindustani/Ranghar
or in the Tribal Area Pathan units, and specially in the Afridi units! In
1919 the final seal on the issue of tribal area Pathan was imposed once
the Waziristan Militia deserted en masse635!
How the Calculation was Made
So-called British experts like Michael Edwardes and many other “Bhagwans” and “Thekedars” made highly exaggerated statements about Sepoy strength in 1857. Michael Edwardes managed to fit 30,000 people in the 600 yards position (as shown by British Official Map of the battle in Forrests Mutiny Papers) at Battle of Badli Ki Serai fought a little north of Delhi in 1857! It was difficult thus to calculate sepoy strength and it took about two decades to arrive at an assessment. The exercise involved two distinct activities i.e calculating through tables and visualising the process through hypothetical maps :—
REGULAR INFANTRY UNITS
PRE REBELLION UNIT LOCATIONS:
REGULAR INFANTRY UNITS
PRE REBELLION UNIT LOCATIONS:
SUMMARY OF THE ABOVE
IRREGULAR INFANTRY UNITS
SUMMARY OF THE ABOVE
CAVALRY UNITS REGULAR AND IRREGULAR
SUMMARY OF THE ABOVE
NOTE;--10 NI REBELLED SUCCESSFULLY AT FATEHGARH BUT
DISPERSED TO HOME VILLAGES AFTER LOOTING !
In 1857 a class of common soldiers almost 99% Hindustani by ethnicity, five sixth Hindu (Hindu Rajput and Brahman), one sixth Muslim (Hindustani Muslims and Ranghars) based on internal motivation consolidated as a result of some two decades of various experiences, resorted to an armed insurrection aimed at destroying a European Company which was exploiting India as a whole for some 100 years. They were joined by some dispossessed feudals and princes a majority of whom were motivated by external motivation and a minority by internal motivation. The populace in some regions like Delhi and Oudh joined the rebels.
The rebellion was suppressed by employment of the largest force to date of pure British origin used outside Britain assisted by native troops from Punjab NWFP Madras and Bombay. The Enfield Rifle played a decisive role in the British success. The Afghan docility in staying loyal to the British also played a decisive role. The same Afghans who were very keenly visiting Delhi between 1739 and 1761 to loot a Muslim city abdicated the role of sacking and looting the same Muslim city of Delhi to a force comprising British, Punjabi Muslim, Pathan, Sikh and Gurkha troops!
The progressive and egalitarian policy of Lord Dalhousie to destroy feudalism in India was absolutely reversed by the British. Instead a policy of active alliance and collaboration with the feudals was adopted to jointly exploit and bugger the people of India! A deliberate policy of “Divide and Rule” which paid rich dividends from 1857 till 1947! A class of docile business professional and landed interest was created. These docile but clever lawyers, landlords and other professionals prospered in the period between 1858 and 1947. They manipulated the common man by emotional slogans to join the Indian Army in WW one and WW two and used heaps of corpses of dead Indian soldiers at Ypres Kutalamara and Burma as stepping stones in negotiations with the British about sharing political power in the period 1919-47! Today they want us to believe that there was freedom struggle. But those freedom fighters did not belong either to the Congress or Muslim League. The soldiers of 1857, the Ghadrites of 1918-19, the Bengalis of modern Bengal, and all Indian soldiers who died in WW one and WW two fighting ironically for the British were the real freedom fighters! These leaders constantly downplay the naval rebellion of 1946 and prefer to talk about their parties grand role!
The British transfer of power was not a sudden British retreat under Indian freedom fighters’ pressure but a long pre-meditated process started in 1909 but accelerated by two world wars. They departed gracefully satisfied that both the countries would be ruled by a class created by the British. Their graceful departure was followed by a disgraceful genocide precipitated equally by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs for the sake of thrill and loot justified erroneously in the name of religious fervour.
The populace of Indo-Pak had voted for the Congress or the League motivated by vague hopes, unrealistic expectations and impractical ideals! The new rulers were little different from Aurangzeb or Ranjit Singh or any other tyrant. A non-Muslim government at Delhi did not save the Sikhs from genocide which they were fearing had Punjab not been divided into East and West Punjab! Similarly the Baloch soon discovered that Jacob Outram or Sandeman were much better intellectually, administratively and humanly than Ayub, Tikka or Bhutto! The Bengali Muslims were soon to discover that their new masters were also from the overseas just like the British! Before 1947 the Muslims, the Hindus who were the vast majority would soon amend the constitution so that they could constitutionally justify the exploitation and oppression in Muslim majority provinces! The audience were told that if India was not divided the Hindus would use a Hindu controlled and dominated army to discipline the Muslim provinces! Also the Baloch, the Sindhis and the Bengalis were to discover in the post-1947 scenario that merely having a Muslim Federal Government is no guarantee that they would not be persecuted at will and whim!
Who were the Muslims or the Sikhs or even the Hindus fighting against, if they were fighting against at all before 1947? The history of Indo-Pak in the period between 1857 to 1947 is a history of manipulation of the ordinary man galvanised by hollow, meaningless slogans based on religion etc, by a small class of men who prospered under the British rule whether as landlords or as businessmen or lawyers or soldiers or civil servants. They were playing a game whose rules were made by the British! The only sacrifice if it can be called one was made by the common Indian soldier fighting in two world wars for the British. Most of these enlisted by virtue of efforts of feudals and civil servants in pre-1947 Punjab. The prime motive of the unionist landlord who was the principal British recruiting agent was sycophancy and personal benefit. The peasant who they manipulated was thus mere common fodder in a war fought with the Germans or Japanese against whom he had no reason to fight!
The fault of this whole ridiculous and highly ironic state of affairs lies with the British. They tried to view India as one country motivated by pure administrative and political convenience. India was a mere geographical expression but the British for some time gave it the appearance of being one country. In 1947 they divided India in an illogical manner on erroneous conceptual lines. In the process they left behind two illogical Federal structures who ruled the various ethnic groups with the help of two mercenary armies which had been created by the British basically for internal security or internal oppression! The ship of two nation theory which did not exist in 1857 was hastily created in 1940! The high sounding theories about Akhand Bharat were also dismantled in the killing fields of Kashmir Indian Punjab and in Nagaland! Three purposeless wars were fought by two highly unprofessional armies whose maintenance expenses have firmly ensured that the Indo- Pak region remains the bastion of poverty, ignorance and instability.
Behind the five decade farce of this smoke screen of conflict the common man is the main victim! The Bengalis of East Bengal were intellectually honest enough to struggle to create an ethnic nation state. Thank God their doubts about ethnicity and ideology were resolved in 1971!
The rest of the region is a hostage of ambitious politicians, industrialists and generals who want the whole world to believe that they are fighting for a just cause! Those who were fighting for a just cause died long time back in 1857 or 1958 or in 1919! The rest is fiction!
Sycophancy, Servility and Narrow Self-Interest won in
1857. As far as all post-1857
successful Indians were concerned, Sons and Grandsons of Opportunists were
the later leaders of all Indians!
De Omnibus Dubitandum