India became theater of conflict among European powers in the 18th century A.D. Portuguese, followed by Dutch, Danish, English and French struggled for supremacy over Indian affairs. In the race for survival English came out with flying colour. The Battle of Plassey saw the beginning of long march of "British Age" in Indian History.
Century that followed the battle witnessed series of challenges thrown by the mighty British power. The Great revolt of 1857 can be termed as a first serious response by the Indians to British challenges. The fury of the revolt made tremor in the whole land and at least for a brief space of time threw the mighty British power into a whirlwind of confusion.
Character and Nature of the Revolt of 1857
The character and nature of the revolt of 1857 has been variously commented upon by the historians. Sir Marshman, John Lawrence, P.E. Roberts, Mallson, Holmes, Seelay, Sambhu Chandra Mukhopadhaya, Haris Chandra Mukharjee, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Raj Narain Basu and Godsay Bhattji have described this great event as "Mutiny of the Sepoys." Sir James Outram and W.
Taylor has treated this incident as the "combined conspiracy of Hindus and Muslims." Even scholars have characterized the revolt as "a conflict between the black and white"; "a religious was against Christianity"; "tug of war between civilization and barbarism" and "an elitist movement". Jawaharlal Nehru in his book, The Discovery of India described it as the feudal revolt of 1857 and added that "it was much more than a military mutiny and it rapidly spread and assumed the character of a popular rebellion and a war of Indian independence." The Revolt of 1857, to Bipan Chandra, "was much more than a mere product' of Espy discontent. It was in reality a product of the character and policies of colonial rule, the accumulated grievances of the people against the company's administration and of their dislike for the foreign regime." On a totally different perspective V.D. Savarkar and Ashok Mehta have described this revolt as "a national struggle." To V.D. Savarkar the revolt was a national war it stood for two principles, namely, Swadharma and Swaraj which are the basic objectives of any national movement.
This school of historical thought describes this revolt as "First war of National independence." Historian Rawlinson, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, R.C. Majumdar and S.N. Sen have not accepted the national character of the revolt. Even though S.N. Sen has described Sepoy mutiny as the "first war of independence, R.C. Majumdar holds a different view point and states, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that so-called first National war of Independence of A.D. 1857, is neither first nor national, nor a war of independence." Strangely Benjamin Disraeli, the leader of the conservative party of England has called it a "National revolt." "The motives of leadership of revolt, geographical extent of the sway of revolt, its loose organizational infrastructure and the fragile basis of national consciousness at that moment do not provide substance to the so-called characterization of sepoy mutiny as "National struggle."
After a close study of different and even divergent view points one single explanation can be offered as to the nature of 1857 revolt.
The entire episode can not be summarily dismissed as a mere product of Sepoy discontent. Simultaneously it can not be described as a nationalistic reaction or First war of Independence. Sepoy's discontent sparked the conflict.
It burst forth into a mightily popular revolt in the backdrop of popular discontent and hatred against foreign rule gaining strength slowly but steadily among different sections of Indian society. Since the revolt was directed against the foreigners the operation of dormant forces of nationalism in this revolt can also clearly be visualized.
The sepoy mutiny of 18 57, however, "marked the last struggle of Indian princely class against the British, and the first attempt of the Indian people to organize themselves against a foreign rule, though on a limited scale."