OPINION

Chapter Three
Political and Military Situation from 1839 to 1857

Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN from WASHINGTON DC gives a brilliant analysis of the 1857 War of Independence

The victory at Plassey in 1757 established the EEIC as one of the major powers in India. Its occupation of Delhi in 1803 after defeating the Mahrattas established it as the permanent power in India. Its occupation of Punjab in 1849 and Oudh in 1856 completed the process which Clive started in 1757. In 1856 the Company was the only dominant power in India. The only foreseeable threat which anyone in 1856 could perceive against EEIC rule was from Tsarist Russia which was rapidly expanding southwards into Central Asia. Iran had been humbled in 1856 and Afghanistan had been taught a lesson in 1842. Yet the last and fatal threat to EEIC came from within i.e. its own Bengal Army using which it had defeated all its enemies from 1757 to 1856. Revolutions can be roughly predicted but their outbreak always comes as a surprise. The same was true for the French Revolution of 1789 or for the Russian Revolution of 1904-05.

The situation in India of 1856 was that of radical change in the sphere of infrastructure as well as in the overall socio-political sphere. The introduction of post office and telegraph had revolutionized India and was the first step towards making it more than a mere geographical expression as it was before 1757 and till even 1856. The postage rate of a letter posted in any part of India to any other part was much cheaper than England.

On 24th March 1854 the first telegraphic message between Agra and Calcutta some 800 miles was passed within some two hours. By 1856 all major parts of India were linked by telegraph. Dalhousie gave great priority to communications. He therefore took away the responsibility of public works from the highly inefficient military boards and assigned them to provincial governments94. Thus during Dalhousie's eight year tenure more roads were metalled than in the tenure of four previous Governor Generals i.e. from 1828 to 1848. Another revolutionary development of Dalhousie's tenure was the railway. Thus in April 1853 the first railway line not only in India but entire Asia was laid from Bombay to Thana95. By December, 1854 a railway from Calcutta to 'Raniganj' some 120 miles was laid and opened. By 1856 once Dalhousie left four railway companies were working on railway lines all over India. Dalhousie annoyed the landlord and princely state rulers by his radical reforms. It must be noted and remembered that these feudals and other rulers were never the enemies of EEIC. Most of them had come under EEIC dominance after being convincingly defeated in battle like the Mahrattas, Oudh, Hyderabad etc. The Mughal emperor was an insignificant Mahratta hostage when General Lake of the Bengal Army captured Delhi following a battle with Mahrattas on 11th September 180396. It must be kept in mind that though theoretically the king of India, Shah Alam till 1803 was only a Mahratta political puppet whose allowance had been fixed by the Mahratta Sindia ruler in 1789 as 13 Lakh Rupees per year. Theoretically however Sindia was Shah Alam's minister! Subsequently Sindia had reduced Shah Alam's allowance to 744,000 per year. The EEIC increased Shah Alam's allowance to 11 and half lakh per year97. Technically and in practice the EEIC did not completely assert its sovereignty till 1813 98 . Lord Moira who came to India as Governor General in this year 1813 resolved to end the anachronism that the Company was subservient to the Mughal Empire even in theory. Militarily at least this was never in doubt since Buxar (1764) or at least since capture of Delhi (1803) which actually for the Mughal Emperor was a change in masters from Mahrattas to EEIC. Here we come across a myth prevalent specially in Pakistan, that the EEIC took power from the Mughals who were holding Delhi in 1803, whereas the Mahrattas had been the dominant power in Delhi from 1771. To cut the discussion short Lord Moira in the words of a historian decided 'extinguish the fiction of the Moghal Government.' He therefore altered the Governor General's seal on which previously there was the phrase servant of the emperor' i.e. the Mughal Emperor. This phrase was now removed 99.

Thus Moira refused to grant an interview to Akbar-II who had succeeded Shah Alam as the Mughal Emperor in 1806 unless Akbar-II refrained from observing protocol which at least symbolically signified that the Mughal Emperor was superior in protocol to the EEIC. Thus in the year 1835 new coins were introduced to replace the old ones which were issued in the name of Emperor Shah Alam since 1778. These coins bore the English Monarch's image and superscription100. It was during Lord Cannings's tenure as Governor General that it was decided that Bahadur Shah would be the last Mughal Emperor to be recognised as so by the EEIC. That after his death the Mughal family will be shifted from Red Fort to Qutb Minar area south of Delhi, though they would continue to receive pension etc 101. In Rangoon the old man must have cursed the 3rd Light Cavalry!

In 1849 Punjab (including present day NWFP province of Pakistan) was annexed to the EEIC. The people of Punjab were approximately three fourth Muslim but were ruled by the Sikhs. The EEIC pursued a brilliant policy in Punjab. They treated the Sikhs who had fought very well against the EEIC in the First and Second Sikh Wars very chivalrously. On the other hand they also won the goodwill of the Muslim population of Punjab and NWFP by restoring many mosques which the Sikhs had turned into stables and powder magazines! They also gave the Muslims new economic incentives by opening the doors of recruitment into the army and civilian jobs. These previously were closed for the Muslims. The acquisition of Punjab also gave the EEIC a new recruiting ground for soldiers rivalling the Old Northwest province and Oudh in area and number of population. Dalhousie authorized the Board of Administration in Punjab to raise the Punjab Irregular Frontier Force (PIFFERs)102. This irregular force played an important role in the EEIC capture of Delhi, later on in September 1857. The guiding spirit behind this positive policy of EEIC were the Lawrence Brothers who laid the foundations of EEIC rule in Punjab. A Board of Administration consisting of three members was formed to govern Punjab. Henry Lawrence and John Lawrence who were brothers and another civilian Mansel were the members of this board. The Badshahi Mosque of Lahore was restored to the Muslims in 1856 by John Lawrence after getting sanction to do so from the Governor General103. This action had a tremendous positive influence in symbolic and psychological terms on the Muslims all over the Punjab. In this regard the EEIC fulfilled the mission of Syed Ahmad Shaheed i.e. the liberation of the Muslims of Punjab and Frontier from the Sikh tyranny! This is a fact which was common knowledge in 1856 but was subsequently forgotten once Indo-Pak historians chose to ignore this fact in subsequently written historical works after 1857. Their sole motivation in ignoring this simple and crystal clear fact was nationalistic fervour. This demolishes the baseless prevalent myth in Pakistan that the British enslaved Muslims who were previously the rulers. At least they liberated all Muslims west of Aligarh who were either Mahratta or Sikh subjects! This applies to all Muslims west of Aligarh and west of Ganges and include all the regions of UP west of Ganges, including and west of Aligarh, present Pakistani Punjab, Indian Punjab, present NWFP settled areas (except tribal area). Once the British came north only two Muslim regions of present Pakistan were independent i.e. present Sindh and Balochistan most of which was Kalat state and part of which was Afghanistan, apart from the tribal areas of NWFP etc.Two conflicting positions emerge.While it was true to a great extent that the British were foreigners and their rule was not in India's best interest, something with which many Indo Pak intellectuals disagree! The positive factor in Punjab after 1849 keeping in view its administrative and social reforms. On the other hand there was little in common between the Bengal Army soldiers and the population of Punjab. The Sikhs viewed them as traitors, since the Sikh reasoning was that the Hindustani or Oudh sepoy had played the part of mercenary by fighting for the EEIC in the two Sikh wars. The Sikhs repaid them by fighting for the EEIC in 1857.

The Punjabi Muslims' perception about EEIC was more subtle and complex to define. He was previously ruled by the Sikh minority who were the same in race but belonged to a different religion and were deeply anti-Muslim because of a long history of persecution by Muslim Mughal and Afghan kings. The EEIC rule was viewed as rule by a foreign race which was much more tolerant and beneficial as compared to the Sikhs. Thus the EEIC was viewed as a liberator by Punjabi Muslims. The soldiers of the Bengal Army were viewed in a different light by the Punjabi Muslims and the Pathan Muslims. Culturally the Hindustanis who constituted the 95% of Bengal Army was much different and distinct from the Punjabi. In 1849 all inhabitants of India south of Ambala in general and east of Jumna in particular were called Hindustanis. Religiously some 75 to 80% of the Bengal Army consisted of Hindu Brahmans or Hindu Rajputs. So the Bengal Army was largely viewed as a Hindu entity in 1849-57, which as a matter of fact it was. Over and above that the Bengal Army soldier spoke a different language i.e. Poorbee in case of the Hindus and Urdu in case of the Hindustani Muslims or the Hariana Ranghar. The Punjabi Muslims and the Pathan Muslims spoke different languages and thus there was little communication between the inhabitants of Punjab (including present NWFP) and the Bengal Army soldiers in the period 1849-57. These circumstances partly explain why the rebellion did not succeed in Punjab in 1857. Even today these facts are not understood or accepted by a large number of people in Indo-Pak Sub-Continent and a controversy regarding 'Punjab Loyalty' or 'Betrayal' has been lingering on. The same is true for Indian Punjab excluding Hariana.

After 1849 the EEIC started recruiting from Punjab. This caused serious apprehensions in the ranks of the Bengal Army. The Hindustani soldier now knew that he was no longer indispensable and the EEIC knew it better than him. Due to a long series of mutinies starting from 1757 the EEIC was keen to induct soldiers who were not high caste Hindus (Brahmans and Rajputs). In Punjab they found a vast reservoir of good unemployed manpower who were more easily manageable since they were not Hindus. It is pertinent to note that the Sikh or Muslim had less inhibitions or hang-ups about purity of utensils or moving across Indus or across the sea than the Hindu. These were simple reasons why the EEIC preferred Punjabis. Later on a myth was invented that the Punjabis were more martial. Another myth which is more prevalent in Pakistan is that 1857 was a largely Muslim show. But then Indo-Pak history is largely myth, because this region of the world has the unique distinction of having the most mediocre leaders in modern world, and if we omit all the myths there will be little left of any worth in all that we call Indo-Pak history.

Chapter Four
The Bengal Army and
The Military Situation -1857

We have seen that by 1849 the EEIC had almost completely conquered the Indo-Pak Sub-Continent. For this they had used predominantly the native armies, while the core/nucleus of their army was the European component which again had two sub-parts i.e. the Company's European units and the king's/queen's troops or the Royal British Army. Thus after 1849 the EEIC started reducing the Royal Army units since these were loaned to them on payment by the British Government and were expensive to maintain. This was also necessitated by the Crimean War of 1854 (The war had started in 1853 but Britain joined in 1854). Thus in 1852 there were 39 Royal Army Infantry Regiments in India. These were thus reduced to 24 in 1856. By 1857 these were further reduced to 22104. These Royal Army Regiments were the core element of the Company's European component. Following is the rough distribution of troops army-wise 105:-

Another authority stated the distribution to be as following (1) European (British)39,751, (2) Native-226,418106. The Royal Commission appointed after the rebellion put the respective strengths as 232,224 Natives and 45,522 Europeans107 Sir John Fortescue the official historian of the British Army placed the British strength at 36,000 divided as following 108:-

  EUROPEAN NATIVE TOTAL
BENGAL ARMY 22,698 118,663 141,361
MADRAS ARMY 10,194  49,737 59,931
BOMBAY ARMY 5,109  31,601 36,710
TOTAL 38,001 200,001 238,002

a. Infantry
(1) Company's European Troops - 9 Battalions
(2) Queen's Troops - 22 Battalions

b. Cavalry
(1) Company's European Troops - 3 Regiments
(2) Queen's Troops - 2 Regiments

It appears that Fortescue was wrong about East India Company's European Cavalry. the EEIC had no European Cavalry since the Royal Commission Report which is the standard authority on figures gives the Company's European Cavalry strength as nil. Detailed figures as given by Royal Commission Report on the Indian Mutiny are as following 109:-

 

BRITISH

NATIVE

 
Regiment/Arm of Service Units Strength Units Strength
Cavalry 4 2,686 21 9,876
Infantry(Royal Regiments) 22 21,577 115 152,860
Infantry(Company's Army Europeans) 9      
Horse Artillery 17 Troops   6 Troops
Foot Artillery 52 Companies 6419 36 Companies 4166
Irregular Cavalry   33 Regiments 21,047
Irregular Infantry 45 Battalions 35,426
Sappers and Miners 29 Coys 3,043
Engineers   631  
TOTAL

39,751                                        226,418

Army-wise distribution of native troops was as following 110:-

BASIC ORGANISATION OF EAST INDIA COMPANY'S NATIVE UNITS

INFANTRY. Organised as a 'Regiment' consisting of ten companies. It had 1,000 sepoys organised in ten companies of 100 sepoys each. Each company had two European officers, two native Junior Commissioned Officers and 12 native Junior Commissioned Officers. They were armed with the 'Brown Bess' Musket which was a muzzle loaded two groove rifle of peninsular war (1808-14) vintage. The effective range of this rifle was 100 yards.

 

Infantry

Cavalry

 

Artillery

  Regular Irregular Regular Irregular Horse Normal
Bengal Army 74 45 10 24 4 18
Madras Army 52 - 8 - 2 6
Bombay Army 29 - 3 9 - 12
Total 155 45 21 33 6 36

CAVALRY. A Cavalry regiment consisted of about 400 men and 24 European officers. It had six troops which were the basic administrative unit. For tactical purposes each Regiment was handled in squadron groupings of two troops each in battle. Each troop had two European officers assisted by one Junior Commissioned Officer and eight native Non Commissioned Officers and sixty sowars (troopers). All troopers were armed with a light dragoon sword and pistols. One man in each section carried a carbine.

ARTILLERY. Artillery was organised as Battalions, each consisting of six companies. The native artillery of Bengal army had three battalions i.e. 18 Companies. After 1861 companies were redesignated as batteries. Bombay Army had two native battalions i.e. 12 companies and Madras Army had one battalion i.e. six companies. Each company had six guns. Each Horse artillery gun was drawn by six horses whereas the other artillery guns were pulled by bullocks. Effective range of field artillery was 800 yards for round shot and shell and about 300 yards for grapeshot. Horse Artillery used 6 pounder guns and Field Artillery used 9 pounder guns. All artillery guns were smooth bore and muzzle loaded.

ORGANISATION OF THE BENGAL ARMY

The Commander-in-Chief of the Bengal Army and Commander-in-Chief of India was General Anson who in May 1857 when the rebellion broke out was stationed at Simla with his staff. He had seen active service for the last time before 1857 during the Napoleonic wars. The Bengal Army was divided into seven divisions and its area of responsibility stretched from Bengal proper to the Khyber Pass. The following was its division :-

a. Presidency Division. Calcutta commanded by Major General Sir John Bennet Hearsay

b. Dinapore Division. Commanded by Major General Sir G.W.A Lloyd.

c. Cawnpore Division. Commanded by Major General Sir Hugh Wheeler.

d. Meerut Division. Commanded by Major General S.H Hewitt.

e. Sirhind Division. Commanded by Major General Sir Henry Barnard.

f. Lahore Division. Commanded by Major General G.E Gowan.

g.Peshawar Division. Commanded by Major General T.Reed.

DEPLOYMENT OF EUROPEAN TROOPS

The European troops were deployed as following :-

a. Calcutta. His Majesty's (H.M) 53 Foot 112aand H.M 84 Foot (which arrived from Burma on 20th March 1857 113.

b. Dinapur. H.M 10 Foot 114

c. Lucknow. H.M 32 Foot 115

d. Agra. 3rd Bengal European Infantry of the English East India Company 116.

e. Meerut. H.M 6 Dragoons and H.M 60th Rifles117

f. Ambala. H.M 9th Lancers118.

g. Simla and surrounding area. H.M 75th Foot at Kasauli.2nd Bengal European Infantry of East India Company at Subathu and 1st Bengal European Infantry of East India Company at Dagshahi 119.

h. Jullundhur. H.M 8th Foot 120.

i. Ferozepur. H.M 61 Foot 121.

j. Lahore. H.M 81 Foot122

k. Sialkot. H.M 52ND Foot 123.

l. Rawalpindi. H.M 24 Foot124.

m. Nowshera. H.M 27 Foot125

n. Peshawar. H.M 70 Foot and H.M 87 Foot 126.

Thus the total European troop strength in Northern India between and including Calcutta and Peshawar was 2 Cavalry Regiments and 17 Infantry battalions. In addition, there were two more European Cavalry and five more infantry battalions in Bombay and Madras Presidencies127.

DEPLOYMENT AND STRENGTH OF NATIVE TROOPS

Between Calcutta and Peshawar there were some 119 Infantry Regiments and some 34 Cavalry Regiments. (See Map illustrating Deployment of Native Troops). Also see Appendix for details.

104 Page-9- The Indian Mutiny- Fitzgerald and Lee-London-1858.

105 Appendix - Page-345- Incidents in the Sepoy War-General Sir Hope Grant-Edinburgh-1873.

106 Appendix-Three- The Indian Army-The Garrison of British Imperial India-1822-1922-T.A Heathcote-David and Ch Bennet Hearsay

a. Dinapore Division: Commanded by Major General Sir G.W.A Lloyd.

b. Cawnpore Division: Commanded by Major General Sir Hugh Wheeler.

c. Meerut Division:-Commanded by Major General S.H Hewitt.

d. Sirhind Division:-Commanded by Major General Sir Henry Barnard.

e. Lahore Division:-Commanded by Major General G.E Gowan.

f. Peshawar Division:-Commanded by Major General T.Reed.

Notes

94 Page-32-Cambridge History-Indian Empire-Op Cit.
95 Issue of 28 April 1853- Friend of India- -( Periodical )-Serampore-1853.
96 Page-82 & 83-Lieutenant F.G Cardew-Op Cit.
97 Page-38-Percival Spear-Op Cit.
98 Page-605-Cambridge History-British Insdia-1497-1858-Op Cit.
99 Ibid.
100 Page-606-Ibid.
101 Pages-606 & 607- Ibid.
102 Page241-Lieut F.G Cardew-Op Cit and Page-4- The Frontier Force Regiment- Compiled by Brigadier W.E.H Condon-Aldershot-Gale and Polden-1962.
103 Pages-8 & 9- Old Lahore-Reminiscences of a Resident- Reprinted by Univesrsal Books-Zulqarnain Chambers-Ganpat Road-Lahore-1976.
104 Page-9- The Indian Mutiny- Fitzgerald and Lee-London-1858
105 Appendix - Page-345 Incidents in the Sepoy war -Genearl Sir Hope Grant-Edinburgh-1837
106 Appendix-Three- The Indian Army-The Garrison of British Imperial India-1822-1922-.A
107Page-626-Kaye-Sepoy Rebellion-Op Cit.
108 Page-243-J.W Fortescue-Volume- XIII-Op Cit.Out Of the total posted strength of 29 Royal Army units;three were in Persia at this time;Twelve were in Punjab;one ie 86th Foot had a wing in Aden and Three were in Burma leaving Ten Royal Army Battalions for rest of India.Out of these there were just two battalions between and excluding Calcutta and including Lucknow.
109 Page-626-Kaye-Sepoy Rebellion-Op Cit..The page number in the Royal Commissions actual report was page-341 while Kaye reproduced the return on page-626 of his book op cit.
110 Own calculation based on study of following sources:-Pages-37 to 67-Heathcote-Op Cit.Pages-433 to 469-Lieut F.G Cardew-Op Cit.
111 Pages-37 , 38, 41 , 42 , 43,52,55,-T.A Heathcote-Op Cit.
112 Pages-264,265 & 266-Lieut F.G Cardew-Op Cit and Page-16- Indian Mutiny in Perspective- Lieutenant General Sir George Macmunn-G . Bell and Sons-London-1931.248,249,256 ,257
112a Page-248 and 249-J.W Fortescue-Volume XIII-Op Cit.
113 Page-14- The Indian Mutiny Up to The Relief of Lucknow- Dr Fitzgerald Lee and Captain F.W
Radcliffe-For Staff College Candidates-Calcutta-1912
114 Page-11-Fitzgerald and Radcliffe-Op Cit.
115 Ibid.
116 Ibid.
117 Page-252-J.W Fortescue-Volume-XIII-Op Cit.
118 Page-11-Fitzgerald and Radcliffe-Op Cit.
119 Ibid.
120 Ibid.
121 Ibid.
122 Ibid.
123 Ibid.
124 Page-10-Ibid.
125 Ibid.
126 Ibid.
127 Page-9-Ibid.

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