Criticism of 1857 Revolt


  • Even though spread over a vast territory and widely popular among the people, the Revolt of 1857 could not embrace the entire country or all the groups and classes of Indian society.

  • Most rulers of the Indian states and the big zamindars, selfish to the core and fearful of British might, refused to join in.

  • On the contrary, the Sindhia of Gwalior, the Holkar of Indore, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Raja of Jodhpur and other Rajput rulers, the Nawab of Bhopal, the rulers of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, and Kashmir, the Ranas of Nepal, and many other ruling chiefs, and a large number of big zamindars gave active help to the British in suppressing the Revolt. In fact, no more than one per cent of the chiefs of India joined the Revolt.

  • Governor-General Canning later remarked that these rulers and chiefs "acted as the breakwaters to the storm which would have otherwise swept us in one great wave."

  • Madras, Bombay, Bengal, and the Western Punjab remained undisturbed, even though the popular feeling in these provinces favored the rebels.

  • Except for the discontented and the dispossessed zamindars, the middle and upper classes were mostly critical of the rebels; most of the propertied classes were either cool towards them or actively hostile to them.

  • The money-lenders were the chief targets of the villagers' attacks. They were, therefore, naturally hostile to the Revolt.

  • The merchants too gradually became unfriendly. The rebels were compelled to impose heavy taxation on them in order to finance the war or to seize their stocks of foodstuffs to feed the army

  • The merchants often hid their wealth and goods and refused to give free supplies to the rebels.

  • The big merchants or Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras supported the British because their main profits came from foreign trade and economic connections with the British merchants.

  • The zamindars of Bengal also remained loyal to the British. They were after all a creation of the British.

  • The modern educated Indians also did not support the Revolt. They were repelled by the rebels' appeals to superstitions and their opposition to progressive social measures.

  • The educated Indians wanted to end the backwardness of the country. They mistakenly believed that British rule would help them accomplish these tasks of modernization while the rebels would take the country backward.

  • The revolutionaries of 1857 proved to be more farsighted in this respect; they had a better, instinctive understanding of the evils of foreign rule and of the necessity to get rid of it.

  • On the other hand, they did not realize, as did the educated intelligentsia, that the country had fallen prey to foreigners precisely because it had stuck to rotten and outmoded customs, traditions, and institutions.

  • In any case, it cannot be said that the educated Indians were anti-national or loyal to a foreign regime. As events after 1858 were to show, they were soon to lead a powerful and modem national movement against British rule.