History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2011: Q.3 (a)

3 (a) “In 1857, the rebel sepoys showed a remarkable centripetal tendency to congregate at Delhi.” Do you agree? Substantiate.


In May 1857, the Sepoys revolted in Meerut and then marched to Delhi and entered the Red Fort. They appealed to the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II to lead the revolt. The provisional government was set up in Delhi under Mughal Emperor.

Mughal Emperor was weak with no real power but still suddenly became the rallying point of the rebels.

The news of the events at Delhi spread rapidly, provoking uprisings among sepoys and disturbances in many districts. It is from Delhi that the sepoys moved to different parts joining local rebels.

It is argued that the rebel sepoys showed a centripetal tendency to congregate at Delhi from different part of India to fight against British under Mughal Emperor. This tendency can be explained through the following reasons:

(1) It was inevitable that most of the sepoys from Meerut would have made for Delhi because it was a strong walled city located only forty miles away, it was the ancient capital and present seat of the Mughal Emperor and finally there were no British troops in garrison there in contrast to Meerut.

(2) The centripetal tendency to congregate at Delhi was shown by the sepoys even when Mughal authority was weak because of the status and prestige of the Mughal Emperor. Even during the weak period when the local governors of provinces like Oudh, Bengal, Hyderabad gained independence, they still considered Mughal Emperor as nominal head and continued to send tributes and obtained Farmans.

(3) Congregating at Delhi under Mughal Emperor would have united local rulers and Zamindars against the common enemy, the British.

However the tendency to congregate at Delhi was not due to any popular national movement against British or any well thought plan.

The story of the circulation of messages through chapatis or lotus flowers does not prove any well planned conspiracy. Even the Mughal Emperor was not aware of the sepoys movement towards Delhi.

The nationalist sentiment was not yet developed in India at that time. Rallying behind Mughal Emperor was only for the convenience rather than to consider Mughal Emperor as the authority in the real sense.

The sepoys revolted due to their own personal grievances and religious sentiments. The increased misery suffered by the common people due to the colonial rule affected the soldiers directly as they were part of the Indian society. The Indian soldiers could not hope to rise in the hierarchy of the Army as the higher posts in the army were reserved for European Officers. They were discriminated in the matter of salary and promotion in comparison with their European counterpart. They were racially abused by the British. The Indian soldiers were asked to fight outside India, across the sea, which offended their religious sentiments. The immediate cause of revolt was the issue of greased cartridges which were said to be made with fat of cows and pigs.

Thus the remarkable centripetal tendency to congregate at Delhi by sepoys was not entirely out of nationalist sentiments or well thought plan but it was more to give a positive political rallying point for the rebels and give political meaning to the revolt.

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