History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2014: Q.1 (c)
Q.1 (c) “The military, feudal and traditional overtones of the Revolt of 1857 were overshadowed by its nationalist or proto-nationalist character.” Critically examine.
Majority of Indian historians and leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Vir Sawarkar etc. considered the revolt of 1857 as the first war of Indian Independence. Many consider the war as proto-nationalistic because nationalism in modern sense had not developed at that time. Logic behind calling the revolt as nationalistic or proto-nationalistic were the following:
(a) Since the end of alien rule was the chief purpose, in this sense the revllt of 1857 was national war for freedom.
(b) this revolt could not spread so rapidly if it had not been supported by the people.
(c) Both the Hindus and Muslims took part in this revolt moved by national sentiments.
(d) A large number of common people including women took part or supported the revolt.
But this nationalistic or proto-nationalistic overtone overshadowed military, feudal and traditional overtone of revolt.
There are views that it was military uprising. The sepoys revolted due to their own personal grievances and religious sentiments. 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. 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.
Some considered it as feudal in nature beacause by means of this revolt all those discontented native rulers and landlords wanted to regain their territory, jagirs and pensions which the various Governor-Generals had confiscated.
There are other traditional reasons of the revolt like local economic, religious and other grievances of different sections of the society like peasants and tribes.
It is true that the revolt had military, feudal and traditional overtones but these elements in 19th century India should not be seen in isolation.The sepoys had close kinship relations with the agrarian population and this population shared a common grief with feudal elements of society like local rulers and zamindars.
Though it would be very hard to justify the revolt as having nationalistic character as the revolt was mostly limited to northern India, there was limited partitipation of local rulers as well as common man and it was mostly based on personal interests of the local rulers. But at the same time, the revolt had the seeds of nationalism which paved the way for the emergence of nationalism and strong nationalist movement later on.
Hence it can be concluded that whatever may be the original character of the rebellion, it soon became a symbol of challenge to the mighty British power. It remained a shining example before the nascent nationalism in India in its struggle for freedom from British Yoke.