The Communists and ?Saffronites? (Hindu nationalists) are trying to outgun each other in claiming 1857 uprising as their own. To the latter, it was a nationalist and patriotic uprising, to the former it was a ?people'swar? against exploitative colonialism.
The Communists could proudly cite that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote a series of articles in New York Daily Tribune between July, 1857 and October, 1858 on the progress of the revolt. That a London-based Jew and a Prussian had taken a sympathetic (and sustained) interest in 1857 uprising is no doubt commendable. But Communists are somewhere uneasy that it was Veer Savarkar, their bugbear, who coined the word ?War of Independence? for the 1857 uprising, something which Communists could not refrain themselves from borrowing. Marx and Engels termed it ?Revolt?, ?Rebellion?, ?Insurrection?; six of Marx'sarticles bore identical title ?The Revolt in India?. But fifty years later, young Savarkar, sitting in the same London, not only called it ?War of Independence? but defiantly celebrated its half centenary with inmates of India House.
The Communists who otherwise never miss an opportunity to take cudgels against Savarkar, would coolly drop his mention, while hailing 1857. This is because Savarkar has highlighted ?Hindu-Muslim solidarity? in 1857?thus denying the Communists an excuse to take him to task. Communists were envious of it, but helpless.
However, recently, Nalini Taneja in People'sDemocracy (March 25, 2007 pp.8-9) has made a ?bold attempt? to discredit Savarkar for his glorification of 1857. To her, Savarkar'sdescription of 1857 as a holy war in defence of swadharma or own religion (both Hinduism and Islam) against Christian European hegemony for establishment of swarajya (own order) is itself communal. ?His espousal of Hindu-Muslim unity?. Ms. Taneja charges, ?has little to do with equal rights of citizenship or an appreciation for composite culture.? ?Equal rights of citizenship? seems more an echo from French Revolution rather than 1857 uprising. Communists should know better than rest of us that the 1857 was no French Revolution. French Revolution (1789-1793), despite being as bloody as 1857, signified a forward movement in human thought (liberty, equality and fraternity) and political institutions. The 1857, even in most secular terms, was a relapsing into medieval order of kingship and potentates.
It neither promoted democracy, nor industrialisation, nor proletarian revolution. The 1857 uprising was not backed up by any vision of social scientists or philosopher like Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu. The only ideological directions for 1857 uprising came from muftis and maulavis who proclaimed it as ?jihad?. The green banner of Islam was hoisted in grand mosque (Jama Masjid) of Delhi, and various mosques in Bareilly, Bijnor and Moradabad.
The jihad against the British, at times turned against the Hindus leading to ugly riots and blood baths across Rohilkhand. Karl Marx admits the uncomfortable truth??While the Moghul specter himself, like the merchants of Delhi, had become averse to the rule of the sepoys, who plundered them of every rupee they had amassed, the religious dissensions between the Hindoo and Mohammedan sepoys, and the quarrels between the old garrison and the new re-enforcements, sufficed to break up their superficial organisation and to insure their downfall .? (The Revolt in India, New York Daily Tribune, November 14, 1857 ). The ?mutiny? in Bengal army (85 per cent of which comprised upper-caste Hindus from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) was sparked off by Mangal Pandey at Barackpore on March 29, 1857.
But did he give a lecture ?ruin of India'sindigenous textile industry under British rule? or ?huge drain of Indian wealth to England ? to his fellow soldiers as he mutinied? He mutinied because, like rest of the Hindu soldiers of Bengal army, he did not want to touch Enfield Cartridge greased with cow fat. Now Communist ?eminent historians? have been telling us that in ancient India Brahmins ?ate beef as sanctioned by the Vedas? (which Vedas nobody knows!), and hence in modern India, it is ?progressive? to eat beef. Thus Mangal Pandey, to use Communist logic, must have been a ?retrograde? Brahmin rather than ?progressive?. Is it not a shame if Communists try to own up an uprising sparked off by such communal consideration!
The success of 1857 would have put the politico-economic-intellectual evolution back by one hundred years. The new India that was rising on eastern horizon after battle of Plassey, 1757 in form of Bengal Renaissance would have been defeated. The British abandoned their provocative policy of annexation of Indian states (through war, through doctrine of lapse etc) in the aftermath of 1857. But it is this policy of annexation, which in hindsight, had contributed to political unification of India.
The territorial integrity of India has been sacrosanct to Hindu nationalists, but not to Communists. In 1940s, when Jinnah was going hammer and tong with his two-nation theory, the Communists had floated their multi-nation theory. It implied that India was an assortment of nations, like the USSR, and should politically be a loose coalition of states. However, today'sCommunists dissociate themselves from that theory floated by Hiren Mukherji and K.M. Ashraf in 1940.
But India exploding into multiple kingdoms and principalities in 1857 would not have benefited even the Communists. India'stie with the Europe, where new political-economic-philosophic ideas especially Communism were germinating, would have been snapped. Rather the success of three universities established by the British in the same fateful year of 1857?Calcutta, Bombay and Madras?would have contributed to the process. How future Communists could have read works of Marx except through much maligned ?colonial education??
The 1857 was an attempt to abort a new era, whose time had come. The history of medieval India, as historian Stanley Lane-Poole observed, was more a chronicle of kings, and courts, and conquest rather than organic growth. Communists who founded the USSR on the dead body of last Romanav Emperor, Czar Nicholas II, and who breath fire against monarchy in Nepal are better not found arguing the case of last Mughal Emperor.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])