The 1857 war in India, is something that remained an enigma for the last 150 years. For “the public was at the time and for years to come saturated to an astonishing degree with lurid accounts of the uprising, which became the subject of countless sermons, novels, plays and poems, and about which more than eighty novels were written, six appearing in the “peak” year of 1896 alone”.
So, I too was vaguely thrilled to receive a draft copy of the Operation Red Lotus (Red Lotus) by Parag Tope, some 7 months ago. Over the next 2-3 weeks, I went through the book. The first time with more enthusiasm than objectivity. Then came the time to take a 2ndlook look.
This book was an interesting experience. For one it represents yet another attempt to clean up Indian history of colonial detritus.
Answers to some obvious questions
Western /colonial historiography has typically dismissed the Anglo-Indian War of 1857 (Parag Tope’s nomenclature) as a Sepoy Mutiny. Post-colonial Indian historians have been equally guilty of another crime – of dismissing this War as a subaltern war, playing into the hands of Western dismissive-ness. This is something that becomes obvious after reading Red Lotus. Brought on a staple diet of colonial history refurbished as Indian history, to get some bearings was a welcome development.
After all a 18-36 month War that reverberated across the world could not have been a leaderless, cashless, food-less, resource-less war. Red Lotus gives us some vital information on that – which Indian history books don’t! The chapatis and lotus petals insight is unnervingly plausible.
The official account of the Anglo-Indian War of 1857 leaves a number of loose ends. This book takes those loose ends and unravels the official account itself – to leave it in tatters.
How was the 1857 war important
A valuable focus in the book, was how the British backed away from their proselytizing efforts. After and due to this War.
Not due to any innate goodness in the British hearts, or any ‘religious’ and ideological ‘liberalism’ that the modern-day Western narrative trots out. The triad of freedoms that Parag Tope delineates in Red Lotus, are an important element that defines the Indic polity system – defined as भारत्तंत्र in 2ndlook posts.
Drawing on the correspondence between Hartog and Gandhiji, as pointed out elsewhere, in 2ndlook, Red Lotus also has an excellent section on how the Indian education system was destroyed by British policy and design.
Caste of characters
Apart from the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, there were more than 75 battles, skirmishes, revolts, mutinies, involving thousands, up to lakhs of Indians, across India. And more than double that many conspiracies, plots, hold-ups, explosions, bombings, which were not organized. These more than 200 violent actions have been completely glossed over by post-colonial India’s historians. Obviously, more than 200 incidents of violent opposition to British misrule over 150 years (1800-1947) deserves better treatment by official historians. Especially, the people who were ‘behind’ this.
This is another area where Red Lotus scores. Its cast of characters are real people and have been treated objectively. Of course to readers of the 2ndlook, Parag Tope’s views are not new or strange. But to anyone else, like me initially, it was an intellectual challenge. Because Red Lotus does not spoon feed.
For instance, Baijabai Shinde and Vishnubhat Godse (his account in Marathi strangely is hardly known, and usually ignored). My favourite though is Azimullah Khan, a ‘secret agent’ who ‘devoured’ English ladies, hob-nobbed with the enemy’s-enemy and surveyed the enemy’s war operations in Crimea. Azimullah Khan, other sources say, bought a French printing press and confirmed the viability of the Anglo-Indian War!
Interestingly, the one character dealt with rather tersely (balanced, if you will) is Tatya Tope himself. Tatya Tope seems, in comparison, to be cut from a normal revolutionary cloth in Red Lotus. No mean achievement, this.
To Indians raised on an official narrative of caste-religion matrix, this cast of characters is refreshing. Unlike other texts and narratives that have given a brief or a cursory mention of these characters. How could a caste-ridden, divided and oppressive society mount more than 200 actions – against British ‘deliverance’ and ‘enlightenment’.
Red Lotus does not, for instance, get defensive about the ‘rape’ and killing of English women. Most narratives do not even question the rape and murder of British women stories. In fact,
there was no evidence that British women were raped… (but) this was the immediate and lasting assumption, and a great many of the novelizations of the event, were “essentially pornographic” as they detailed the lascivious thoughts of Indians preparing to “tear and mangle” the white limbs of English women “in unspeakable tortures”.(from WTC, September 11; Indian “Mutiny,” 1857: Two Studies in the Psychology of Embattled Superpower By Diane Simmons; ellipsis and text in parenthesis supplied).
The international context
The book also brings out some parts of the international context. For instance how the 1857 financial crisis in the US was possibly triggered by mass redemptions from UK, to fight this war! Or how troops meant for China were diverted to India. Or the huge amounts of drug trade that fuelled the ‘Rise of Britain’. In comparison, the Cali cartel seems like small change, Tope points out. Or the official licensing of piracy by England – and other European powers.
Too often , Indian history is boxed into a small context, which makes it difficult to understand the bigger questions. One question which this book does not completely answer – at least directly, is why did India have to struggle financially to fight a just war, and Britain has money pouring out of its ears, to impose its tyranny on India.
The missing links
So, why did India lose the war? Tope in Red Lotus has marshalled excellent research to show it was British brutality on the hapless Indians that disarmed the leaders of the Anglo-Indian War! The drug trade and piracy are another part of the answer.
The bigger answer is (as per 2ndlook) slavery, genocide in Americas and Australia. And the capture of land, wealth and gold from these lands that fuelled the rise of the West – and why India could not match those resources. So to say, the Country Model itself. But then, that would have unfairly expanded the scope of the book – claim the writers!
This was the other disappointment. I had expected (unrealistically and in a lighter vein), that after all, who better than the Tope family to tell us what ‘actually’ happened to the missing leaders – though Red Lotus does give an eye-witness account about the end of Tatya Tope.
As the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, continued and wound down, the three leaders, Nana Sahib, Tatya Tope, and Feroz Shah disappeared. No one knew what happened to them.
It is usually accepted (in Red Lotus also) that the man who was ‘executed’ by the Colonial Raj, as Tatya Tope, was a straw figure. Unlike Red Lotus, it is difficult to believe that Tatya Tope died in battle – without being recognized, by eager Britishers or thousands of his loyal lieutenants. Like other leaders of the War, Tatya Tope’s life has many endings.
The fate of the leaders – Nana Sahib, Azimullah Khan, Tatya Tope, Feroz Shah et al.
Enduring mystery this!
Gandhi was more violent than Hitler. (It’s crucial to see violence which is done repeatedly to keep the things the way they are) …
… Though Gandhi didn’t support killing, his actions helped the British imperialists to stay in India longer. This is something Hitler never wanted. Gandhi didn’t do anything to stop the way the British empire functioned here.
For me, that is a problem. (via ‘First they called me a joker, now I am a dangerous thinker’ – All That Matters – Sunday TOI – Home – The Times of India).
Run … hide … but you can’t turn your back
Slávoj Zizek can’t (presumably) support Hitler. A status quo-ist like Gandhiji, is unacceptable to Slávoj Zizek. His dilemma! Having to choose between two दुरातान्त्रिक duratantrik systems (like socialism or communism), Slávoj Zizek’s is having a difficult time. Slávoj Zizek’s views are, to say the least, provocative, forcing you to re-think.
India itself does not know the place that भारत्तंत्र Bharat-tantra (Indic political system) has, means or stands for in the history of the world. The history of the world, till about 8 AD, is basically torn between दुरातंत्र, duratantra, (meaning vile political systems) versus सुरातंत्र suratantra (equitable political systems) systems. भारत्तंत्र Bharat-tantra (Indic political system) was highly respected in the ancient world – went into decline from 8th century to 18th century.
Glimpses into the past
Property rights India, till the 12th century, vested property rights with the producer, upto the advent of the Islamic iqtadari system. The 200 years foreign, Islāmic rule in India, by Turko-Persian offshoots, changed Indian property holding patterns. The main Islamic dynasties, of the Middle East /West Asia, the Abbasids and Ummayads, never directly, attempted any military campaigns against India.
Slavery (distinguished by capture and recapture, buying and selling, state protection, ‘free’ slave markets) were unknown in Indic regions.
Quo Vadis (where are you going) …
The political constructs of the West have hit a wall – and there is no way, but down! Since the West is busy hiding elephants in the room, the need for a different political ideology remains unaddressed. The development of the four Western political systems – i.e. Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism and Communism, is related to two factors. Property (and loot of property) and slavery – the two elephants in the room of Western history.
The costs of the Western welfare State is going up – not down, not away. Welfare bills are getting more ambitious – and the domestic lobbies want more ambitious schemes. Western economies have become isolated, high cost protected by barriers and stockades.
Completely ignored by ‘modern’ Western education system, (which India also blindly follows), the Indian political theory and its application have been largely forgotten in India too.
The axis of Confucian-Platonic authoritarian, ‘wise’ rulers, was the alternate model for the world. Property rights remained with less than o.1% of the people. Under the CRER principle, (cuius regio, eius religio, meaning whose land, his religion; CRER) even personal religious beliefs of the individual were subject to State approval, as per law.
The West scorns the Chinese one party rule. How does one more, collusive party in the national polity, in a ‘democratic set-up, become the paragon of political virtue. Two-party democratic polity is just a more polished and conniving way of exercising the same authority – in a more invisible manner? In India, with more than 70 crore voters, the winning party got less than 13 crore votes and the final difference between the winning party and the second largest party. Approximately 5 crore voters. This leaves people with little or no choice – much like the choice between one-party ‘dictatorship’ and two-party ‘democracy’.
The only exception to this was the Indic system of polity – where property rights were vested with the user, justice was decentralized (did any Indic king dispense justice?), religion was maya and dharma was supreme. The modern Indian State has acquired the Desert-Bloc-Platonic-Confucian authoritarian principles of the State as parens patriae. So, the power of the Indic ideas is something that India seems to have completely forgotten, missed and lost!!
Is there an Indic political system at all? Simple leads …
- What is Sanskritic word for slave? Or what does the Indian narrative call Slave owners?
- Why do traditional traders resist taxes even today? The biggest tax offenders of modern India are the traditional ‘marwari’ business man. Why?
- What triggered the persecution of the Roma Gypsies in Europe?
- How did the Roma Gypsies start the Church Reformation in Europe?
- Why does India have the lowest crime rates and incarceration rates in the world? Yet was behind the biggest crime wave in history?
- Why and how did India build the world’s largest private reserves of gold? Without loot, luck or slaves?
- From the carbon-dated 3000 BC Indus Valley to the India in 2000 AD, how could India resist cultural and military invasions?
- How did India emerge as software service economy in a short 15 years?
- India is today a counterpoint in softpower – in TV, cinema,publishing, newspapers, et al! How come?
- While the Western world is going public sector, how come India continues down the private sector path?