The history of the Indian Freedom Struggle has largely been written as a set of several unconnected episodic struggles. English colonial historians termed the First War of Independence fought in 1857 a localised ‘sepoy mutiny’. Years later revolutionary historians like Veer Savarkar and Khwaja Hasan Nizami challenged the notion by writing the history of 1857 from a nationalist perspective. They argued that not only sepoys but Indians, including peasants and royalty, at large rose to dispel British rule. Still, in our popular historiography, the struggle of 1857 remained an independent event with no, or little, connection to the past activities.
Recently, Professor Kapil Kumar at a museum curated in the Red Fort, Delhi has tried to show that the planning for 1857 was going on for years. The plan was older than previously thought. Taking a queue from the argument yours truly has tried to bring out the evidence of the planning of 1857. Kunwar Singh of Bihar was caught plotting a large-scale uprising against the British in 1845. The planning was quite similar to what later happened in the summer of 1857.
Even before this Kunwar Singh episode, in November 1838, the English East India Company arrested a Punjabi Sikh, Dhumdas, from Nellore of Madras Presidency. He was found inciting the Indian soldiers of the English army to mutiny. Sounds similar? What the English discovered during the investigation bore even more similarities with the happenings of 1857. They came to know that several spies in the ‘garb of devotees’ were roaming around in areas where the English Army was stationed to incite Indian sepoys to mutiny.
The investigations showed that Mubariz ud-Daula, the younger brother of Nizam of Hyderabad Nasir ud-Daula, was the leader of this plan and had the complete support of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. Interestingly the Wahabi group led by Sayyid Ahmad, which opposed Ranjit Singh earlier, also considered Mubariz as their leader. The report prepared by the English noted that Ranjit had sent at least one thousand soldiers to Hyderabad to help Mubariz. To avoid any suspicion from Nizam and the English these soldiers would enter the city individually. The report said, “within six months Ranjit Singh sent more than one thousand troops to Mubariz-ud-Dowlah and every day one or two of them entered the city”.
During the investigation, the English caught several messengers or spies who were taking letters to different royalties like Raja of Jodhpur, Raja of Satara, Raja Gaekwar, Nawab of Banda, Nawab of Bhopal, Raja of Patiala, Raja of Sagar, Rohilla Pathan Chief and several other Rajas, Nawabs and Zamindars. These messengers also preached the message of revolt among the sepoys of the English Army and common people. From Nellore Ghulam Ahmad was also arrested after Dhumdas. Maulvi Salim, Maulvi Lal Khan, Munshi Faqir, and several others were arrested for being part of a larger plan by Mubariz.
Dhumdas told the English that Ranjit Singh’s plan was based more on help from Russia and Iran. It was reported, “The Sikh said that originally Raja Ranjit Singh had no intention of uniting these princes. The delay in his plans was because he was waiting for the Russian and the Persian armies to cross the river Indus, and on the arrival of this help, he wanted all the princes to attack simultaneously upon the British. Raja of Jodhpur and Nawab of Banda were expected to join Ranjit Singh’s army and with the help of the French Regular Forces, they were to capture the British fort. The Raja of Satara was to attack Nagpur and Mubariz ud-Dowlah was to create disturbances inside the State of Hyderabad. Gaekwar according to the plans was to remain dormant in his place. The materialization of this plan was dependent on the arrival of the Russian and the Persian troops on the bank of the river Indus.”
Interestingly this idea that foreign help should be used to overthrow the British remained a recurring theme in all the armed struggles against the foreign rule right from Tipu Sultan to Subhas Chandra Bose. Even during 1857, the Delhi-based revolutionaries were hoping for external support from the Afghanistan frontier.
Another person testified that Nawab of Kurnool and Mubariz “thoroughly decided that when the Russian and the Persian troops would reach India, Bhopal troops would attack the Residency and kill the British. Two regiments of Scindia were ready to capture Mau, and the princes of Bundelkhand were ready to capture Sagar Cantonment. At this stage, Ranjit Singh, Mansingh of Jodhpur, Shah of Persia, and Dost Mohammed Khan — all of them were to get well united.”
Several of the messengers were traveling and giving sermons at mosques, where the sepoys used to offer prayers. They would be told that serving the English was a sin and un-Islamic. Those who have read the accounts of 1857 can appreciate that similar propaganda led to the mutiny of sepoys.
All the messengers were given steel rings to be worn on the finger of their left hand so that they could be identified by other spies. If a spy needed money or anything else by showing this ring others would help him. Moreover, sepoys who had already joined the nationalist plan also wore these steel rings. These spies were trying to unite the whole of India against British rule and were quite successful.
Soon Mubariz ud-Daula was arrested. The English officials noted, “the fact was proved that there was some strong master and officer under whose instructions they were working. They possessed the same sort of Persian papers and steel rings. Though after the discovery of these articles there might be a suspicion of some facts when this coincidence occurred it provided full proof that they were concerned with the same personality (Mubariz ud-Daula).” Mubariz was charged as the mastermind of this nationalist plan and 46 maulvis were arrested from his palace for preaching anti-English sentiments. Mubariz died in 1854 as a prisoner. His crime was that he loved his motherland. Did he fail? No. He succeeded. The torch he took from his forefathers did not extinguish. It was taken up by Bahadur Shah Zafar, Tantia Tope, Azimullah, Rani of Jhansi, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Kunwar Singh, Balwant Phadke, Madan Lal Dhingra,