Mutiny or upheaval, 1857 undoubtedly heralded nationalism

By Nayanima Basu, IANS

Book: “DATELINE 1857 – Revolt against the Raj”; Author: Rudrangshu Mukherjee; Photo research and editing: Pramod Kapoor; Publisher: Roli Books; Price: Rs.795; Pages: 144

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Eminent historian and journalist Rudrangshu Mukherjee has yet again struck that chord of India’s glorious history that remains a topic of intense debate but is undoubtedly an event that makes every patriotic Indian think deeply – the mutiny of 1857.

India was and still remains the cynosure of global traders due to its rich resources and an all-embracing societal structure, which probably made the country vulnerable to outside invasions. Mukherjee portrays this through careful characterisation of each of the protagonists in the episode that is still widely regarded as India’s first war of independence.

The book says the mutiny of 1857, which was the first such revolt against the British imperial powers and theoretically had the support of the then Mughal king, has been subjected to many historical rumours.

Rumours such as cartridges greased with pig and bovine fat, the celebration of 100 years of the Battle of Plassey, a rebellious soldier called Mangal Pandey and others are popularly regarded as the causes of the uprising.

But unlike other historians, Mukherjee has neither tried to justify any one cause nor denied any. He has in a completely smooth-tongued manner narrated what had probably happened and how the chain of events started – from an in-the-sticks military barrack in eastern India – and spread over Meerut, Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur and Jhansi.

The book very interestingly opens with a detailed chronology, breaking up events from Jan 22, 1857, till May 3, 1860.

No one till date has proved whether the mutiny was a success or a failure and neither does Mukherjee. However, he does not deny the fact that long after “the rebellion” it took the British over a year to restore normalcy.

One can also not deny the fact that the mutiny, for reasons good or bad, did create a handful of patriotic icons such as Mangal Pandey, Nana Saheb, Rani Jhansi, Tantiya Tope, Kunwar Singh and Ahmadullah Shah, each of whom has come alive through Mukherjee’s lucid prose.

But what makes the book worth buying is the very sincere and tremendous hard work that has gone into collecting rare photographs and paintings of the time with the best being a complete panoramic view of the then Lucknow.