Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1857

The Revolt in India

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, August 4, 1857;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

London, July 17, 1857

On the 8th of June, just a month had passed since Delhi fell into the hands of the revolted Sepoys and the proclamation by them of a Mogul Emperor. Any notion, however, of the mutineers being able to keep the ancient capital of India against the British forces would be preposterous. Delhi is fortified only by a wall and a simple ditch, while the hights surrounding and commanding it are already in the possession of the English, who, even without battering the walls, might enforce its surrender in a very short period by the easy process of cutting off its supply of water. Moreover, a motley crew of mutineering soldiers who have murdered their own officers, torn asunder the ties of discipline, and not succeeded in discovering a man upon whom to bestow the supreme command, are certainly the body least likely to organize a serious and protracted resistance. To make confusion more confused, the checkered Delhi ranks are daily swelling from the fresh arrivals of new contingents of mutineers from all parts of the Bengal Presidency, who, as if on a preconcerted plan, are throwing themselves into the doomed city. The two sallies which, on the 30th and 31st of May, the mutineers risked without the walls, and in both of which they were repulsed with heavy losses seem to have proceeded from despair rather than from any feeling of self-reliance or strength. The only thing to be wondered at is the slowness of the British operations, which to some degree, however, may be accounted for by the horrors of the season and the want of means of transport. Apart from Gen. Anson, the commander-in-chief, French letters state that about 4,000 European troops have already fallen victims of the deathly heat, and even the English papers confess that in the engagements before Delhi the men suffered more from the sun than from the shot of the enemy. In consequence of its scanty means of conveyance, the main British force stationed at Umballah consumed about twenty-seven days in its march upon Delhi, so that it moved at the rate of about one and a half hours per day. A further delay was caused by the absence of heavy artillery at Umballah, and the consequent necessity of bringing over a siege-train from the nearest arsenal, which was as far off as Phillour, on the further side of the Sutlej.

With all that, the news of the fall of Delhi may be daily expected; but what next? If the uncontested possession by the rebels during a month, of the traditionary center of the Indian Empire acted perhaps as the most powerful ferment in completely breaking up the Bengal army, in spreading mutiny and desertion from Calcutta to the Punjaub in the north, and to Rajpootana in the west, and in shaking the British authority from one end of India to the other, no greater mistake could be committed than to suppose that the fall of Delhi, though it may throw consternation among the ranks of the Sepoys, should suffice either to quench the rebellion, to stop its progress, or to restore the British rule. Of the whole native Bengal army, mustering about 80,000 men — composed of about 28,000 Rajpoots, 23,000 Brahmins, 13,000 Mahometans, 5,000 Hindoos of inferior castes, and the rest Europeans — 30,000 have disappeared in consequence of mutiny, desertion, or dismission from the ranks. As to the rest of that army, several of the regiments have openly declared that they will remain faithful and support the British authority, excepting in the matter in which the native troops are now engaged: they will not aid the authorities against the mutineers of the native regiments, and will, on the contrary, assist their “bhaies” (brothers). The truth of this has been exemplified in almost every station from Calcutta. The native regiments remained passive for a time; but, as soon as they fancied themselves strong enough, they mutinied. An Indian correspondent of The London Times leaves no doubt as to the “loyalty” of the regiments which have not yet pronounced, and the native inhabitants who have not yet made common cause with the rebels.

“If you read,” he says, “that all is quiet, understand it to mean that the native troops have not yet risen in open mutiny; that the discontented part of the inhabitants are not yet in open rebellion; that they are either too weak, or fancy themselves to be so, or that they are waiting for a more fitting time. Where you read of the ‘manifestation of loyalty’ in any of the Bengal native regiments, cavalry or infantry, understand it to mean that one half of the regiments thus favorably mentioned only are really faithful; the other half are but acting a part, the better to find the Europeans off their guard, when the proper lime arrives, or, by warding off suspicion, have it the more in their power to aid their mutinous companions.”

In the Punjaub, open rebellion has only been prevented by disbanding the native troops. In Oude, the English can only be said to keep Lucknow, the residency while everywhere else the native regiments have revolted, escaped with their ammunition, burned all the bungalows to the ground, and joined with the inhabitants who have taken up arms. Now, the real position of the English army is best demonstrated by the fact that it was thought necessary, in the Punjaub as well as the Rajpootana, to establish flying corps. This means that the English cannot depend either on their Sepoy troops or on the natives to keep the communication open between their scattered forces. Like the French during the Peninsular war, they command only the spot of ground held by their own troops, and the next neighborhood domineered by that spot; while for communication between the disjoined members of their army they depend on flying corps, the action of which, most precarious in itself, loses naturally in intensity in the same measure that it spreads oiler a greater extent of space. The actual insufficiency of the British forces is further proved by, the fact that, for removing treasures from disaffected stations, they, were constrained to have them conveyed by Sepoys themselves, who, without any exception, broke out in rebellion on the march, and absconded with the treasures confided to them. All the troops sent from England will, in the best case, not arrive before November, and as it would be still more dangerous to draw off European troops from the presidencies of Madras and Bombay – the Tenth regiment of Madras Sepoys, having already shown symptoms of disaffection – any idea of collecting the regular taxes throughout the Bengal presidency must be abandoned, and the process of decomposition be allowed to go on. Even if we suppose that the Burmese will not improve the occasion, that the Maharajah of Gwalior will continue supporting the English, and the Ruler of Nepaul, commanding the finest Indian army, remain quiet; that disaffected Peshawur will not combine with the restless Hill tribes, and that the Shah of Persia will not be silly enough to evacuate Herat — still, the whole Bengal presidency must be reconquered, and the whole Anglo-Indian army remade. The cost of this enormous enterprise will altogether fall upon the British people. As to the notion put forward by Lord Granville in. the House of Lords, of the East India Company being able to raise, by Indian loans, the necessary means, its soundness may be judged from the effects produced by the disturbed state of the north-western provinces on the Bombay money market. An immediate panic seized the native capitalists, very large sums were withdrawn from the banks, Government securities proved almost unsalable, and hoarding to a great extent commenced, not only in Bombay but in its environs also.