Frederick Engels in the New-York Tribune 1857

The Revolt in India

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, October 1, 1858;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

The campaign in India has been almost completely suspended during the hot and rainy summer months. Sir Colin Campbell having secured, by a vigorous effort in the beginning of summer, all the important positions in Oude and Rohilcund, very wisely put his troops into quarters, leaving the open country in the possession of the insurgents, and limiting his efforts to maintaining his communications. The only episode of interest which occurred during this period in Oude, was the excursion of Sir Hope Grant to Shahgunge for the relief of Maun Singh, a native chief, who, after a deal of tergiversation, had lately made his peace with the British, and was now blockaded by his late native allies. The excursion proved a mere military promenade, though it must have caused great loss to the British by sun-stroke and cholera. The natives dispersed without showing fight, and Maun Singh joined the British. The easy success of this expedition, though it cannot be taken as an indication of an equally easy subjection of the whole of Oude, shows that the insurgents have lost heart completely. If it was the interest of the British to rest during the hot weather, it was the interest of the insurgents to disturb them as much as possible. But instead of organizing an active guerrilla warfare, intercepting the communications between the towns held by the enemy, of waylaying small parties, harassing the foragers, of rendering impassable the supply of victuals, without which no large town held by the British could live — instead of this, the natives have been satisfied with levying revenue and enjoying the leisure left to them by their opponents. Better still, they appear to have squabbled among themselves. Neither do they appear to have profited by the few quiet weeks to reorganize their forces, to refill their ammunition stores, or to replace the lost artillery. The bolt at Shahgunge shows a still greater want of confidence in themselves and their leaders than any previous defeat. In the mean time, a secret correspondence is carried on between the majority of the chiefs and the British Government, who have after all found it rather impracticable to pocket the whole of the soil of Oude, and are quite willing to let the former owners have it again. on reasonable terms. Thus, as the final success of the British is now beyond all doubt, the insurrection in Oude bids fair to die out without passing through a period of active guerrilla warfare. As soon as the majority of the landholders come to terms with the British, the insurgent bodies will be broken up, and those who have too much to fear from the Government will turn robbers (dacoits), in the capture of whom the peasantry will gladly assist.

South-west of Oude the Jugdispore jungles appear to offer a center for such dacoits. These impenetrable forests of bamboo and underwood are held by a party of insurgents under Ummer Singh, who shows rather more activity and knowledge of guerrilla warfare; at all events, he attacks the British whenever he can, instead of quietly waiting for them. If, as it is feared, part of the Oude insurgents should join him before he can be expelled from his stronghold, the British may expect rather harder work than they have had of late. These jungles have now for nearly eight months served as a retreat to insurgent parties, who have been able to render very insecure the Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta to Allahabad, the main communication of the British.

In Western India, the Gwalior insurgents are still followed up by Gen. Roberts and Col. Holmes. At the time of the capture of Gwalior, it was a question of much consequence, what direction the retreating army might take; for the whole of the Mahratta country and part of Rajpootana appeared ready for a rising as soon as a sufficiently strong body of regular troops arrived there to form a nucleus for the insurrection. A retreat of the Gwalior force in a south-westerly direction then seemed the most likely maneuver to realize such a result. But the insurgents, from reasons which we cannot guess at from the reports before us, have chosen a north-westerly direction. They went to Jeypore, thence turning south toward Oodeypore, trying to gain the road to the Mahratta country. But this roundabout marching gave Roberts an opportunity of coming up with them, and defeating them totally without any great effort. The remnants of this body, without guns, without organization and ammunition, without leaders of repute, are not the men who are likely to induce fresh risings. On the contrary, the immense quantity of plunder which they carry along with them, and which hampers all their movements, appears already to have excited the avidity of the peasantry. Every straggling Sepoy is killed and eased of his load of gold mohurs. If it has come to that, Gen. Roberts may safely leave the final dispersion of these Sepoys to the country population. The loot of Scindiah’s treasures by his troops saves the British from a renewal of the insurrection in a quarter more dangerous than Hindostan; for a rising in the Mahratta country would put the Bombay army upon a rather severe trial.

There is a fresh mutiny in the neighborhood of Gwalior. A small vassal of Scindiah, Maun Singh (not the Maun Singh of Oude) has joined the insurgents, and got hold of the small fortress of Paoree. This place, is, however, already invested by the British, and must soon be captured.

In the mean time, the conquered districts are gradually pacified. The neighborhood of Delhi, it is said, has been so completely tranquillized by Sir J. Lawrence that a European may travel about with perfect safety, unarmed, and without an escort. The secret of the matter is, that the people of every village have been made collectively responsible for any crime or outrage committed on its ground; that a military police has been organized; and, above all, that the summary justice of the Court-Martial, so peculiarly impressive upon Orientals, is everywhere in full swing. Still, this success appears to be the exception, as we do not hear anything of the kind from other districts. The complete pacification of Rohilcund and Oude, of Bundelcund and many other large provinces, must yet require a very long time and give plenty of work yet to British troops and Court-Martials.

But while the insurrection of Hindostan dwindles down to dimensions which deprive it of almost all military interest, there has occurred an event far off, at the utmost frontiers of Afghanistan, which is big with the threat of future difficulties. A conspiracy to murder their officers and to rise against the British has been discovered among several Sikh regiments at Dera Ismael Khan. How far this conspiracy was ramified, we cannot tell. Perhaps it was merely a local affair, arising among a peculiar class of Sikhs; but we are not in a position to assert this. At all events, this is a highly dangerous symptom. There are now nearly 100,000 Sikhs in the British service, and we have heard how saucy they are; they fight, they say, to-day for the British, but may fight to-morrow against them, as it may please God. Brave, passionate, fickle, they are even more subject to sudden and unexpected impulses than other Orientals. If mutiny should break out in earnest among them, then would the British indeed have hard work to keep their own. The Sikhs were always the most formidable opponents of the British among the natives of India; they have formed a comparatively powerful empire; they are of a peculiar sect of Brahminism, and hate both Hindoos and Mussulmans. They have seen the British “raj” in the utmost peril; they have contributed a great deal to restore it, and they are even convinced that their own share of the work was the decisive one. What is more natural than that they should harbor the idea that the time has come when the British raj shall be replaced by a Sikh raj, that a Sikh Emperor is to rule India from Delhi or Calcutta? It may be that this idea is still far from being matured among the Sikhs, it may be that they are so cleverly distributed that they are balanced by Europeans, so that any rising could be easily put down; but that this idea exists among them must be clear, we presume, to everybody who has read the accounts of the behaviour of the Sikhs after Delhi and Lucknow.

Still, for the present, the British have reconquered India. The great rebellion, stirred up by the mutiny of the Bengal army, is indeed, it appears, dying out. But this second conquest has not increased England’s hold upon the mind of the Indian people. The cruelty of the retribution dealt out by the British troops, goaded on by exaggerated and false reports of the atrocities attributed to the natives, and the attempt at confiscating the Kingdom of Oude, both wholesale and retail, have not created any particular fondness for the victors. On the contrary, they themselves confess that among both Hindoos and Mussulmans, the hereditary hatred against the Christian intruder is more fierce than ever. Impotent as this hatred may be at present, it is not without its significance and importance, while that menacing cloud is resting over the Sikh Punjaub. And this is not all. The two great Asiatic powers, England and Russia, have by this time got hold of one point between Siberia and India, where Russian and English interests must come into direct collision. That point is Pekin. Thence westward a line will ere long be drawn across the breadth of the Asiatic Continent, on which this collision of rival interests will constantly take place. Thus the time may indeed not be so very distant when “the Sepoy and the Cossack will meet in the plains of the Oxus,” and if that meeting is to take place, the anti-British passions of 150,000 native Indians will be a matter of serious consideration.