Indian Express 8th January 2008

The Gujarati elite comprising ruling class, Mahajans were pro-British

Saurav KumarPosted , January 08, 2008 at 03:17:23

Ahmedabad, January 7 When the country was up in arms against the British in the First War of Independence in 1857, Gujarat, then the land of many princely states, was the only place in the country where a true-blue anti-colonial, anti-feudal peoples movement powered by an alliance of Kolis, Bhils, and Muslims, with helping hands from Khastriyas and Patels, was taking shape.
“Driven by the British polices and the angst of the peasantry with the rulers, it was perhaps the earliest example of social engineering in modern India. It was against the British rule and also against the local rulers and is the one aspect that has largely been ignored in the accounts of 1857. It was an historical alliance that predated the Congress’ much-touted KHAM alliance of the 1980s by more than a century and the real Gujarati Gaurav,” says Amaresh Misra, author of the just-released “War of Civilisations: 1857 AD”, a two-volume, 2,000-page opus that comprehensively spells out the history of 1857 making several startling revelations along the way.
Misra says, “In North India the peasantry and the ruling classes were of the same caste in many instances and they together rose against the Empire. In Gujarat, however, a class conflict was visible. The Gujarati elite comprising the ruling class and the rich Mahajans were pro-British and the peasantry from different castes rose in defiance.”
The most striking revelation in the book is the brutal British response to 1857 as an Indian Holocaust. And in pegging the number of people killed in response top 1857 at 10 million, four million more than Hitler’s extermination of Jews, Misra has ventured where no historian before him has.
He says, “Strangely the number of casualties of 1857, barring Bipin Chandra’s figure of 1.5 lakh, has never been conclusively documented and I wanted to find it. Even 20 years after 1857, British Road survey and labour records mention that they cannot find people to carry out the work. They attribute this to the Sepoy Mutiny as they called it. In the Lucknow GPO, going through old records I found that between 1857 and 1867, there were 25 lakh letters that could not be delivered because the ‘people were not there’.”
Misra, a self-proclaimed Left nationalist, also argued in his book that historians have suppressed the peasant nature of the revolt of 1857, undoubtedly a pan-India revolt in favour of a more elitist narrative. He says, “It was an out an out peasant revolt. It could have paved way for a peasant nationalist form of capitalist development rather than the elite centric one we have right now.”
Coming to the present, Misra says the story of 1857 holds great lessons for the politicians of today.
“KHAM is an historical alliance and it is the only way the Congress can make a comeback here. It was resisted by the elite then and it is being elite today,” he says.
What Gujarat needs is a monument remembering Hamir Khan, Tilayar Khan, Mustafa KHan, Jivabhai Thakor and the other heroes of 1857 and as Misra puts it “feel real proud of them and their heritage


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