Nature of the 1857 Revolt
Divergent opinions have been expressed about its nature. There may be
broadly divided into two categories. One section opines that it was primarily
a mutiny of sepoys, the other expresses a feeling that the revolt was, indeed,
the first war of Indian independence.
    British historians insisted that the rising was nothing more than a sepoy
mutiny. The main pillars of this belief were that Sikhs remainder loyal and
that the native states which had escaped annexation were mostly neutral. The
British concentrated on the greased cartridges and the activities of the
revellious sepoys. The civil unrest which accompanied the mutiny was
ignored altogether.
    V.D. Savarkar called it the First War of Indian Independence. But a war
of independence necessarily implies definite plan and organisation. The
circumstances under which Bahadur Shah, Nana Saheb, Jhansi Lakshmi and
others cast their lot with the mutinous sepoys are sufficient to expose the
limitations of the theory that it was a struggle for independence.
    The sudden and unexpected way in which the mutiny spread across the
country has always excited the suspicion that it must have been planned in
advance. The wide circulation of chapatis is regarded by many as an
important evidence. But this mysterious circulation of chapatis does not
provide any satisfactory explanation. It will be totally misleading to say that
the revolt was the result of a careful and secret plan.
    It would also be a travesty of truth to describe the Revolt of 1857 as a
national war of independence, for the upsurge of the people was limited
mainly to north India. Moreover, nationalism in the modern mould was yet to
come. A large section of the people, in fact, actively cooperated with the
British during the revolt.
    It was definitely something more than a sepoy mutiny but something less
than a national revolt. The sepoys were undoubtedly the mainstay of the
rebellion. But millions of ordinary citizens also participated in the rebellion.
There are many indications testifying the insurrection to be not just a mutiny
but a widespread uprising.
    It took place everywhere in the name of one sovereign and under his flag