¤ The Uprising In 1857

Revolt of 1857However Delhi did appear centrestage at least once in the road to the British rise to power: in the controversial Indian Uprising of 1857. Debate has continued and will always go on about whether 1857 was actually the first Indian War of Independence or simply a mutiny.

There is enough evidence to support the fact that the Uprising had been planned for months before the actual outbreak. What did the revolutionaries in, apart from the fact that they failed to spread the word beyond Central India and Delhi, was that the Uprising did not go according to plan. It broke out before the appointed date! If D-day had gone as per schedule, the uprising would have broken out in many areas simultaneously and would have been very difficult for the British to control. However as things turned out, trouble broke out sporadically in various places in May 1857 and there was little, if any, coordination happening. So, the British were able to curb it with relative ease.

¤ The Tales of 1857 Revolt

There are stories and stories about the British and Indian confrontation in Delhi in 1857. There are tales of valour and bravery from both sides; and also accounts of unimaginable horror and barbarity.

While books are full of vivid reports of the horror and humiliation that the British had to face and the courage they displayed, very little has been written about what innocent Indians were put through by vindictive British on the teach-the-natives-a-lesson path. What made the Indians rebel in the first place hasn’t been written about much either.

It is true that the old poet-king in Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar and his cohorts, Tatia Tope of Gwalior (Gwalior itself did not rebel, Tope was merely a general), the Rani of Jhansi and so on had very narrow and selfish aims to achieve – their petty kingdoms, money and power.
None of them would have rebelled if the British had not snapped their purse-strings, the ‘compensation’ they were paid by the British in return for a share in government. The common people - of Delhi, Lucknow, Gwalior and so on - however had nothing to gain. Except independence. A place to call their own. Their war was not for a small kingdom, they were fighting for freedom. Which is why, while admitting that 1857 was limited in its scope, one cannot just dismiss it as a mutiny. Far too many emotions and resentments were involved which the British had long ignored.

1857 convinced the British that they could no longer just sponge off India, getting rich at its expense without giving anything back. That was what led the Crown to formally relieve the East India Company of its charge and take over itself.

¤ Pre-Independence

It was not until 1931 however that New Delhi was inaugurated as the capital of India. A spanking new city, its new look, promised in 1911 by King George V and Queen Mary, was created and realized by the temperamental Sir Edward Lutyens, along a team of eminent architects including Sir Herbert Baker and Robert Tor Russell. However, the British did not live long in the beautiful New Delhi they had created, thus fulfilling the age-old prophecy that anyone who built a new city in Delhi would lose it.

¤ Arrival of Lord Mountbatten

In 1946, Lord Mountbatten arrived in Delhi amid a buzz of political activity. The British, following their World War II concerns, wanted to wash their hands of India. The Indians meanwhile, were hankering for what was rightfully theirs. But there were too many emotional ties, the British and the Indians went too far back together for the British to just pack up and leave. They had a responsibility.

Unfortunately Mountbatten, although a favorite with the Indians because of his youthful good looks, was the wrong man for the job. He was in such a hurry to get back to England that he just went along with the first proposal that found favor with both the Congress and the Muslim League without taking into account what the people wanted.

The rest is history. Partition, the worst mass movement of people in the 20th century, with the exception of the Jews who fled Germany in World War II, took its toll on both India and Pakistan. Two republics were born on August 15, 1947. The capital of India was, and remains, the much-destroyed and much-built Delhi.