Social Scientist. v 26, no. 296-99 (Jan-April 1998) p. 113.


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PANKAJRAG*

1857: Need for Alternative Sources

There has often been a tendency on the part of historians of 1857 to argue about its character in terms of certain specific labels - whether it was a Conspiracy' or was it 'spontaneous'; whether it was 'feudal reaction', a 'restorative' movement or was it a religious war; whether people were primarily driven by 'economic' concerns or were civil 'outbursts' mere consequences of the political vacuum?1 As has been increasingly realised in recent years, 1857 was too complex a movement to be adequately explained in terms of general labels of universal application and such labels no longer occupy an unquestioned status. In the last two decades or so, as an integral part of world historiographical shift, regional variations in the nature of causes and organization have been increasingly highlighted. The trend can be said to have begun with Eric Stokes who concentrated on the districts of western Uttar Pradesh to show how the response to the uprising was worked out in these areas in terms of agrarian conditions and organizational factors.2 Similarly, Brodkin analyzed the tracts of western Rohilkhand to argue about the patterns and dynamics of the Revolt in the region.3 Other works centering on specific regions have also appeared from time to time.4

However, even in all these works, what has been emphasised is the 'elitist' level of Indian society. The Revolt for long has been studied in terms of a given goal and elaborated in terms of the role of 'glorious' leaders like Nana Peshwa, Rani of Jhansi, Tatya Tope, Kunwar Singh and :o on, towards achieving that goal. Even the Marxian approach of P.C. Joshi and others explains its failure in terms of limited retrogressive aims of the leadership and betrayal by the landed elements. Whether the leaders mobilised or betrayed; the leaders remain as the crucial actors on the stage.

'^Collector, Sheopur, Madhya Pradesh

Social Scientist, Vol. 26, Nos. 1 - 4, Jan. - Apr. 1998



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