Excerpt: Tatya Tope's Operation Red Lotus

Author: Parag Tope

Tatya Tope's Operation Red Lotus

First published: 2010
Number of pages: 431
Genre: Non-fiction
Language: English
Publisher: Rupa & Co, New Delhi
ISBN: 9788129115621
Price, hard cover: ₹ 595.00
Price, Kindle: $ 12.99

The Forever Nation

Author: Parag Tope
European polity has dominated modern discourse in recent times. Western notions of a nation evolved from their tribal roots, where linguistic and cultural identities eventually defined their political units as nations. Influences of the three Semitic religions during varying periods reinforced this rigidity. These religions derive their own identity from books, each considered as the ‘final’ word from God, therefore unique and superior to others. Tribal identities, and later religious dogmas eventually emerged as the glue that bound these European tribes.  Europe evolved from a large collection of warring tribes to a smaller collection of warring states that had distinct individual identities.  This became Europe's definition of a nation-state. Recently there has been an attempt in Europe to reassess the impliability of these attributes. Since the late twentieth century, Europe is making an attempt to politically unite these disparate nations.
Indic polity, however, is in complete contrast to these western experiments in nation building. Western ideas of a nation can therefore, never apply to India. In India’s history, not a single major empire ever was limited to one language group or a sectarian association. While hundreds of sects have existed within the framework of Indic thought, one’s existence was never considered a threat by others. From Emperor Ashoka to the times of the Marathas and Mughals, empires enlarged and shrunk, but language and sects were never a primary criterion in their identity - neither the Vijayanagar Empire, nor the Marathas. For the English and other European intellectuals, in their own sense of logic, the Indian identity was too nebulous to be considered a nation. The same applied to faiths that have originated in India, the world’s ‘thought factory.’
Unfortunately, historians like R.C. Majumdar and many others, who viciously refute the existence of the Indian nation during 1857, view India from these European lenses.
The words ‘nation’ and ‘country’ are often used interchangeably; however, there is an important distinction between the two. Geographical boundaries only define a country as a political unit. The Indian nation, however, is defined by a few core attributes, such as traditions, stories that are narrated across generations and the faiths that have originated on its soil.
Unlike many modern nations that came into prominence in the second millennium AD, the political boundaries of ancient nations such as India, or China, spanned across their diverse cultures and languages. The current process of the attempted unification of Europe was, in many ways, already mature in nations such as India and China a few thousand years ago. Whether empires in India shrank or expanded, or their names changed with time, the concept of a common polity, which we describe as a nation, was always well recognised, both within and outside.
India as a nation has a unique place in world history: it is the only nation in the world that has successfully defended the continuity of the core attributes that define it. India is the only living ancient civilisation in the world. India’s continuity in its history, culture and polity is unmatched by many other great nations. Not China, Japan or Egypt. Not Greece or Rome; neither Mesopotamia, Sumeria nor Europe. Not any nation in the Americas, Africa or Southeast Asia.[i]
To be able to successfully defend the nation and its core beliefs, in addition to military prowess, economic freedom and more importantly, political freedom, is a prerequisite.
Despite a few hiccups, India to its credit has had the longest winning streak in its ability to remain both, a free nation and a free country; five thousand years as a nation and nearly four thousand years as a country.
This is not to suggest that everything in India is five thousand years old, but that the continuous evolution of ideas, stories, faiths and philosophies from ancient times until today, continued on its own terms, and even thrived, despite the advent of foreign political and religious influences.
As a free country, if one measures the continuity of political freedom, India's winning streak spans from its beginnings which predated 3000 BCE until significant parts of northern India fell to invaders around 900 CE. No other nation in the world has ever successfully defended itself militarily for this long.[ii] There has to be something about its people that makes India unique. Unfortunately, too many historians are unwilling to recognise this fact.
Even after 900 CE, while northern India kept up its spirited resistance against the invaders, southern India flourished, and in fact, continued to dominate the oceans. Southern India, via its large seaboard was the primary channel for a very large export market of textiles, spices and other goods. The empire of Vijayanagar was thriving even as the northern states came under foreign political rule all the way until the 1500s.
This was no easy achievement.
Ocean trade was disrupted when state-sanctioned European piracy that started in the sixteenth century shortly after India was ‘discovered’, strengthened in the seventeenth century. This had a significant impact on India's ability to control the supply chain of the products it exported. There was a large-scale trade diversion primarily by means of force in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. This shifted significant profits and surplus away from India to Europe. Rapid erosion in this profitability had an ominous impact on its domestic socioeconomic conditions.
This period from the 1500s to 1818 early 1800s was perhaps the most dramatic transition for India than any other nation. Even as the socioeconomic conditions rapidly declined, and the odds were heavily stacked against India, its people put up an incredible resistance. All the way from the north to the south and along a coastline that extends to more than 7600 kilometres, they defended every port, protected their trade and markets and, most significantly, their way of life.
Trade along the southern half of India's West Coast was protected by the Samuthiris (Anglicised as Zamorins). The Marathas, under Shivaji, defended the northern half of the West Coast. Shivaji rebuilt the navy, first, to protect its ports and second, to protect trade routes. He encouraged innovation in the ship building industry and oversaw the building of smaller and more navigable ships to replace the much larger but sluggish cargo ships, to outrun the European pirates in the open seas. As different ports fell to the Europeans, he would reconquer them, right from Surat and all along the Konkan Coast.  Shivaji did not limit himself on to the west.  Shivaji’s last major campaign was in the south as he engaged the French near Puducherry (Pondicherry).
As the Mughals crumbled in the eighteenth century, the Marathas ruled over this empire with a proxy government that paid the emperor of Delhi an annual pension of Rs. 13 lakhs (1.3 million). It controlled large parts of India from Orissa in the East to the Indus in the West and, put up a spirited resistance to defend this young empire under the leadership of Mahadji Shinde. This period of expansion of the Maratha Empire in the late eighteenth century is very relevant to the events of 1857, especially in the context of the Mughal-Maratha relations and will be discussed in detail later. After a near half century of controlling an area that was nearly the size of Ashoka's empire, the Marathas finally fell in the early nineteenth century.
The nineteenth century saw a complete loss of political and economic freedom. For the first time in India's history, the core attributes that defined India as a nation were also challenged in a substantive way by the policies enforced after William Bentinck’s proclamation on Indian education(discussed later). In addition to plundering India's wealth and causing long-term damage to its economy, the English unleashed a systematic policy to unravel India's education system, its culture, its history, its faiths and its traditions.
This was a period of transition when the last of a major Indian resistance was defeated and English rule was taking hold. However, it was not that this transition went unchallenged. Scores of battles were fought all over India even after the fall of the Marathas in the period that spanned from 1818 to 1857. These battles continued, until something significant happened again in the 1840s. The wars in the Punjab, the second one in particular at Chillianwala (1848-9), demonstrated that the British were vulnerable. Taking a cue from Chillianwala, events were set in motion to challenge the enemy once again, but on a much larger scale.
What started in 1857 was the continuation of India's obsession to be free.
India's defeat in this War meant that India as a political unit remained under the tyranny of the English, until the events of 1946. However, Tatya’s dramatic resurgence in the October of 1858 forced the English to make an important concession. They rolled back their policies to subvert India as a nation. England backed off from its attempts to destroy the core attributes that have defined India for the longest of times. As a country India remained in chains, but as a nation, India survived.
There were many heroes who shared this obsession. An obsession to protect India's traditions, its stories, its languages, its faiths, its markets, and its economy. India has had many heroes who laid down their lives for this freedom. This book attempts to analyse and narrate the stories of Tatya and his times, the War between the English and the Indians from 1857-9, which inspired the events of 1946 and reestablished India's unique place in the world and history. This book is a tribute to the heroes of 1857 who inspired the unnamed heroes of 1946. Thanks to them, India remains today, the forever nation.

Eighteen Fifty-seven and the Triad of Freedom

The Indian leaders of the War of 1857 including Tatya Tope, Nana Saheb Peshwa as well as Bahadur Shah Zafar, the emperor of Delhi, under whose name the War was fought, made various proclamations during the War. One such proclamation was made by the forces that liberated Azamgarh, sixty miles north of Varanasi, by Bahadur Shah’s grandson.[iii] The proclamation was made with a specific purpose of encouraging the Indian population in this cause of freedom and seeking their support during difficult times. The following is a summary of the key points made in the five sections of the proclamation.
The people of India are keenly aware of the tyranny and oppression of the English. I, the grandson of Bahadur Shah, have come here to declare that we will rid India of the English and will liberate the poor people who are groaning under their iron rule. I present this proclamation, to all the people of India, so that they can understand the policies that the Badshahi Government will enact. This will bring reform and freedom to the people in the following five key areas.
1.       Taxation
India has been reeling from the heavy taxation the British have imposed on all the landed people of India, who in return tax the rest. I commit to lower the taxes, to preserve the dignity and honor of the people.
2.       Trade and Commerce
The English government has monopolized the trade of all the fine and valuable goods that India manufactures. Products such as textiles, indigo and other articles that India has exported in the past are now a complete monopoly of the English. This leaves only the trade of trifles to the people, and even in this, they are not without their share of profits by means of high customs, stamps, and bureaucracy that is entrenched in limiting freedom in trade.
My government will abolish these fraudulent practices and open the trade of every article, without exception, both by land and water, to all Indian merchants. The government will support this trade with steam-vessels and steam-carriages for their merchandise. Merchants with little or no capital of their own shall have access to capital at lower costs with the assistance of the government treasury as necessary.
3.       Public Servants
Today, Indian officials in the British Government have a limited scope for growth—the highest level they can reach is that of a Subhedar with a salary of no more than Rs. 60 or Rs. 70 per month. All the Officers under my government will have starting salaries of Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 per month with the promise of reaching higher levels in public service. Understandably, if they cannot publicly proclaim their support to my government today—I ask them help my government indirectly and help assist us to free India from the British.
4.       Industry
The British economic policies have thrown India's skilled workforce into a life of poverty. From weavers to cotton dressers, from carpenters to blacksmiths to shoemakers have all lost their livelihood under this oppressive rule of the British. Support us in this effort and help us to enjoy the fruits of our labor and economic freedom for eternal prosperity.
5.       Personal Freedom
The British have imposed and forced Christianity upon us—Hindus and the Muslims alike. I urge the guardians of both faiths to join me in this effort to rid India of the British and to create a nation that freely practices its faiths and its culture.
At the core of this proclamation was the message that can be paraphrased as, ‘help us gain political freedom, so you can enjoy economic and personal freedom.  ’This simple message is the summary of the manifesto presented by the leaders of 1857. With this, the leaders displayed an understanding of the ‘triad’ of freedom and the government’s role in ensuring freedom for its subjects. They specifically indicted the English for the state’s interference in these areas.
European historians invented the concept of the ‘Oriental Despot’ from who they were ‘saving the natives.’  This proclamation demonstrates that, far from being ‘despots’, Indian rulers were very aware of the importance of governing principles that ensured political and personal freedom for economic prosperity. 
The leaders of 1857 demonstrated that they understood the foundations of the Indian nation. A foundation that existed in the form of an implicit charter that governed organised society.
The charter that has historically existed in Indic polity for many millennia is not only the least understood of all Indian history, but also perhaps the most misunderstood. While India remains the only nation in the world which had evolved ideas and maintained a cultural continuity for the longest of times, many ideas that allowed India to be a prosperous and free nation in the past have dramatically dimmed during the last millennium. Although these ideas were embedded in tradition, they were either lost or dismantled over a long period of foreign political rule.
The foundation of Indic polity displays a fundamental understanding of what freedom really means. Freedom in one sense comprises three mutually exclusive, but interdependent, attributes: political, economic and personal. In any organised society, these attributes correspond to some core functions that exist in society. They correspond to administrative and military functions, commercial and financial functions, and theological and philological functions respectively.
At the root of Indic polity were embedded rules that would limit the privileges of these functions. Historically, without these limits, these positions have lend themselves to abuse and misappropriation of power.
While representatives in each of these three functional categories have a potential to misuse their power, the abuse gets worse when two or more of these groups connive under the pretext of collaboration. Historically in India, traditions and precedence served as a broad charter that would restrict their powers at many levels. This implicitly served as the Indic Constitution.
Western history is replete with examples of one or more of these functions grossly abusing their powers. At one point, the Roman Catholic Church not only had its own army, it also connived with mercantile interests. This represented the conglomeration of all three sources of power in the hands of a few. Protestantism emerged as a form of rejecting papal authority and doctrine.
Learning from these lessons, the founders of the United States of America, separated the powers of the church and the state in the American Constitution. While this concept was an important first step for Western civilisation, Indic thought was not only rooted in these ideals, it had additional limits on powers of the state, reflected even in the Proclamation of 1857. Not only was the Indian leadership demanding the withdrawal of religious dogma as a state policy, they specifically censured the interference of the state in economic affairs as well. In fact, three of the five sections have an emphasis on economic freedom. This message was potent and has been at the foundation of the Indian nation for the longest of times. The leaders of 1857 demonstrated a definitive understanding of Indian polity.
Despite celebrating ideals of democracy, western societies have been unable to separate economic power from the state’s jurisdiction. While the Constitution of the United States set out to limit the power of the government, the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 went against the spirit of the US Constitution.[iv] Many other nations followed and all powerful central banks became the central authority in defining monetary policies. In continuation of their mercantile history, trade and monetary policies today remain to be the cornerstone of political power in the West. Although these principles are in complete contradiction to India’s long history, ‘modern’ India embraced these principles, under the pretext of a ‘benevolent’ government.
Of the three primary goals of the War of 1857 as presented in the manifesto of 25 August 1857, Tatya Tope achieved one monumental goal on 1 November 1858. As a later chapter discusses, India succeeded in taking one important step towards freedom. The next step was taken on 18 February 1946. However, in view of the triad of freedom, Tatya’s task remains unfinished. The book later discusses some important additional steps India must take to achieve complete freedom in this context.
Understanding 1857 is critical for India to build on its current system, to allow its people to live their lives freely and enjoy the fruits of their labour; to create a government that, neither abuses its powers, nor interferes in economic and personal freedom of its subjects.
Only with this understanding can India truly celebrate its unbroken streak as the world’s only ancient living civilisation, and the world’s only Forever Nation.

Three Steps to Freedom

Fortunately, they already had a clear roadmap for the future of and India without the English. A roadmap created by the leaders of the War of 1857. The Proclamation of Freedom made on 25 August 1857, clearly articulated Indic traditions that manifested themselves in the triad of freedom for its people for thousands of years. The path for the policymakers of a free India was clear. India needed to unshackle the economic and political chains that had prevented its people from enjoying the fruits of their labour. They needed to implement the ideals neatly outlined in the principles presented by India's past leadership to embark on a road of freedom and prosperity.
Unfortunately, the policy makers chose a path that was in complete contradiction to India's history and polity. They chose economic autarky and isolation, and continued variations of the English policy of centralised decision-making that continued to hold India in chains. A goal that was in conflict with the principles laid out in the Proclamation of 1857. Direct and indirect taxation, though reformed, remained high. Contrary to the spirit of the Proclamation, the bureaucracy entrenched themselves even further. Although India had attained political freedom, economic freedom remained a distant goal.
Another key goal of the leaders of 1857 was to liberate India from the tyranny of government policies on religion and education.
Instead of creating laws that were blind to an individual's religious choices, the Constitution of India actually divided people according to their faiths, amplifying their differences and applying different sets of laws to each group. After 1835, following Bentinck’s proclamation, English policies of intervention had dismantled India’s private and successful educational system. After 1947, Indian policies continued to intervene in education, particularly higher education and continued the monopoly of a foreign language. India’s ‘personal’ freedom though improved remained restricted.
Nevertheless, the biggest opportunity to achieve economic freedom was wasted, when trade, commerce, and manufacturing; the primary motivators for the War of 1857, remained under the implicit control of the government.
When the last of the Indian empires fell to the English, India had lost its political freedom. The EEIC’s administration was directly or indirectly the final authority. The English used the power of state to attack India’s personal and educational freedom after 1830’s. India had already lost most of its economic freedom in the preceding decades. On 1 November 1858, England reversed its policies on religion. Overt missionary activities were called off; however, ‘education’ became a tool of the state to marginalise India’s backbone of a private and successful system of education. Tatya and other leaders of the War of 1857 had allowed India to take the first step towards freedom.
Figure 64—Scoring Freedom
India’s post-Independence policies were largely a continuation of the English platform relative to personal and economic freedom. These policies were in complete contrast to what the leaders such as Tatya Tope, Nana Saheb and Bahadur Shah had presented in 1857.
The preface argues that historically, India’s polity uniquely demonstrated the understanding of the triad of freedom. Western nations have attempted but failed in the creation of a system where these three functions are restricted from misappropriating power.
A ‘modern’ India went from emulating ‘socialism’ to emulating ‘crony-capitalism’, both failed western concepts.
Around 500 BC, this Indic charter survived an assault from one of three sources of power—the priests. The revival period lasted nearly 1,500 years, when parts of India finally lost political freedom. Indic polity faced destruction. Over time the original ideas of this ancient Indic charter were not only lost, they were reversed. Once entrenched, the functional powers that once attacked the charter became its ardent defenders. The letter and the spirit of original Indic polity were destroyed.
However, some aphorisms exist even today that represent the genius of the original guiding principles. For example, the saying, ‘Raja bane vyapari, praja bane bhikhari’ (If a king became a merchant, the population would become beggars) delivers a simple yet powerful message that recognises the need for the separation of political and economic power as a basis for societal prosperity.
India took the second step towards freedom on 18 February 1946 when political freedom was secured; although the first step remained incomplete. In terms of personal freedom, India needs to create a charter that is blind to people’s personal choices.
Bentinck’s proclamation had first introduced the monopoly of English language on higher education, with the intent to dissociate the elite from the rest. A free India had the opportunity of eliminate this monopoly. Unfortunately, the Indian government continued English policies of an implicit monopoly of the English language of higher education.
While the socialist ideals preached the ideals of opportunities for the masses, the continued elitist policies did exactly the opposite.
There is not a single country in the world, which has successfully forced a foreign language on its people and reaped economic rewards for its masses. Not China nor Taiwan. Not South Korea nor Japan. Not Malaysia nor Thailand. Not England, nor Germany. Not Russia, not France or any European country. The Americans, Canadians and Australians who unleashed genocide against the native populations, and forced a racially segregated society for the longest of times, can hardly be a role model for India. 
The only countries who have followed policies similar to that of modern India are South American nations where the indigenous languages are officially marginalised in favour of European languages. These countries are a showcase of bleak economic divisions and hierarchies that arise from an individual's identification with people of European heritage and language. Is that a role model for India to follow in the new millennium?
Before the domination of English, Spanish was the “international” language of choice, preceded by Persian.  What language could be next? Mandarin? Cantonese? Hebrew? Japanese? Should one of these languages be forced upon India’s population next?
The continued state sanctioned monopoly of the English language has created a culture of exclusivity and has limited access to opportunities to the general population.  While individuals and institutes should be free to choose any Indian or foreign language of their choice, state patronage of any foreign language, simply represents the continuation of the oppressive ideas within Bentinck’s proclamations. 
Some ‘modern’ historians suggest, that in hindsight, India's defeat in 1857 was as a blessing, because the ‘old order’ represented by the leaders of the war, was supposedly ‘regressive’ in comparison to the rule of the English. To these historians, the English represented ‘change’ and the ‘old order’ represented stagnation. This idea is not only nonsense but also an insult to the concepts of freedom and liberty. It was this ‘old order’ that made the proclamation of Freedom of 25 August 1857. It was a manifesto that laid out goals of economic and personal freedom and presented ideas that resound even today. These ideas of freedom and liberty and good governance are embodied in Indic traditions, and were clearly presented in that proclamation.
The value of ideas should not be gauged by their novelty or their packaging. Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope, Lakshmibai and others represented this so-called ‘old order’, fought and died for India's liberty. Vishnubhat Godse met Lakshmibai in a chance encounter while on the road to Kalpi a few weeks after her breakout from Jhansi. In a solemn tone, she gave a precise reason to the priest, for her personal reasons for fighting the war. ‘I did not need anything. However, I proudly made it my responsibility to protect our beliefs. That is what motivated me.’[v]  Their sacrifice and their perseverance represent these timeless, but yet perpetually fresh ideas. The oldest of them, but perhaps decadent to some, was the idea to defend and fight for your freedom.
Great ideas and traditions do not have expiry dates; they remain new and fresh for eternity. This idea of eternal rejuvenation within Indic thought is aptly represented in these words
सनातनो नित्यनूतनः
India should benefit from the wisdom from its ancestors and the message embodied in the proclamation made by its leaders on 25 August 1857. While 1857 and 1946 were two important steps towards freedom, freedom remain incomplete as India continues to face the paradox of fractional freedom. India needs to take a few more steps towards complete freedom.
These additional steps are the key to fulfilling the dreams that Tatya and others dreamt when they sacrificed their lives for the Indian nation. India the country lost the war and remained in chains, but India the nation was free.
Tatya Tope is not just the grandfather of the Tope family; he is the grandfather of the Indian nation. Completing Tatya’s unfinished task is the key to allow the forever nation to remain a nation forever.



[i] China has a long and thriving civilization that goes back nearly to the third millennium BC. While its traditions date back a long time, Buddhism, a religion foreign to China interrupted that continuity in the first millennium AD. The conflicts and the fault lines that were created within China when it first faced a foreign religion exist even today. China had a strong core set of traditions and faiths in existence prior to the advent of Buddhism. Therefore, the assimilation of Buddhism into China was no easy transition and was met with stiff resistance. The Persians have had a similar history. On the other hand, the Jewish people have demonstrated long and unbroken continuity in their faith and their culture. However, the Jewish state itself has had a largely broken existence through the ages, resurfacing again after a long gap, in the twentieth century.
The Southeast Asian countries also faced breaks in their continuity in these core attributes that defined them as nations. Central Asian, West Asian and African nations which include the great and ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Egypt, civilizations of the upper Nile, and others, saw huge upheavals where Islam and in some cases Christianity became not just religious but also major political influences. The indigenous people in the Americas, sheltered by distance from outside influences saw the most dramatic collapse in their traditions and faiths, and in some cases even their existence, following the European conquest in the sixteenth century and onwards. Southern European societies such as Greeks and the Romans, whose civilization spans to the first millennium BC, also saw dramatic changes with the advent of Christianity.
In all of these cases, when and where the continuity was broken there was formidable resistance from the people, whether or not the changes were introduced by force; although most were. However, the idea is not to suggest that the changes that were brought on, whether by force or otherwise, were necessarily for the worse, economically or politically. Nevertheless, in fact, these were changes that reshaped the definition of nations. Old nations died and new nations emerged.
[ii] The battleground with Alexander and the later Greek during the periods of 250BC and later, were primarily only the western parts of India. India as a political unit was never really threatened by the Greeks. Many western self-proclaimed Indologists and their Indian followers continue to claim that the ‘Aryans’ were ‘foreigners.’  While this debate is still ongoing, the ‘story’ of an ‘Aryan Invasion’ is no longer considered viable.
[iii] 1857 in India: Mutiny or War of Independence, Ainslee T. Embree, D. C. Heath and Company, Boston, 1963, p. 1
[iv] Hearings of Sept. 2 to Oct. 27, 1913, on ‘A bill to provide for the establishment of federal reserve banks, for furnishing an elastic currency, affording means of rediscounting commercial paper, and to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes.’
In 1913, before the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, Mr. Alexander stated: ‘But the whole scheme of a Federal Reserve Bank with its commercial-paper basis is an impractical, cumbersome machinery, is simply a cover, to find a way to secure the privilege of issuing money and to evade payment of as much tax upon circulation as possible, and then control the issue and maintain, instead of reduce, interest rates. It is a system that, if inaugurated, will prove to the advantage of the few and the detriment of the people of the United States. It will mean continued shortage of actual money and further extension of credits; for when there is a lack of real money people have to borrow credit to their cost.’
[v] माझा प्रवास, १८५७ च्या बंडाची हकीकत, कै. वे. शा. सं. विष्णुभट गोडसे, Maza Pravas, Vishnubhat Godse, Venus Publishers, November 2000, p. 110

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