Political Causes -1857 Revolt

The English East India Company had initially started as a trading power but it gradually started enjoying political clout. The British rule was formally established after the battle of Plassey in 1757 in Bengal. They soon began to consolidate their power through annexation and alliances etc. They also did not shy away from misusing their newly found political power to strangulate Indian way of life.

Political Causes of 1857 Revolt

While the war of 1857 was a reaction of different sections of Indian society against policies of the British which included various aspects viz. social, economic, administrative, military etc., the political grievances against the British Raj played the most important role in an outbreak of 1857 revolt.

Political conditions prevailing in India in the 19th century

  • In those days there was no conception of India as a country. There were Bengalis, Hindustanis, Sikhs, Rajputs, Marathas etc. but no Indian.
  • There was an absence of unity among different regional powers in India.
  • When British forces attacked one power e.g. Mysore, other powers e.g. Marathas came forward to support British forces.
  • There was also a disunity along the religious lines.
  • Political grievances of different sections of Indian society viz. peasants, Zamindars, artisans, princes, etc. against the British rule were different and were mainly driven by self-interest.

Subsidiary Alliance

Subsidiary Alliance was a system devised by Lord Wellesley in 1798. All those who entered into such an alliance with the British had to accept certain terms and conditions such as the rulers had to disband their military force, allow the British to position their troops within the kingdom, and act in accordance with the advice of the British Resident who was now to be attached to the court.

The kingdom of Awadh became an easy prey to subsidiary alliance in 1801 which ultimately resulted in its complete annexation in 1856.

The subsidiary alliance was often forced on the local rulers who lost all their powers and prestige under the said arrangement. Due to this they harboured a grudge against British Raj and found an opportunity in the Sepoy Mutiny to equal scores with the British.

Dalhousie s Aggressive Policy of annexation

It is believed by many historians that Lord Dalhousie laid the foundations of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He was driven by conviction to bring all the Indian states ruled by local rulers into the fold of British administration. For which he started to use doctrine of lapse.

Under the doctrine of lapse, the British annexed any Indian state where the ruler did not have a male heir. Under this spurious doctrine, he annexed Satara, Sambalpur, Jhansi and Nagpur etc. which angered the local ruler, who had to now live in the looming fear of annexation of their state by the British.

Adopting heir was an ancient practice among Indian rulers. By depriving them of their right and by forcibly annexing their states British made many enemies out of these local rulers who ultimately became leaders of 1857 revolt. E.g. Rani Laxmibai, Nana Sahib etc.

Denial of the right to succession

The right of succession was not only denied to many Hindu princes but also to the once mighty Mughals. On the death of Prince Faqiruddin in 1856 whose succession had been recognised only conditionally by Lord Dalhousie, Lord Canning announced that the next prince on succession would have to renounce the regal title, royal palaces and other privileges.

Mughals were the symbol of political unity of India. And this British move to dethrone them angered the Indian people. Soon after the break out of the revolt, Bahadur Shah, the last Mughal emperor, was made the symbolic head of the Great revolt and Delhi became its centre.

Misuse of political power

British enjoyed political power in India without any corresponding responsibilities. Furthermore, this political power was exercised to the full extent for commercial advantage.

They used their political power to destroy Indian trade and industries with a policy of discrimination in tariff and import and export policies, which ultimately destroyed Indian economy and caused economic impoverishment of India and its people.

Hatred against the British rule

Annexation of Indian states and the removal of the local rulers led to the dissolution of the court which resulted in the loss of patronage to musicians, dancers, artisans, administrative officials, army men and so on. These people lost their source of livelihood.

What enraged the people was how British land revenue settlements had dispossessed landholders, both big and small, and foreign commerce had driven artisans and weavers to ruin.

These people harboured resentment against British rule and became active participants in the Revolt of 1857.

The search for alternative power

Anger was brewing against British rule, among different sections of society due to its oppressive nature, and for the fact that it destroyed Indian way of life. People craved to go back to Pre-British political system and administration.

Once British rule had collapsed, the rebels in places like Delhi, Lucknow and Kanpur tried to establish some kind of structure of authority and administration. This was, of course, short-lived but the attempts show that the rebel leadership wanted to restore the pre-British world of the eighteenth century.

The leaders went back to the culture of the court. Appointments were made to various posts, arrangements made for the collection of land revenue and the payment of troops, orders issued to stop loot and plunder.


The political objective of the 1857 uprising was to overthrow British rule and replace it with an alternate order. The company s policy of greed and aggrandisement created contempt in the mind of people for the company s rule which was further worsened due to aloofness of the British towards sensitivities of the Indian society. The discontent and disaffection of Indians ultimately manifested in the form of the Great Rebellion of 1857.

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