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Tatya Topé's Operation Red Lotus

The Topé family presents the story of Tatya and the Anglo-Indian War of 1857

Operation Red Lotus is a quest by the Tope family to understand the real history of the Anglo-Indian War of 1857.

Operation Red Lotus is recently published book that chronicles the events that took place before and during the War of 1857.

The following blog represent the opinions of the author.

Please visit http://tatyatope.com for an online preview of the book.

Several local Bookstores in India are now carrying this book. Additionally, the following is a partial list of online stores.

Travelling Stomachs

February 13, 2010

Napoleon once said, ‘An army travels on its stomach.’ By this, he meant that the problem of keeping an army supplied is a prerequisite for the very existence of the force.

Any large-scale military engagement with the British, who during the 1800s were at the peak of their military power, was nearly impossible to do without their knowledge. Any early warning could derail the plan. Historical accounts of 1857 rarely discuss the logistics, the supply lines, and the economics of waging a war. It is well-known that the cost of fighting the war against the British was enormous. While the military logistics of acquiring and maintaining weapons and ammunition is important to the understanding of how the Indian fought this war, the critical piece is the mystery of the supply line.

Troop movement in the 1850s in India was a long and arduous process and the logistics involved was enormous. Three to five camp followers accompanied each soldier. With this calculation, when two divisions of troops were on the move, the total number of human beings marching exceeded 20,000. In addition, there were thousands of horses, camels, elephants, mules, and bullocks. The elephants would drag the cannons. The bullock carts would transport the soldiers. The camels would be needed to carry the supply of grain for the cavalry and artillery horses. The supply for one day for 8,000 horses would need 200 camels for its conveyance. More camels would be needed to transporting the hospital stores, wines, medicines, quilts, beds, pots pans of all sorts and sizes. In addition, ‘troop stores’ were also transported. These included horse clothing, head and heel ropes, pickets, nose bags and spare shoes. In addition, there was the private baggage for the soldiers and the tents for officers. With this complicated logistics, typical troop movement was about 12-15 miles per day.

As this indicates, the critical part of waging a successful war is to have an elaborate logistics for food for the soldiers and the horses and elephants, if any. In addition, as mentioned above, each soldier was followed by three to five camp followers just to manage the needs of the soldiers including food.

While there are several little things including horse clothing and medicine supplies, the primary need for troops on the move is food, critical for success on the battlefield. A marching army required provisions not just for the soldiers, but feed also for the horses, elephants, bullocks and camels.

Before waging a war against the English, the Indian soldiers, as employees of the East India Company, had access to the full spectrum of support and a functional supply line. Once the Indian soldiers ‘mutinied’, they no longer had access to that infrastructure. All basic needs, including food and other logistics had to be managed. Did they travel with their rations? Did they have access to the camels that would be carrying the rations? For each soldier there were three camp followers, who would take care of the essentials. Did the ‘rebel’ soldiers have any camp followers? What about pots, pans and cooks? Who cooked the food? Did they get access to any the camp equipment before they mutinied, including pots and pans?

A soldier fights a war based on the assumption that the basic things such as food, water and a camp to sleep are taken care of.

Here is a glimpse into the scale of the problem that has been glossed over by most historians. Over 50,000 Indian troops fought in this war. Just for one month, they would have needed nearly 1,500 tons of grains, not including the feed for horses and elephants. Where did the grains come from and more importantly who cooked the food for the soldiers? The EEIC’s army had three camp followers for every soldier. Did the camp followers mutiny as well? How did they carry their grains? Did they have supply lines as elaborate as the English did?

Food was a critical element of this War for the Indian soldiers and this was another very important piece that has been missing in history books. Tatya Tope demonstrated the use of fully functional supply lines in the later phases of the War. However, in the first phase, planning for a fully functional logistics would have impossible task to achieve covertly. Was Tatya able to invent an alternate and fully functional supply lines for his soldiers? Who accounted for that critical piece of supply line logistics?

All these answers are in the mysterious traveling chapatis and red lotuses.

Read Operation Red Lotus to find out more.

Understanding Freedom and 1857

January 6, 2010

The Anglo-Indian War of 1857, was a war that has been wished away behind the smokescreen of euphemisms: rebellion, revolt, uprising and most famously “the sepoy mutiny.”

When viewed in the proper context it offers a refreshing look at the vision of a free India that the Indian leaders of 1857 including, Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope and Bahadur Shah presented.

On August 25, 1857, they made a five point proclamation of freedom, that indicted the rule of the English and presented a vision for a free India.

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.

What was “Operation Red Lotus?”

January 3, 2010

Months before any shot was fired in 1857. Months before any troops began their long marches – two bizarre sets of events began to unfold. The first were red lotus flower that began to appear in the garrisons where the Indian regiments were stationed. The second were the appearance Chapatis as chain like messages in hundreds of villages all over the area where the Indian armies where stationed.

“Starting in late 1856, red lotus flowers began to appear in nearly all the military stations where the Bengal Army was stationed. This story is echoed in many accounts. What is consistent is that the subhedar, who commanded a platoon, would line up his soldiers, and hand the first soldier a red lotus fl ower. These soldiers then held this lotus flower, and then passed them on to the soldier immediately behind. This was repeated until the lotus reached the last person, who would leave the station with the flower.
The soldiers then would cry out “sab laal ho jayega.” A few months later – without any shot being fired – this slogan changed to “sab laal ho gaya hai.”

Shortly after the appearance of red lotus flowers in the garrisons chapatis began to appear in villages as chain messages.

“The commissioner of the Agra division was on tour in the Mainpuri district when his attention was drawn to a mysterious distribution of chapatis being made with astonishing rapidity. Nothing could be elicited from the bearers who appeared to know no more of the purport of the symbols than of the fact that on the receipt of a cake, five more were to be prepared and forwarded without delay to villages further in advance along the line of the Grand Trunk road where they could be called for. In this manner the cakes travelled often over 160 to 200 miles in a night. He saw some more which had that morning been delivered on the Etawah side of Mainpuri. On the following day the commissioner heard of them at the extremity of Etah and Aligarh.”

What could be the mystery behind these flowers? Was the lotus only a sort of an inspirational ritual or was there something more to it?

Find out the answers to these questions and more in Tatya Tope’s Operation Red Lotus.
You can also preview the book.

The Context of History

November 6, 2009

The following is an extract from the Preface of Tatya Tope’s Operation Red Lotus

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History is always written with an agenda. There are times when the agenda is benign, but far too often it is not. Dig deeper, put the context in perspective, and very often a dark underbelly reveals itself. In that darkness exist, many real stories that were not only covered up or buried, but also distorted and destroyed.

So what was our agend a? To resolve a long standing dichotomy between stories passed down in the family about Tatya Topé and coming to terms with a history written by aliens, and to uncover and reconstruct the real story of 1857.

Understandably, English historians had a biased view on this subject. A common thread running through most English narratives is to either trivialize facts, prejudice the reader by giving an unsightly physical description of ‘natives’, or pass off undecipherable events as religious rituals! What about Indian historians? Did they simply lack the will or the ability to synthesize facts? Were they more concerned with pleasing those who controlled their purse strings?

In many cases when certain subjective evidence is available, historians have two options – one, accept that it is authentic or two, say it is questionable and therefore reject it.  When objective criteria to assess the veracity of that piece of information are lacking – it is often the prerogative of the historians to make that interpretation.

In making that interpretation, context is everything.

In our quest to unravel the real story of Tatya Topé, we stumbled upon the ‘hidden history’ of 1857. Tucked away in the archives and the libraries, is a plethora of information, either overlooked, side-stepped or misrepresented. Add to these, the original and never before translated letters written in Urdu, the letters in Bundeli, eye-witness accounts in Marathi, English reports viewed from a different context, and we have a dramatically different story. Within the new context, these nuggets of information became the missing pieces in the mosaic of the war of 1857.  While the red lotus flower has a symbolic meaning representing Indic ideas and ideals, this book demonstrates that the red lotus represented something far more specific during the war of 1857.

While, this book is the most detailed account yet of Tatya Topé’s contribution to 1857, presenting nearly all his movements and battles during his incredibly long campaign, it is certainly not definitive.  At a minimum, it enforces the argument that Indian history, particular that of 1857, needs significant reassessment.  We hope that this makes a case and, encourages Indian academics to relinquish their revisionist outlook, and take a fresh look at Indian history.

We owe this work to the next generation, our children: Abhineet, Divij, Eira, Saoirse and Naoise, and, we dedicate this work to Aai, who introduced us as children, to what freedom really means.  Aai is no longer with us, but we know that we make her proud.  We bow to her using the words of Sri Aurobindo who translated Bankimchandra’s beautiful poem.

Laughing low and sweet!
Mother I kiss thy feet,

Speaker sweet and low!
Mother, to thee I bow

Parag Topé,
Rupa Topé-Joshi, Dhananjay Joshi
Rajesh Topé,  Nandita Saini-Topé,
Prabhakar Topé.

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