Although the revolt was a big event in the history of India, it had very little chance of success against an organised and powerful enemy. It was suppressed within a year of its outbreak. Various causes led to the failure of the Revolt of 1857.
There was no unity of purpose among the rebels. The sepoys of Bengal wanted to revive the ancient glories of the Mughals while Nana Saheb and Tantya Tope tried to reestablish the Maratha power. Rani Lakshmi Bai fought to regain Jhansi, which she had lost as a result of British policy of Doctrine of lapse.
Secondly, this rising was not widespread it remained confined to North and Central India. Even in the north, Kashmir, Punjab, Sind and Rajputana kept away from the rebels. The British managed to get the loyalty of the Madras and Bombay regiments and the Sikh states.
Afghans and Gurkhas also supported the British. Many Indian rulers refused to help the rebels. Some were openly hostile to them and helped the British in suppressing the revolt. The middle and upper classes and the modern educated Indians also did not support the revolt.
Thirdly, the leadership of the movement was weak. Indian leaders lacked organisation and planning. The rebel leaders were no match to the British soldiers. Most of its leaders thought only of their own interest. They were motivated by narrow personal gains. They fought to liberate only their own territories.
No national leader emerged to coordinate the movement and give it purpose and direction. Lakshmi Bai, Tantya Tope and Nana Saheb were courageous but were not good military generals. With the escape of Nana Sahib and the death of Bahadur Shah Zafar came the end of Peshwaship and the Mughal rule.
The rebels were short of weapons and finances. Whatever few weapons existed were old and outdated. They were no match to the sophisticated and modern weapons of the British.
The rebels were also poorly organised. The uprisings in different parts of the country were uncoordinated. Often the sepoys behaved in an uncontrolled manner. On the other hand the telegraphic system and postal communication helped the British to speed up their operation. The English mastery of the sea enabled them to get timely help from England and crush the revolt ruthlessly.
The Revolt of 1857 was the first sign that the Indians wanted to end British rule and were ready to stand united for this cause. Even though they failed to achieve their objective they succeeded in sowing the seeds of nationalism among the Indians.
Indian people became more aware of the heroes, who sacrificed themselves in the Revolt. However, it was the beginning of distrust between Hindus and Muslims which the British later exploited to continue their rule in India.
The Revolt of 1857 is unique in a sense that cut across caste, community and class barriers. Indian people for the first time put up a unified challenge to the British rule.
Though the efforts of the rebels failed, the British government was pressurised to change their policy towards India. In August 1858, by the Act for the Better Government of India, both the Board of Control and the Board of Directors were abolished. The office of the Secretary of State for India was created with an Indian Council of 15 members to assist the Viceroy of India, designation earlier known as Governor General in India.
In August 1858 the British crown assumed control of India from the East India Company and in 1877 Queen Victoria was crowned empress of India. This brought to an end the rule of East India Company.
In the proclamation of 1st November 1858 the Queen announced a continuation of the Company’s policies. India became a colony of the British Empire. The Indian rulers were assured of their rights to succession after adoption. The crown promised to honor all the treaties and the agreements made by the company with the rulers of Indian State.
By now the British had become distrustful of the Hindu Muslim unity. They decided to follow the policy of divide and rule the country. They kept a tight control over key positions both in the civil and military administration. To give expression to this pledge the Indian Civil Service Act of 1861 was passed, which provided for an annual competitive examination to be held in London for recruitment to the coveted Civil Service.
The revolt played a pivotal role in Anglo-Indian history. The British became cautious and defensive about their empire, while many Indians remained bitter and would never trust their rulers again. It was not until the emergence of Indian National Congress in 1885 and Mahatma Gandhi that Indians re-gathered their momentum for home rule.
One group which kept away from trouble and opposition to the British was the English-educated Indians. This group owed its rise to the conditions of the new rule. Some of its members were descendants of the new Bengali zamindars, a class created by the Permanent Settlement in Bengal. It is curious to note that some members of this elite group would turn against the British some thirty or forty years after the 1857 Revolt.
The Army had been mainly responsible for the crisis of 1857. Hence, radical changes were introduced in the army. The strength of European troops in India was increased and the number of Indian troops reduced from the pre-1857 figure. All Indian artillery units with the exception of a few mountain batteries were disbanded, even the artillery was kept with the British soldiers.
On the other hand, there were attempts to play native against natives on the basis of caste, religion and region. All the big posts in the army and the artillery departments were reserved for the Europeans. There was mutual distrust and fear between Indians and the British.
It was increasingly realised that one basic cause for the Revolt of 1857 was the lack of contact between the ruler and the ruled. Thus, a humble beginning towards the development of representative institutions in India was made by the Indian Councils Act of 1861. The emotional after effects of the Revolt were perhaps the most unfortunate. Racial bitterness was perhaps the worst legacy of the struggle.