British historians like Kaye, Maleson, Trevelyan, Lawrence, and Holmes have painted it as a mutiny confined to the army, which did not command the support of the people at large.
L.E.R. Rees has described it as a religious war against the Christians or a racial struggle between the Black and the White.
Outram and Taylor described it as the result of Hindu-Muslim conspiracy to overthrow the British rule.
Benjamin Disraeli, a contemporary conservative leader in England, described it as a 'national rising'.
V.D. Savarkar in his book The Indian War of Independence published in London in 1909, described it as a planned war of national independence and tried to prove that the rising of 1826-27, 1854 were rehearsal of the great drama played out in 1857.
R.C. Majumdar in his book The Sepoy Mutiny and the Revolt of 1857 and Paramountcy and the Indian Renaissance described that the uprising of 1857 was not a war of independence.
In M.P. and Punjab it was a mutiny of sepoys joined later by disgruntled elements eager to take advantage of anarchy.
In U.P. and some parts of M.P. and western Bihar, the mutiny of sepoys was followed by general revolt in which apart from soldiers, civilians, particularly the dispossessed rulers of Indian states, landlords, tenants and others took part.
In Rajasthan and Maharashtra the civil population sympathised with the rebels but kept themselves within bounds of law and did not take part in overt acts of rebellions.
Dr. S. N. Sen believes that rising of 1857 was a war of independence. But the majority of the people remained disinterested and even apathetic, so it cannot be invested with a national character.
Dr. S. B. Chaudhary in his book 'Civil rebellions in the Indian mutinies 1857-59' maintained that the revolt of 1857 can be bifurcated into two subdivisions, mutiny and rebellion.
The Marxist interpretation of the revolt of 1857 as the struggle of the solider-peasant combine against foreign as well as feudal bondage, which failed because of feudal betrayal goes off the mark.
Causes of Revolt
Satara, Jaipur, Sambhalpur, Baghat, Udaipur, Jhansi and Nagpur were an-nexed by the application of the doctrine of lapse by Dalhousie.
Awadh was annexed in 1856 on the pretext of the mis-government.
The pension of Balaji Rao-II's son Nana Saheb was discontinued.
In 1856 Lord Canning announced that the Mughal prince next in succession to Bahadur Shah II would have to renounce the regal title and the an-cestral Mughal palaces in addition to the renunciation agreed to by prince Faqir-ud-din.
Dissatisfaction was widespread amongst the sepoys under the British. There was great inequality in treatment between the Indian and British counterparts in terms of salary and other benefits.
The general service Enlistment Act (1856) further angered the religious minded sepoys. The act decreed that all future recruit for the Bengal Army would have to give up an undertaking to serve anywhere where their ser-vices might be required by the government.
According to the post office act of 1854 the privilege of free postage en-joyed by the sepoys was withdrawn.
The British army suffered major reverses in the First Afghan war (1838-42) and the Punjab War (1845-49). This shattered the general belief in the invincibility of the British army and encouraged the people to believe that the days of the British regime were numbered.
Abolition of sati and widow remarriage act created suspicion in the minds of the conservative Hindus that the British were trying to anglicize them.
In 1856 the government decided to replace the old fashioned musket `brown Bess' by the 'Enfield rifle'.
On March 29, 1857 the sepoys at Barrackpore refused to use the greased cartridge and one Brahmin sepoy, Mangal Pandey, attacked and fired at the adjutant.
On 10th May 1857, the sepoys of the 3rd cavalry at Meerut also refused to use the greased cartridge and broke out in open rebellion. They were immediately joined by the 11 th and 20th native infantries.
On May 12 1857, Delhi was seized and Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II was proclaimed the Emperor of India. The real command was in the hands of Bakht Khan who had led the revolt at Bareilly and brought the troops to Delhi.
In Kanpur, the revolt was led by Nana Saheb, who proclaimed himself the Peshwa. He was assisted by Tantia Tope. The rebels defeated General Windham outside Kanpur.
In Lucknow, Begum Hazrat Mahal and Ahmadullah led the revolt. Hazrat Mahal proclaimed Brijis Kadr as the Nawab of Awadh against the wishes of the British. Henery Lawrence, the British resident was killed at Lucknow.
In Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai assumed the leadership of the mutiny.
In Bareilly, Khan Bahadur proclaimed himself as the Nawab and revolted there.
In Arrah, Kunwar Singh led the revolt.
In Faizabad, Maulvi Ahmadullah led the revolt.
The other centers of the revolt were Beneras, Allahabad, Gwalior, and Nasirabad in Rajputana, Indore, Aligarh and Kota.
Causes of Failure
The revolt was poorly organised, restricted in its scope and there was no unity among its leaders.
There was no impact of rebellion beyond the Narmada River. Even north Rajasthan, Punjab and Sind remained quiet.
The Indian princes such as Scindia's of Gwalior, Nizam of Hyderabad, Gulab Singh of Kashmir, Princes of Rajasthan remained loyal to the British.
The Indian intelligentia class remained aloof.
The control of Indian administration was transferred from the East India Company to the crown by the Government of India Act, 1858.
The Queen's declaration or proclamation declared against any desire for extension of territorial possessions and promised to respect the rights, dignity and honor of nation's princes as their own. General amnesty was granted to all offenders, save and except those who have been or shall be convicted of having directly taken part in murder of British subjects.
The Indian Civil Services Act was passed which provided for an annual competitive examination to be held in London for recruitment to the cov-enanted civil services.
The general formula followed was that in Bengal Presidency, the propor-tion between the European and Indian troops should be 1:2, while for Bombay and Madras Presidency it should be 1:3.
R.C. Majumdar has said that 'it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the so-called first national war of independence is neither the first, nor national nor a war of independence'.