The Historiography of Muslim ‘Conspiracy’

  • Alex Padamsee


This section as a whole will explore the particular set of emphases that emerged in the representations by Indian Civil Service officers of Indian Muslims during the traumatic events of 1857–59. These representations will be examined in detail, first through the correspondence of Alfred Lyall (1835–1911), and then through a comparison of those writings with other ICS official accounts. Before proceeding to that discussion, however, the following two prefatory chapters will concern themselves with a reassessment of the historiography surrounding the extent of Indo-Muslim coordinated activity during 1857–59, and of British perceptions of Indian Muslims in the preceding half century. The central argument proposed in these chapters is that the events of 1857–59 established for the first time in Anglo-Indian discourse a rhetoric of potential pan-Indian Muslim disaffection with British rule. This emotive language was significantly at variance with Anglo-Indian intelligence reports at the time, yet neither the manner of its emergence, nor the tenacity with which it was maintained in the next half century, has ever adequately been explained. The emphasis here is on the novelty of such a perception in Anglo-Indian ideological constructions of IndoMuslim society, entailing as it did the violent conflation of a series of related but hitherto discrete elements.


British Rule Default Position Emotive Language Orientalist Text False Prophet 
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    Cohn, ‘Representing Authority in Victorian India’, in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds) The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, repr. 1993; 1983), pp. 165–210.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Metcalf, The Aftermath of Revolt: India 1857–70 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 298; C A Bayly, Empire, p. 321. Important exceptions to this widespread belief included the Governor-General Lord Canning. After the suppression of the ‘Mutiny’, he was vilified by the Anglo-Indian press — under the soubriquet of ‘Clemency Canning’ — for failing to exact adequate retribution on the Muslims as a treasonous pan-Indian community (Hardy, Muslims, p. 71). For examples of Anglo-Indian press attitudes towards Canning as a ‘Mussulman’ collaborator, see The Indian Punch, 1859, 1 (Nos 1–12), pp. 2, 18, 90–1, 102–3, 114–15, 126–7, 136–7, 142–3.Google Scholar
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    The argument here is not for any exceptional status for Robinson, but rather the typicality of his thesis in this regard. For another, more recent example of a certain transhistoricity in characterising Anglo-Indian perceptions of Indian Muslims, see P Robb, ‘The Impact of British Rule on Religious Community: Reflections on the Trial of Maulvi Ahmadullah of Patna in 1865’ in Robb (ed.) Society and Ideology: Essays in South Asian History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 142–76.Google Scholar
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© Alex Padamsee 2005

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  • Alex Padamsee

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