TOPICS OF THE DAY.
NEXT WEEK IN INDIA.
OUR readers will, we think, acquit the Spectator of publishing sensational articles, but we have some- thing to say this week which must be said, and which may expose us fairly to that disagreeable imputation. We may be, as we acknowledge from the first, utterly wrong, but the Indian telegram of the Times published on Monday, the second on the same subject, has excited in our minds a grave apprehension. It is, at all events, within the limits of possibility that within the next few days all the questions which now interest the country may be swal- lowed up by intelligence that we have, for the second time in the last half-century, India to reconquer. Thursday is the thirty-seventh anniversary of the fatal 10th of May, 1857, the first day of the Great Mutiny, that mar- vellous insurrection led, and only led, by the Sepoys, which so nearly extinguished British authority through- out Northern and Central India, perhaps throughout India as a whole, for, had we been beaten on one pitched field, the Mahommedans of the South, with the fourteen thousand Arabs of the Deccan as their spearhead, would have sprung to arms. The anni- versary has never been forgotten. May is the time for insurrections, the people believing that beat pros- trates white men, and if a rising has been arranged, it is in this month that it would burst out all over Northern India. Just at this time we appear to be receiving one of those strange warnings which have fre- quently preceded disturbances, even under the Mogul dynasty, and which in 1857 took the form of a distribu- tion of chapatties — little unleavened cakes—through Behar and part of the North-West. They were dis- tributed by unknown hands, received in silence as by men who understood what they meant, and passed on to meet everywhere with the same reception. This time it takes the shape of a patch of plaster mixed with hair, with which the trees of the endless mango groves have been secretly bedaubed, as it would seem, through- out Behar and the provinces to the East and West. As in 1857, no one knows how this is done, or by whom, though the number of persons involved must be very great ; the police, if they know anything, reveal nothing ; and the people remain lost in that apparently unobservant silence, which throughout Asia, when a dangerous incident occurs, means mischief. That silence implies and proves that if anything serious is intended, Hindoos and Mussul- mans, as in 1857, are both in it, for they both under- stand the national ways equally well. The meaning of the chapatti as a signal escaped the Government officials in 1857, as the meaning of the distribution of plaster—which, if we can remember rightly, after more than thirty years' absence, is the old " trade-mark " of the jogis or wandering fanatics of Hindooism—escapes it now; but we venture to believe, at the risk of seeming presump- tuous, that the problem was not insoluble. Our theory is, and at all events it fits the facts, that when the promoters of an Indian movement hold that the time is ripe they order something unusual to be done, be it to light bonfires on the hills as the early Mahrattas used to do—at least, Meadows Taylor says so—or to circulate a cake, or to leave a mark on the mango trees, which every villager knows at once that neither be nor his comrades have made or have expected. The object is to say " Wait, and be ready," in a way inaudible to the governing Power. It is an alerte which is sounded, and which is thoroughly understood as the signal that something against the common secular enemy, the intruding white man, is about to be attempted. The signal seen, every man waits, sharpening his sword or not, as he is or is not a fighting man, and looks to the result of the first rising, and till that is known he, whether Hindoo or Mussulman, official or peasant, remains silent as death. He may even in his mind have chosen the white man's side as the probable favourite of the destinies, but he will say nothing, either for fear or bribe or friend- ship, until the hour has arrived and passed. After that he may speak ; but till then the secret known to tens of thousands, or, as in 1857, to a whole population, is kept, as in Sicily are kept the darker secrets of the Mafia, which a whole population knows and the Government cannot guess. But, we shall be asked, Why should such an outbreak, even if possible, occur just now when all sensible Indians must be aware that the Army is very strong, that there is no special grievance to complain of, and that England is not at war? We can only reply that we do not know, nor does anybody else not familiar with the ideas current in temple and mosque as to " the fortunate hour," which depends on conjunctions of the stars, old prophecies, new declarations by leaders claiming inspiration, a thousand things of which no European understands one word, though here and there one of the detested race may be conscious of a restlessness, a dangerous stir, a look as of expectation all around him. What we do know is that something is stirring among the priests of Nepaul, for the police admit that much, indeed, it is the current explanation of the plaster ; that Nepaul is the last re- treat of unwatched and independent Hindooism ; that the shibboleth of Hindooism, the criminality of killing cows, has been again asserted in many unconnected places, with the sword ; that Behar, the most discontented of the old provinces—its population dislike all this enforced quiet— is seething with irritation because of a cadastral survey, which owners interpret as an inquisition into old property rights ; that the expectation of new taxes is general ; and that the whole North, including specially the Punjab, is sulky and worried about the land-tax which the Govern- ment is trying silently to raise by increased assessments, in order to meet the losses caused by the failure of the rupee. The fighting races are not in a good temper, and the religious excitement has not ended quite rightly for us, for while the Hindoos are furious at our impartial repression, the Mussulmans think we ought to have struck harder in defence of their clear right to eat beef if they please. We should not wonder either if the Opium Commission had bred an unexpected amount of suspicion, Hindoos and Mussulmans alike dreading and detesting interference with anything which goes into the mouth, and considering that the morality of opium- eating, or hemp-swallowing, or betel-chewing is matter for their own pundits and moollahs, and not to be decided by any Christians. All that discontent is, if no movement is brewing, only angry grumbling, leading at the utmost to riots ; but if a movement is at hand, this is not a bad time for its promoters to appeal to the population at large.
But their force, where is it ? Who knows ? As a, matter of fact, we doubt if Indians, once determined on. action, care very much about counting forces, they acting rather on the idea that they may, by rising, earn super- natural protection. Great officers noticed in 1857 as a most dangerous symptom, that many regiments rose when rising was hopeless, when they were overmatched and knew it ; or when. as in the Chittagong mutiny, they had to march hundreds of miles across provinces swarming with their enemies. The force, however, at the disposal of rebels is not so small as men at home imagine. There are plenty of rifles, though the big guns must be few and of inferior quality. Counting the military police and the native armies, there must be more than three hundred thousand drilled native soldiers in India ; there are nearly as many armed boys who intend to replace those soldiers ; and there are, at the lowest computation, five millions of grown men whose natural trade is fighting, who are sick to death of the Pax Britannica, and who may throw up, although they failed to do so in 1857, a Ryder Ali or Runjett Singh. It is not so easy for an Indian, brave as our own people, and much quicker on his feet, aware as he is of the number of the fighting tribes, to feel clear that, in presence of sixty thousand Englishmen, he is hope- lessly overmatched. He has been beaten, it is true, for one hundred years ; but what are one hundred years in the countless ages of Indian life ? And his view of our campaigns is very different from ours,—he attributes much more to fortune, and much more to treachery. The Afghans drove us out, and why, say Indians, should our expulsion by races who have beaten the Afghans be so impossible ? Of course, as a matter of fact, if the mistake of 1857 is repeated, and the insurgents meet us in the field, they will be crushed like snails under a roller, intelligence—if Radicals will allow us to say so—being in war worth more than numbers ; but if they do not repeat it, if instead of huddling together in armies, they fight us province by province, zillah by zillah, the expenditure of life, of treasure, and of energy in defeating them, will be of the most exhausting kind. We shall conquer, we do not doubt, but the conquest will make government more difficult, will redouble the impediments in the way of our necessity, which is to induce some one tribe to accept us loyally, and will leave us as before, seated in the air, with no genuine foothold outside our own cantonments. An insurrection in India, with a Hyder All at its head ordering that the white soldiers are to be harassed but never fought, would be -a scene from which the more experienced a soldier is the more he would recoil; for what could he do but march on over that immense Continent, slaughtering and slaughtering, but never reaping the reward of a, true victory ? It would not be war, but the suppression of armed rioting upon a colossal scale. We quite admit the adoption of such a policy is most im- probable, because the Indian mind has confidence, as Xerxes had, in innumerable hosts, but the later Emperors of Delhi were fought like that, and if a great leader should arise, so may we be. Are there any means of prevention ? There are none whatever, except to garrison Allahabad carefully as the key of India, to see that armed vessels command the Presi- dency towns, so that communication with Europe be not checked, and to call back any troops who may be en- camped beyond the Himalaya or in Burmah, and these precautions, the second perhaps excepted, will not be taken. The Government of India does not defend itself against general insurrection, and in its neglect is perhaps grandly wise. It has no white troops to scatter, it has no native or mercenary force which it can absolutely trust, and it can never tell, even vaguely, whence the blow to be delivered may come or what is the line of defence it may be most useful to adopt. It waits, therefore, listening always, and if the hour strikes, it may be relied on to act with savage energy. That it will be called on so to act at some period, unless indeed it can win absolutely to its side some one of the fighting peoples of India, seems to us past question ; but the necessity may arise next week, or in 1906, when seven times seven years will have elapsed since the last great effort, or at some period more distant yet. The only thing certain is that Asia is not reconciled, and never will be, to European domination, and that Asia has hitherto throughout her long history succeeded in spitting the Europeans out. We think a great deal of our soldiers, and doubtless they have seldom known defeat ; but are they as much superior to Sikhs and Goorkas and Rajpoots as Richard's mail-clad warriors were to the cavalry of Saladin ? It was Saladin nevertheless who stopped in Jerusalem.