18 April 1859: Tatya Tope, leader of 1857 Indian Rebellion, died

An important figure in the 1857 revolt, Ramachandra Pandurang Tope, better known as Tatya Tope, was born in 1814 in the present-day Nashik district of Maharashtra. He was killed on 18 April 1859. Though most historical texts say he was executed by the British, Tatya Tope’s descendents have claimed in recent years that he died fighting the British.

Tatya Tope’s father, Pandurang Rao Tope, was a noble in the court of Peshwa Baji Rao-II. In Bithur the young Tatya Tope got to know the adopted son of the Peshwa, popularly known as Nana Saheb, and became very close to him.

During the revolt of 1857, Tatya Tope was among the closest military aides of Nana Saheb.

During the siege of Kanpur, forces loyal to Nana Saheb launched an attack on the British forces holed up in the area. Eventually, many British army personnel were taken prisoner or killed.

The British sent a force led by General Henry Havelock to Kanpur. On 15 July, many British women and children held captive by the rebels were killed (to the British the killings became the pretext to commit large-scale massacres of civilian populations in several centres of revolt, including Delhi).

By the time British forces reached Kanpur, Tatya Tope and Nana Saheb had left the city. But the 1857 rebellion was not over yet.

A re-look at Tatya Tope

Tatya Tope continued to fight against a far superior British army.

By November 1857, he had gathered a substantial force, many of them rebels from Gwalior, and tried to re-take Kanpur in an audacious bid. 

It was a bloody fight but the East India Company’s forces emerged victorious. The Kanpur phase of the rebellion was effectively over.

Tatya Tope regrouped, at one stage joining hands with the legendary queen of Jhansi Rani Laxmi Bai, who was finally killed in battle.

For over a year he continued a guerrilla campaign, aligning and realigning with various smaller rajas. He fought against the British near Sanganir, by the river Banas, and at Chotta Udaipur, among other places, quickly regrouping after every battle.

Yet, with the rebellion firmly put down in most of north and central India, it was only a matter of time before the British, with their formidable military capabilities, would get hold of the last of the rebels, including Tatya Tope. Besides, Tatya Tope’s forces had scattered and dwindled.

According to mainstream historical accounts, he was finally captured in April 1859 after being betrayed by an aide, and executed by the British on 18 April, following a short military trial.

Tatya Tope’s descendents have, however, disputed both the events surrounding his death and the larger historical narrative of the revolt of 1857 in general. A book called Operation Red Lotus, a collaborative effort, was written to set the record straight, so to speak. The book’s author Parag Tope said in an interview to the Deccan Herald: “Indian history, particularly that of 1857, that is taught in schools is built on a foundation of a false paradigm that punishes the mind and de-motivates those who are exposed to it. Tatya Tope is mentioned as a hero, but none of his stories are consistent with the label. Operation Red Lotus demonstrates that India, today, remains a nation because of the leaders of 1857 and Tatya Tope, especially his resurgent campaign during late 1858 that revived the spirit of freedom.”


Also on this day:

1962 — Poonam Dhillon, Hindi film actress, was born

1916 — Lalita Pawar, actress of Hindi and Marathi cinema, was born

1914 — C.S. Nayudu, Indian cricketer and brother of the legendary cricketer C.K. Nayudu, was born


  • Operation Red Lotus
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