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THE ARMY AND MUTINY
OUR army in India is maintained as a defence against two dangers — invasion from without and rebellion within. The double character is inevitable, but at the same time it is a source of military inefficiency. It involves a radical contradiction. Two-thirds of our force in India consists of native troops. To guard against Russia our policy is to make these as highly efficient as troops can be made. To guard against mutiny our policy is to keep them inferior in efficiency to our own white troops. In dealing with the British troops Government is in a similar dilemma. To make them efficient against a disciplined enemy they should be trained together in large armies, wherein officers can learn to move and combine masses Of troops of all arms. To make them an efficient police against internal disaffection — so it is argued — they should be spread as widely as possible over the country, — should present everywhere to the natives the spectacle of white troops within easy striking distance of any point, and in cOmmand of all important strategical positions.
It is obvious that the consistent pursuit of one policy means a proportionate weakness in the other. If one danger is decidedly the more urgent of the two, then wisdom demands that the provision against the other should be frankly sacrificed. It seems to be the opinion of many good judges in India that the time has come to do this — to make our military policy truly military, and leave internal politics to politicians.
The danger of another Mutiny, it may confidently be said, is vanishing every day. But even if it were not, the measures taken to guard against it are obsolete. The great Mutiny owed its temporary success in the first place to the difficulty of moving up loyal troops over the enormous distances of Northern India. The railway only ran from Calcutta to Raniganj — 120 miles out of the 900 to Meerut; the roads were bad and transport scarce. The mutiny at Meerut broke out on the 10th of May; Havelock could not march from Allahabad till the 7th of July. These difficulties will never have to be encountered again. Now, by steamer and rail, troops could reach Meerut from Aldershot far sooner than then they could reach Meerut from Calcutta. That fact, known as well to natives as to Europeans, is a strong deterrent against rising; and it would furnish the strongest weapon against any rising that might occur. The force to defeat a new Mutiny would not be garrisons shut up in isolated towns, with small columns turning from the relief of one to that of another, but strong columns, transported rapidly by rail, and swiftly crushing each force of rebels as it began to gather head. The first requisite for such a mobile column would be good regimental training and tactical efficiency.
Now an instance of what is being done to secure this. The first battalion of the Royal 'Warwickshire Regiment arrived in India last October. It had just made the campaign of Khartum. Fully maintaining the reputation of the old Sixth, it was acknowledged by all to be among the best of the uniformly fine regiments employed on that service. The men were of a good average of service, weeded by a summer in the Sudan, braced by war. Their drill, discipline, and shooting were consistently excellent. Such a regiment was fit for anything. When it arrived in India it first learned that it had been sent there by mistake or prematurely: it was not wanted anywhere. Finally, half of it was dumped down in Fort George, with no ground for manœuvring or shooting within miles, and the other half at an obscure place called Bellary, three hundred miles away, to guard an old fort of Tippu Sultan. What devotion or ingenuity on earth can prevent that regiment from deterioration? It is impossible to keep even the separate wings at their present level of efficiency; but even if it were not, how can a battalion keep itself fit to take the field when its two wings are stationed three hundred miles apart and never drill together? How can even a proper regimental feeling be maintained when officers and men are forced to grow strangers? What is to become of the men, plunged into a languid climate after severe exertions, conscious that their soldiering is no longer a thing in earnest? What is to become of the senior officers, deprived of their chance of learning to handle a regiment. Or of the junior, first whetted by war and then compelled to find their chief interest in something other than their profession?
This is only a single incident in a deliberate policy. The 1st Seventh Fusiliers are divided between Nussirabad and Neemuch, the 1st Norfolk between no less than four stations on the Bombay side, the 2nd Royal Irish between Mhow and Indore, the 2nd K.O.S. B.'s between Cawnpore and Fatehgarh, the 1st East Surrey between Jhansi and Nowgong, the 2nd Royal Sussex between Sialkot and Amritsar, the 2nd South Staffordshire between two stations in Burma, the 1st Dorset between Nowshera and Attock, the 2nd South Lancashire between Jubbulpur and Saugor, the 2nd Welsh between Ahmednagar and Satara, the 1st Black Watch between Sitapur and Benares, the 2nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry between Ferozepur and Mian Mir, the 1st Essex between Shwebo and Bhamo, the Royal West Kent between Rangoon and the Andaman Islands, the 1st Middlesex between four stations in Madras, the 2nd Connaught Rangers between Meerut and Delhi, the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders between Bareilly and Shahjahanpur, and the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers between Dinapur and Lebong.
Nineteen British regiments in all split up into pieces, and thus deprived of their best chance of efficiency It is incredible that the political situation demands this dispersal of units; it is impossible that the military situation should not be weakened by it.
Many of the native regiments are similarly subdivided. But with them the principal drag is their armament. None of them have the Lee-Metford rifle, wherefore they were often called on in the late frontier war to face an enemy better armed than themselves. In a Russian war they would have to do the same under much severer conditions. In such a war it is very probable that the Anglo-Indian army would be inferior in numbers; should it be allowed to be also inferior in weapons?
I know that this is a subject of great difficulty and delicacy. It is an axiom with many people in India that the native troops should always be kept one stage behind the British. Only we should beware lest in making them safe to ourselves we issue in rendering them equally safe to our enemies. That is surely the greater danger of the two. After the Mutiny care was taken to weaken any fresh tendencies to revolt by instituting class company regiments, combining men of different race and creed. A regiment thus divided, it was thought, would be less likely to combine against its officers. But of late this system has been abandoned, and the newer units are class regiments — all Sikhs or Pathans or Dogras, or whatever it may be. This reversion to the old system, while presumably stimulating regimental keenness, may be taken to show that the Indian Government no longer feels any acute apprehension as to the loyalty of the native troops. Indeed it may be said confidently that such apprehensions are no longer justified in the very least degree: there is no doubt at all of the faithfulness of the native army. It may be true that a Mussulman can never quite surmount a feeling of antipathy — at any rate of strangeness — to a Christian, or a native of India to a European. But it is also true that if the breach between races forbids intimacy, it leaves room in the army for comradeship, and even nurtures the personal devotion of men to officers. It is not quite easy to see, therefore, why the native army is not armed with the very best weapon available. In any case, a beginning might be made with the Ghurkhas. They are foreigners in India, as we are. They have neither caste nor religion, and therefore associate far more easily with Europeans: the friendship between Johnny and Tommy has long been a commonplace of mess-room anecdote. In any rebellion it is as certain as anything can be that the Ghurkhas would be on our side though all India were against us. Why not give the Ghurkhas Lee-Metfords? And if the Ghurkhas, why not the Guides, the Sikhs, everybody? The French trust Senegalese with repeating-rifles: cannot Britain do the like in India?
It is only natural that the tremendous experience of 1857 should still be something of a nightmare to the Indian Government. "We are living on a volcano," "It has happened once; it may again." You hear such phrases nearly every day. I have even heard it said that if all the ryots were ever to rise in a body, British rule would collapse utterly and in a day. Personally I should be inclined to back one battalion of British infantry, given time and ammunition, against all the ryots in India. But even if the ryots are far more formidable than they seem, they do not Want to rise, and there is no reason to suppose that they ever will rise. A faction fight or a religious shindy now and again — certainly; that is the ryot's Exeter Hall. But about his rulers he neither knows nor cares; and if he did, he would never agree about them with the other ryots; and if they all did know and agree, they would only conclude that they are very much better off under the existing Sirkar than they ever were, or are likely to be, under any other. Where the ryot is poor he is no poorer than he was. Where, as in some parts, his wife and children carry on their persons enough jewellery to keep them for five years, fearing neither raiding troopers by day nor dacoits by night — what should impel this man to risk his life and property in hope of a mere change of rulers?
Native India, relatively to our own force, is not militarily stronger than ever it was, and is perhaps even more divided. What disaffection exists is mostly confined to the superficially educated, who have far less influence even with natives of their own race than an English professor of political economy has with our ploughmen. Among other races, being for the most part of weak and unwarlike stocks, they command only contempt.
There is no danger of a second Mutiny in India, unless the British dominion should ever be seriously challenged. But if there should ever come a great and doubtful war in the north — what then? If Russia came against us on the frontier, it is certain she would also do her utmost to stir up risings behind us. Even so, in our own provinces good officers, with police and volunteers, would probably keep their districts together. The critical point would be the rajah. Nearly all native princes to-day are irreproachably loyal; but you cannot guarantee a hereditary house against a disloyal son in the moment of supreme temptation. With this in mind, many men wag their heads doubtfully about the new institution of Imperial Service troops. There are Over 20,000 of these--armed, drilled, and equipped nearly as well as our own native regiments. Doubtless these forces, which owe no direct allegiance to the Empress, should not recklessly be created or increased. But nothing great can be done without taking risks. The object of these forces is partly to increase the military strength of India, partly to give legitimate and congenial employment to the rulers and gentlemen of the native states. If we fail in our dealings with these, the Imperial Service troops are a Weakness; if We succeed, they are an accession of strength.
If our aim were to avoid risks, we should not be in India at all. Being there, our boldest policy is also our safest. To weaken our native forces through distrust of their loyalty is only to invite the attack we fear. To be strong against attack is at the same time to ease the strain on loyalty.