In 1857, native soldiers in the Crown Jewel of the British Empire--the Indian subcontinent-- mutinied and for three days established rule of a native monarch. Eventually, British imperial might toppled this rebellion and independence remained more of a concept than reality until 90 years later.

But what would have happened if this revolt had succeeded leading to the birth of a new nation in the southern Asia? How much would the world have to lose or gain by this?

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    $\begingroup$ It's not a direct answer to the question, but if you want to make it more likely for this rebellion to succeed, delay the introduction of the telegraph to the world and to India in particular. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Your history will need a VERY good reason to succeed. Perfidious Albion does what needs must in such cases. If at first ... . $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 3:17

3 Answers 3


In 1857, there was no such thing as India. There was a patchwork of feudal states in the subcontinent, with large chunks of land ruled directly by the British East India Company in their three Presidencies (Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay). The British 'Raj' did not start until AFTER the mutiny; the mutiny caused the British government to reorganize the territory into a proper crown colony, in large part to prevent the tax and corvee labor abuses by Company officials that caused the mutiny in the first place.

So firstly, the Sepoy Mutiny was largely concentrated in the Upper Ganges valley, from Delhi to Bihar along with the adjacent Madhya Pradesh. The Bombay Presidency was barely affected; the Madras presidency was not affected at all. So even if the rebellion had 'succeeded' and the British had abandoned the Calcutta Presidency completely, the newly formed state would consist only of the Ganges Valley and parts of Madhya Pradesh.

Secondly, it is important to remember that there were large states in India which were nominally independent until 1857. States such as Hyderabad, Mysore, Kashmir, and Travancore did not support the rebellion. In fact these rulers had every reason to oppose a 'nationalist' rebellion against foreign monarchical authority. India was at the time (and largely still is) a well mixed society with many different religious, linguistic, and cultural groups living in close proximity. Every ruler had many subjects of a different religion, language, and culture, and wanted to keep those people ruled. So even if the revolt 'succeeded', the previously established rulers in India had no reason to unite with the mutineers.

This can be seen in the disposition of the Sikh warriors of Punjab. They had less than a decade before the Sepoy mutiny been subjugated by the British East India company. They had ruled an Empire in Punjab that had been destroyed in 1849 and brought under direct Company rule. If anyone wanted to get back at the British, it would be the Sikhs. Yet during the mutiny not one Sikh unit revolted; their hatred of the Bengali (Hindu) sepoys that had been the front line troops in the 1849 war was greater than their antipathy for the British.

In conclusion, if the Sepoy mutiny had succeeded, it would had likely precipitated the dissolution of a united subcontinent into smaller, fractious warlike states. India would be more like Africa than the successful and growing democracy that we see today.

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    $\begingroup$ Agree with everything except the last two sentences. The reason Africa is not as developed as India is precisely because it was exploited through colonialism until the 50s. India might have had further wars at the end of the 19th century, but just like Europe it might have prospered and started an era of wealthy peace after WW2, without having to throw off colonialism. $\endgroup$
    – Turion
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Turion Unfortunately for Africa it wasn't just European colonialism which inhibited growth. British de-colonisation efforts were generally positive, but when the empire left, the continent was ravaged by American and Soviet meddling; gutting the continent of its fledgling leadership. For example, Ghana. Britain said it would fund a major hydro-electric dam in Ghana, which would let Ghana smelt aluminium for export. But Britain ran out of money, and American backers wanted the ore for American smelts. Ghana said no. Then a coup happened... and American companies got their ore. $\endgroup$
    – user20787
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ @inappropriateCode, true. I've always thought of these happenings as a privatised capitalist continuation of colonialism. $\endgroup$
    – Turion
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Turion I suppose when the CIA are involved with private interests to further US influence, the mechanics of it are not very different to the behaviour of imperial powers with their colonial companies. Or indeed that different arguably from Soviet involvement with state industries and organs. It all becomes much of a muchness in practical terms, since whatever the flavour of government; the different tentacles of power are always reaching to grasp as much as they can. Such is politics! $\endgroup$
    – user20787
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Turion You seem to be under the illusion that the British were benevolent and capable administrators. They most definitely were not. India would have been mired in poverty and famines had they continued to be under the British rule. 40 trillion dollars of modern day wealth was siphoned away from India into Britain not to mention the tremendous amount of deindustrialization that was forced upon Indians. There was no reason this would not continue. $\endgroup$
    – arviman
    Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 7:39

It is hard to see that this would have been a positive thing in the long run. There were some Asian monarchies that persisted fairly late (Siam and Japan's until the present day, China's until the Communist Revolution, Malaysia (a rotating federal monarchy), Korea's until 1910), and those were generally positive in bringing about national unity and providing a centralize response to colonialism. But, in each of those cases, the monarch was unifying a genuine nation state or an indigenously created federal state.

In contrast, in 1857, it had been centuries since India was unified under a single monarchy, and was far from a nation-state. India was divided religiously, had a couple dozen languages, had a weak sense of national identity, and had a homegrown class of lawyers, senior civil servants, and politicians that was still very thin. A monarch is nothing without layer upon layer of well established aristocrats below him to legitimatize him and provide a foundation of elite support. A monarch without a long dynastic history that encompassed the entire sub-continent, or an aristocracy, would be hard pressed to rule.

India was precocious when it came to anti-colonial revolution, but if you look at the examples of Latin American revolutions in the 19th century, and the many grants of independence in the 1960s, for example, in Africa, again and again and again, the well meant initial independence regimes almost always collapsed amidst allegations of corruption and incompetence by the civilian administrations put in place, and the military regimes that intermittently followed were almost always worse. These were often followed by tin pot, cruel dictators who mismanaged their countries relative to the colonial regimes that preceded them.

When India finally gained independence, it was only after an adequate indigenous class of civil servants and lawyers was in place, and a lengthy campaign by unified political/protest movement had created a sense of national unity with grass roots support and a class of political leaders to implement the new government. Even then independent India soon divided into Hindu majority and Muslim majority regions in an event that was a apocalyptic national trauma with blood running in the streets, and in the Muslim part, coups and a national schism soon followed again.

It would only have been worse in 1857, for everyplace except perhaps a small kingdom in the region where the mutiny took place, with everything else fracturing (not that it was fully unified in 1857 under a consolidated British rule in any case).

  • $\begingroup$ I find it odd that of all the Asian kingdoms you could mention, Nepal and Bhutan were left out! Surely those examples are closer to what may have happened in India? Nepal in particular is a good example given how they became a British ally after the Anglo-Nepalese war, and thus were never colonised, and left to do as they pleased. Which as it turned out wasn't anything very radical or progressive. $\endgroup$
    – user20787
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ Nitpick: The Chinese emperors ruled until the republican uprising that ended with the stablishment of the Republic of China (1911), the Communist Revolution(s) happened later and the succeeding one led to the the stablishment of People Republic of China in 1949. Of course, that means that you do not count the use of Pu Yi as puppet ruler of Manchukuo (which ended in 1945). $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ @inappropriateCode Also good examples that simply were not at the forefront of my mind. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 Fair points. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 14:49

If the war succeeded, all of northern India east of the Sikh Empire would be free from the British, these regions include Paniput, Delhi, Agra, Bihar, Bengal, and Assam. The mutineers put the then Mughal Emperor as a unifying symbol. So if the war succeeded, the monarch would bee Mughal. The muslims today will be free of Hindu atrocities and oppression, and would later recieve friendliness and alliance from the well off and rich ruler or Hyderabad Sir Mir Nawab Nizam Osman Ali Khan. And that Mughal Federation would today be a prospering sate since it would be rich in natural resources and they wouldn't be overused as the population would not be humungous like modern india.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! Can you explain your reasoning in a bit more detail? How did you arrive at this conclusion? Especially this part - "The muslims today will be free of Hindu atrocities and oppression". $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 14:56

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