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Nana Sahib (1824 - ? )
Dhondu Pant, better known as Nana Sahib, popularly recognised as a great freedom fighter, was born in 1824, and what happened to him after 1857 is a mystery yet unraveled. Narayan Bhatt and Ganga Bai were his parents. In 1827 his parents went to the court of the last Peshwa Baji Rao. On 7 June Nana Sahib was adopted by Baji Rao, and thus he became heir-presumptive to the throne. Nana Sahib was well educated. He studied Sanskrit but had no Western education. He subscribed to all the leading Anglo- Indian journals which were translated to him daily by an individual. He was married to a cousin of the Chief of Sangli.

Tantia Tope was an intimate friend of Nana Sahib from childhood. Rani Laxmi Bai and Nana Sahib were extremely fond of each other from their childhood. Nana had the looks of a warrior, with his head and face shaven clean. He had an excellent stable of horses, elephants and camels. His armoury was stocked with weapons of every age and country. The Maharaja moved freely in public and graced by his presence all occasions of festivity and pomp.

He took great pride in his birth and race. He never went abroad. He was very fond of entertaining the English gentry at Kanpur and every now and then arranged parties in the European style in his mansion at Bithoor. His generosity endeared him to the Englishmen who came in contact with him. They all praised him with one voice for his generosity and hospitality. His knowledge of English, however, was scanty.

Nana had no sympathy for the social reforms introduced by the English. Nana was known for his deep religious nature and absolutely believed in the rites and ceremonies of Hinduism. He was a person of great piety and an orthodox disposition and had special veneration for the Ganges. Nana Sahib’s role in the Mutiny of 1857-58 has been greatly exaggerated by popular writers and even by some historians. In fact, he was drawn into the vortex of events much against his will in the same way as Bahadur Shah II.

He himself had little inclination to a military uprising against the British, with whom he was on the best of terms till the Sepoys rose in revolt at Kanpur on 4 June 1857. On the death of the last Peshwa, Baji Rao

II, in 1851, the Company’s Government stopped the annual pension and the title but Nana Sahib was allowed to inherit the savings of his adoptive father. Nana appealed to the Court of Directors against this measure and even sent his agent Azimulla to plead his cause in England.

But nothing came of it, and for the next six years Nana Sahib seemed to be apparently reconciled to the settlement made by the Company’s Government. He often entertained British officials at Kanpur, both Civil and Military, and had no idea of leading any revolt. It was after the sepoy revolt broke out at Kanpur (4 June 1857) and Nana Sahib’s own soldiers, sent to the assistance of the British, joined the rebels that Nana Sahib was virtually forced by the mutineers to take the lead under threat of dire consequences if he failed to join them.

It is not necessary here to go into the details of the mutiny at Kanpur and the role played by Nana Sahib. After seizing Kanpur, which had a small British garrison, Nana Sahib proclaimed himself as the Peshwa and called for the total extermination of the British power in India. But he showed little generalship in the fight against the British. Nor is it clear to what extent he was personally responsible for the treacherous murder, near the riverside, of the besieged Englishmen at Kanpur who had been earlier guaranteed a safe conduct by Nana Sahib.

The over-confident Nana and his followers did little to prevent a recapture of Kanpur by the British under General Havelick. The last serious engagement (16 July 1857) resulted in a total rout of Nana’s forces. Nana rode away to an unknown destination, and the leadership of the mutineers in that region was assumed by his devoted follower Tantia Tope.

Numerous letters written by Nana Sahib to the British after the end of the Mutiny, preserved in the National Archives at New Delhi, as also Tantia Tope’s dying declaration reveal that Nana’s role was neither premediated nor well-planned, despite the popular myth created about him since then. Nana fled away to Nepal at the end of the Mutiny, but nothing is known of his later life or the time and circumstances of his death.

Author : K.L.Srivastava