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Tatya Tope

Tatya Tope (1813-1859)

Tatya Tope alias Ram Chandra Pandurang was born around 1813 in an orthodox Deshasth Brahmin family in Poona. His father, Pandurang Rao Tope, was an important noble at the court of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. He shifted his family with the ill-fated Peshwa to Bithur where his son became the most intimate friend of the Peshwa’s adopted son, Nana Dhundu Pant. The other associates of Tatya Tope were Rao Sahib and Rani Lakshmi Bai. His traditional education in a political atmosphere fitted him for heroic deeds.

In 1851, when Lord Dalhousie deprived Nana Sahib of his father’s pension, Tatya Tope also became a sworn enemy of the British. He co-operated with Nana Sahib in organizing an anti-British upsurge secretly in collaboration with other aggrieved persons. In May 1857, when the political storm was gaining momentum, he won over the Indian troops of the East India company, stationed at Kanpur, established Nana Sahib’s authority and became the Commander-in-Chief of his revolutionary forces. In the military encounters that followed he emerged as a gifted tactician with a marvellous organizing skill and as an unsurpassed guerrilla warrior with lightning speed.

After the reoccupation of Kanpur by the British as a result of ding-dong pitched battles and on being separated from Nana Sahib, Tatya shifted his headquarters to Kalpi to join hands with Rani Lakshmi Bai and kindle a revolt in Bundelkhand. He defeated the pro-British Raja of Charkhari and proceeded towards Jhansi but was defeated by Sir Hugh Rose at the battle of the Betwa and prevented from reaching his destination. Subsequently, after the capture of Jhansi by the British, he was routed at Koonch and Kalpi.
At last he reached Gwalior where he declared Nana Sahib as Peshwa with the support of the Gwalior contingent. But before he could consolidate his position he was defeated by General Rose in a memorable battle in which Rani Lakshmi Bai suffered martyrdom.

The fall of Gwalior was a turning point in the career of Tatya Tope. Thereafter commenced his remarkable feats of guerrilla warfare over very vast regions of Central India, Malwa, Bundelkhand, Rajputana and Khandesh, from the recesses of the Vindhyas to the gorges of the Aravali, harassing and perplexing the British and their allies. Pursued from June 1858 to April 1859 by nearly half of the British forces in India under their ablest generals enjoying the fullest support of their military intelligence, he outmanoeuvred them several times either by his miraculous escapes from their military network or by baffling counterstrokes even when defeated.
He could not be captured in the marathon chase of about 2,800 miles horizontally and vertically through forests, hills, dales and across the swollen rivers. At last he was betrayed by his trusted friend Mansingh at midnight on 8 April in the thick jungle of Paron and was hanged at Sipri on 18 April after a trial by a Court Martial.

A man of greatest daring and a patriot of the highest order, Tatya Tope showed superabundant energy, desperate courage and infinite capacity to defy death during his brilliant military exploits in the freedom struggle and made himself immortal. He proved to be the cleverest, the most troublesome and a highly elusive enemy, virtually a will-o’-the-wisp, for the British in India.

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