Friday, 29 June 2018

Remembering the 'Battle of Plassey' 1757 - East India Company's first major victory in Bengal

The Battle of Plassey was fought in .
Robert Clive.
In the annals of world history the  Battle of Plassey (June 23,1757) in Bengal was an important event in which the decisive victory of the  East India company put it  just a few steps away from total control of Bengal. The battle was fought on the banks of the Bagirathi river (another name for  Hoogley) at Palashi (anglicized version Plassey) between the British East India Company and the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies. It was this battle that gave the British the money power and resources to colonize not only India but also other countries. After this major victory company's territorial expansion spree accompanied by exploitation of Indian resources and gullible Indian natives was unstoppable. The English company openly practised unethical  methods to capture lands, taking advantage of disunity among the Indian rulers and their internal conflicts and turmoils. The British used their strategy well and exploited the political situation prevailing in India. 

The English company's dirty and iniquitous methods were viewed with distrust and suspicion in England  and Robert Clive's behind the scene  role became a bone of contention and widely discussed in the Parliament.  Robert Clive on 07 January, 1759 from Calcutta wrote to William Pitt,  ........" there will be little or no difficulty in obtaining the absolute possession of these rich kingdoms: ... Now I leave you to judge, whether an income yearly of two million sterling with the possession of three provinces ... be an object deserving the public attention ......'' . At last the British government gave the green signal to the capture of more lands for the British Crown. Subsequently the British Crown ran a proxy government through the English company.

The EIC moved over to Bengal to engage in trade activities after getting permission from then Mogul ruler Aurangzeb and got a special privilege Firman - exemption from trade taxes . In 1650s in the subcontinent there were other competitors in trade. The Dutch and the French were very much there. Fearing raids from the French, the English began fortification of their trading post in Bengal. The then representative of the Mogul ruler  Shaista Khan objected to it and was  not cooperative and troublesome. After several years of skirmishes and misunderstanding.  Job Charnock, chief officer, EIC made a peace treaty with the new representative Ibrahim Khan. He moved the trading post down the Hoogley river about 24 km from the present location.  At a swampy village  Sutanuti on 24 August 1690 and hoisted the Royal Standards of England on the banks of river Hooghly, and EIC's new trading post began functioning from another location.  Later harnock also added a couple of villages to the British possession.  

It was in the new location Ft. William (the old fort was built in 1701.  A new fort (the present one)  came up  after Siraj ud-Daulah had attacked Fort William in 1756. The five day siege was a long one and the infamous black hole incident took place during that time in which 43 people died mainly due to asphyxiation. The EIC, which never paid the customs duty for years, invoking Firman  and flouted the authority of the Nawab, took advantage of this tragedy and showed the Nawab in bad light to the British public. The siege of Ft. William was a  bad news for the proud English. When news of the fall of Calcutta broke in Madras on 16 August 1756, additional British forces comprising roughly 2500 soldiers  from Madras led by Col. Robert Clive, aged 32  and Admiral Charles Watson  arrived in Calcutta and finally recaptured the Trading port and the town from the local ruler.  Siraj renamed Calcutta as Alinagar.  Robert Clive's entry in Bengal made all the differences  and set an initial start for the rise of British power in this region. He decided to replace the recalcitrant Nawab with a new one who would be cooperative to the company. The treaty of Alingar Feb 1757 between Clive and Siraj allowed restoration of factories, etc and acceptance of Firman of 1717 signed by Faurruk Siyar, Mogul ruler.
Issues of India -
Clive exploited the internal conflicts between Nawab and his close relative Mir Jaffar besides others like  Jagat Seth, Omi Chand - both local moneylenders  and others. Siraj ud-Daulah was poor in public relations and earned the ire of lots of close people around him. None liked the Nawab and Clive  found a nice candidate in a discontented elderly general named Mir Jafar. Cunningly Clive with the help from William Watts  turned  Nawab's enemies against him as Nawab's army was a formidable one. Their open betrayal and secret deal with Clive and other officials against the Nawab worked in favor of the company which won the mighty army of the ruler with limited resources. Some of Siraj's  associates and military officers  did not cooperate with him on the battle field. Siraj-ud-Daulah's army with 50,000 soldiers, 40 cannons and 10 war elephants  had an upper hand, but was defeated by 3,000 soldiers of Col. Robert Clive; the conspirators sided with Clive. Yet another reason was, it is said, his cannons were not properly covered against rain, etc and the ammunition were wet due to rain at the time of war. No precautions were taken to protect the artillery.  So, Siraj's cannons did not function well during the crucial time of the battle. Subsequently Mir Jaffer ordered Siraj's killing when he was at large after the battle was over. Siraj on June 23 escaped with his family and valuable jewels and on July 2nd at Rajmahal, betrayed by the Governor (who happened to be a brother of Jaffer).  Siraj was arrested and handed over to  a council headed by Mir Jaffer. Mir Jafar's son, Miran  had Siraj murdered that night and he was buried at the tomb of Alivardi Khan.  Thus Mir Jaffer's betrayal played a crucial role in the EIC's victory at Plassey.  Mir Jaffer was installed as a puppet ruler of Bengal with strings skillfully held by Clive and in return for his betrayal of his own relative.  At Murshdabad Clive himself placed Mir Jaffer on the throne and called him the Nawab, besides  presented him with a plate of gold rupees. 
Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud-Daulah
Mir Jaffer signed a new treaty with the EIC confirming the 1717 Firman (Siraj strongly felt Mogul ruler Alamgir  II never made
Battle of plassey. SlideShare
such a deal regarding fortification, etc.) acquiring  additional lands around Calcutta and Zamaindari, besides adequate compensation to the British army and Navy for the war losses -  22,000,000 rupees (£2,750,000)  The British got a chance to fill up  their pockets to the brim. English navy and army got a rich tribute of £275,000 (about £32 million today) and the English company  received from Jaffar  £3 million (about £308 million), between 1757 and 1760. When Clive, who started out at Madras on a meager monthly salary of 45 pounds, returned to England, he was very rich, his revenue of 4 million pounds was far more than any European kingdom. He was awarded with Irish Peerage as Lord Clive, Baron of Plassey. In addition, he got a seat in the House of Commons.  Clive was shamelessly wallowing in ill-gotten money earned in the Indian subcontinent  through conspiracy and treason