Battle of Plessey and Establishment of British Rule in India

M G Singh By M G Singh, 31st Mar 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/30hktsi-/
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The battle of Plessey in Bengal in 1757 led to the establishment of British rule in India

the Establishment of British Rule

The battle of Plessey fought on the plains of Bengal is a significant battle in India’s long history of wars. It will not be out-of-place to say that it is one of the most significant battles in world history for the profound effect it had on the destiny of the sub continent. Field Marshal Viscount Barnard Montgomery in his ‘re’ rates it as one of the most significant battles fought on the sub continent.

The Background

Plessey is a small village close to Murshidabad in Bengal. It is not very far from Kolkata (Calcutta).In the 18th century the states of Oudh, Bengal and Bihar formed one state and was ruled by Moslem Nawabs. Nawab Zain Uddin was the ruler of Bihar and his mother was the daughter of Ali Vardi khan who was the ruler of Bengal. Ali Vardi Khan had no sons so he anointed his grandson Siraj as the prospective ruler of Bihar and Oudh. This created considerable heartburning as Siraj born in 1733 was thought of to be too young to ascend the throne.

In April 1756 Siraj was enthroned as Nawab at the young age of 23.. This was however not accepted by many nobles who plotted to oust him. They contacted the East India company at Calcutta and offered to side with the company in case the company agreed to fight and depose Nawab Siraj. One of the conspirators was Mir Jafar.

Nawab Siraj when he came to know of the conspiracy and his questions to the company was met by stoic indifference he decided to attack Calcutta. Accordingly his force attacked Calcutta and fort William the citadel of the company in India was captured.

The Black Hole Tragedy

One incident that stands out in this attack is what has come to be known as the black hole tragedy. Lieutenants of Nawab Siraj herded nearly 140 company officials in a small 20X20 room . The room was shut and only opened in the morning when it was claimed that 120 of the inmates had died for want of air and water. However later research had put the figure to just about 40. But this tragedy badly affected the reputation of Nawab Siraj and many blamed him for this tragedy. But later a parliamentary enquiry conducted by Sir William Meredith absolved the Nawab of any hand in this tragedy.

The British at that time were headed by Robert Clive. This man was a genius who had risen from the position of a clerk in writers building to become one of the main architects of the company’s policy in India. He decided to oppose Nawab Siraj. He was further infuriated when he learnt that Nawab Siraj was into correspondence with the French representative Jean Law at Cossim bazaar.

He thus asked for reinforcements from other company areas and the stage was set for the most significant battle in Indian History. However Nawab Siraj had one hand tied behind his back. He could not move all his forces against the English as he feared an attack from the west by Ahmed Shah Abdali who later decimated the Marathas in 1761.


The Aftermath

The battle showed the mettle of Robert Clive who became governor of Bengal and marked the rise of the British as the dominant power on the sub continent. Nawab Siraj was captured and on the orders of the son of Mir Jafar, Mir Marab was executed on 27 July 1757. He was only 24 years old at that time. But he has left behind an endearing image as a nationalist.The execution was carried out by Mohammad Ali Baig and will remain a black spot in the history of India along with the role of Mir Jafar.

Robert Clive later, committed suicide as he was addicted to opium and Mir Jafar died in 1765 as a puppet of the English. The curtain thus came down on a battle that laid the foundation of the Raj in India. English would have been defeated. But then turncoats are part of Indian history. These are the ifs and buts’ of history and that is what make it so interesting.

Battle for the Crown of East India

Opposing Forces

He however marshaled some 50,000 men to face Robert Clive and the East Indian army. In addition he had about 40 guns which were manned by French gunners of the French East India Company. At the same time he vacated Calcutta and camped some 100 km away at Plessey. The Nawab had his commander in Chief as Mir Jafar. But unknown to Nawab Siraj , his commander had already agreed to side with the British in case of hostilities. Mir Jafar was promised the rule of Oudh and Bihar by Clive. The company had mustered about 10000 troops but they had heavier guns with longer range. These were to prove crucial in the battle. This war can also be seen as an extension of the 7 years wars that the English and French fought in Europe ( 1756-63)

The Battle

On 23 July 1757 the forces of the Company led by Robert Clive and the Forces of Nawab Siraj met at Plessey. The Battle commenced at 7 am in the morning and in a couple of hours it was all over. During the battle the troops of the Nawab held the earlier advantage. But repeated requests to Mir Jafar to intervene were ignored by him . The longer range of the British guns now began to take effect and with Mir Jafar in league with the British the dice was heavily loaded against Nawab Siraj-ud- dowlah. His army began a wholesale retreat and soon fled from the battle field leaving the English as the victors. The astonishing part of this battle is that the British suffered just a hand full of dead while about 2000 of the Nawabs troops perished. Heavy thundershowers further compounded the conditions during the battle. Prudently the British covered their guns and the French did not, resulting in the French guns getting spiked, while the British guns roared as never.

Defeat of the Nawab

The Aftermath

The battle showed the mettle of Robert Clive who became governor of Bengal and marked the rise of the British as the dominant power on the sub continent. Nawab Siraj was captured and on the orders of the son of Mir Jafar, Mir Marab was executed on 27 July 1757. He was only 24 years old at that time. But he has left behind an endearing image as a nationalist.The execution was carried out by Mohammad Ali Baig and will remain a black spot in the history of India along with the role of Mir Jafar.

Robert Clive later, committed suicide as he was addicted to opium and Mir Jafar died in 1765 as a puppet of the English. The curtain thus came down on a battle that laid the foundation of the Raj in India. English would have been defeated. But then turncoats are part of Indian history. These are the ifs and buts’ of history and that is what make it so interesting.

Tags

Black Hole, British Rule, Calcutta, Nawab Of Oudh, Plessey, Robert Clive

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author avatar M G Singh
A man who spent his early years in Air Force. An avid writer with over 6000 articles and 60 short stories published.Two novels on the anvil for publication.

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