(Last Updated on : 21/05/2012)
Battle of Plassey was the most decisive war that marked the initiation of British rule in India for the next two centuries. Battle of Plassey or Palashi took place between British East India Company
and Nawabs of Bengal
and his French allies. The battle occurred on June 23, 1757 at Palashi of Murshidabad District
, on the bank of Bhagirathi River
. Murshidabad, which is about 150 km north of Kolkata
, was then capital of West Bengal
. Siraj-Ud-Daulah, who was the last Nawab of Bengal, fought this battle to maintain his independence as a ruler. The French East India Company also sent a small army to join Nawab's force against the British.
The army commander Mirzafar of Siraj Ud Daulah's side betrayed in the battle of Plassey and thereby the whole force of Nawab collapsed and as a consequence, the entire province of Bengal came under British. Company gained a huge amount of wealth from the Bengal treasury and used it to strengthen its military force. Thus Plassey earns its importance in Indian history as a key factor leading to the ascendance of British rule in India. The Battle of Plassey, also named as Battle of Palashi, which earned its name from a small village of same name located near the battlefield.
The main reason behind the Battle of Plassey was the capture of Fort William
by Siraj Ud Daulah during June 1756. Many historians found the battle of Plassey as the geopolitical ambition of the East India Company and it brought a larger dynamics of colonial conquest in the territory of India.
Conflict between the Nawab and the East India Company intensified due to a number of reasons, which are as follows-
* The illegal use of Dastaks, which were export Trade Permits issued by the Mughal Dynasty
in the year 1717. The British used this permits as the excuse for avoid taxes to Bengal Nawab.
* British interfered with Nawab's court and supported one of Siraz Ud Daulah's aunt Ghaseti Begum, who was in opposition to the Nawab. Ghaseti's treasurer's son had escaped and took shelter in Fort William but Siraz demanded for his return.
* Fort William became the safe shelter for the British and they added additional fortification and assembled ammunitions without the permission of Nawab.
* The policy of the British officials was to help the Marwary merchants such as Jagat Sheth of Murshidabad.
During the capture of Fort William an event occurred that was known as Black hole of Kolkata. A select committee of British House of Commons placed hundred and forty-six British prisoners in a small room measuring 18 by 15 feet and only twenty-three of the prisoners survived that night. The story was revealed in colonial literature but the facts were hugely altercated. Whatever was the original story, the Blackhole incident became a reason for the Battle of Plassey.
The British were getting ready for the upcoming battle of Plassey. The British settlement at Fort William asked for assistance from Presidency of fort St. George at Chennai
and Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson were sent for the help of British in Bengal. They recaptured the fort and Calcutta again on January 2, 1757. Nawab Sirad Ud Daulah reached on Kolkata on February 5, 1757 and was surprised by the attack of the British at the dawn. The ultimate result was the Treaty of Alinagar on February 7, 1757.
On the other hand the French influence was increasing in the court of Nawab, at the consent of French Governor General Joseph Francois Dupleix. The amount of French trade was growing in volume in Bengal. They lend the Nawab some soldiers to assist in operating heavy artillery pieces.
Nawab Siraz Ud Daulah had to face problems from both side as along with the threat posed by British East India Company Ahmad Shah Abdali
and his Afghan force proceeded towards Bengal after capturing and looting Delhi in 1756. Siraz sent the major portion of his troop to west to fight under the command of his close friend and ally, Ram Narain, the Diwan of Patna
Along with the external enemies an internal politics was intriguing against Siraj's court in the capital Murshidabad. Siraj was not at all a popular leader. He was young and impulsive and had a tendency to make enemies very quickly. The worst part of this conspiracy was that Siraz's wealthy and influential aunt Ghaseti Begum (Meherun-Nisa) wanted another nephew Shawkat Jang to enthrone as Nawab.
Mir Jafar Ali Khan, who was grand -uncle of Siraz and Commander-In-Chief of Nawab's army was also against the young Nawab and was in the conspiracy with Ghaseti Bagum. Eventually Mir Jafar joined the British side through the secret mediators like trader Amichand and William Watts.
The East India Company decided to change the ruler of Bengal for their benefit even before Siraj's rule. In 1752, Robert Orme wrote a letter to Lord Clive that contained the proposal of removal of Alivardi Khan
, Siraj's grandfather, who was the then Nawab of Bengal. After the death of Alivardi Khan, his nominated successor Siraz Ud Daulah took the charge of Bengal's throne. Siraz was Alivardi's grandson, whom he adopted. After the death of Alivardi the controversy started and British supported Alivardi's eldest daughter Ghaseti Begum against Siraj.
On October 13, 1756 an instruction from St. George reached Robert Clive that stated "to effect a junction with any powers in the province of Bengal that might be dissatisfied with the violence of the Nawab's government or that might have pretensions to the Nawabship." According to the instruction, Clive employed William watts as Deputy, chief of Kashimbazar factory of the company, who was proficient in both Bengali and Persian language. This skill came into use to deal with Yar Latif Khan, one of the generals of Nawab's army and Mir Jafar Ali Khan, Siraj's grand uncle and army chief.
The Select Committee of the Board of directors of east India Company approved 'Coup D'etat' as the policy of Bengal on April 23rd, 1757. Mir Jafar, who was negotiating through an Armenian merchant Khojah Petrus Nicholas, was the ultimate choice of the East India Company. Finally on June 5, 1757 a written agreement was signed between Mir Jafar and Clive as company's representative that stated that Mir Jafar would be appointed as Nawab of Bengal once Siraj was disposed.
The army of East India Company was huge in number consisting of nine hundred and fifty Europeans and twenty one hundred native Indian Sepoys. The British had only few guns while the Nawab's army consisted of fifty thousand soldiers and heavy artillery operated by about forty French army men. However, out of this fifty thousand army sixteen thousand was withheld before the Battle of Plassey.
The Principal Officers of British force were- Major Killpatrick, Major Grant, Major Eyre Coote, Captain Gaupp, and Captain Richard Knox etc. The fundamental pillars of Nawab's army were Mir Jafar
, Mir Madan, Manik Chand, Rai Durlabh and Monsieur Sinfray as the French artillary officer.
The battle of Plassey started at the very hot and humid morning of June 23, 1757 at about 7 am when Nawab's army came out of camp and launched a massive cannonade against the English camp. Mir Jafar stood detached with his sixteen thousand soldiers from the main body of the Nawab's army. Still Siraj was fighting along with rest of his army and the victory was about to come on Nawab's side. But suddenly Mir Madan, who was one of the Nawab's most loyal officers, was fatally wounded by a canonball of enemy. The cannonade of the French was not very useful as British guns had greater range than those of the Nawab side.
At noon a heavy shower began. British could cover their canons and muskets but the French was unable to cover the guns. As a result the French canonade ceased working in the afternoon. The Battle of Plassey resumed when British chief officer Mr. Kilpatrick suddenly attacked against the water pond to the Nawab's army. Mir Jafar though standing at the closest position to the English camp revealed his treachery and refused to attack the enemy. Moreover cannonade did not come into use due to the rainfall. So by the sunset Nawab's army was in full retreat and British had command over the battlefield. Siraj Ud Daulah escaped from the battlefield but was caught later. In this Battle of Plassey British lost only twenty-two army men and fifty were wounded (most of them were native Sepoys) while on Nawab's side about five hundred men died and wounded.
The Battle of Plassey is considered as the landmark of history which denoted the starting of British dominion in the land of India.