Battle of Plassey, 1757: Rise of the East India Company in India

7 Nov 2022  Read 1108 Views

The Battle of Plassey was fought on 23rd June 1757 in the Plassey region of West Bengal. It was fought between the British East India Company led by Robert Clive & the Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-daula. The French troops were also a part of this battle and fought with Siraj-ud-daula against Robert Clive (British East India Company). The battle is also very important as it was a turning point in Indian history in favour of the Britishers. So, it is said that this war led to British dominance and rule over India. Have you ever heard of the Black hole of Calcutta, a term which we currently refer to in astrophysics? This article will discuss the background & cause of the 1757 battle, the black hole of Calcutta, and other important points concerning the Battle of Plassey. Let’s get started.

Where did the Battle of Plassey take place?

The Battle of Plassey took place on June 23rd, 1757, on the banks of the Bhagirathi River, about 150 km north of Calcutta. The place was near  Murshidabad, the then capital of the Nawab of Bengal. Did you know? ‘Palashir’, an extravagant red flowering tree called the "Flame of the forest," gives its name to a small village near the battlefield. So, a Bengali name for the battle would have been “Battle of Palashi” (phonetically), but the spelling “Plassey” is conventional as of now.  

Who fought the Battle of Plassey?

The Battle of Plassey was fought between Siraj Ud Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, and the forces of the British East India Company. Siraj-ud-Daulah's army commander had defected to the British, causing his army to collapse. After this defeat, the entire province of Bengal passed to the Company, and this battle is today seen as one of the pivotal battles leading to the British Empire in India.

Who were the Nawabs?

For better understanding, we can say that nawab in English can be understood as Deputy ruler, or Viceroy, at that time under the Mughal rule of India. The Nawab of Bengal was the hereditary ruler of Bengal Subah in Mughal India (before the rule of the East India Company). The Nawab of Bengal was the de facto independent ruler of the three regions of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa that in modern times form the sovereign country of Bangladesh and the West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa in India; we are talking about the early 18th century. They were often referred to as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Discussing the Battle of Plassey, you need to know specifically about the Nawab of Bengal. Murshid Quli Khan was followed by Alivardi Khan, and later by Sirajuddaulah, as the Nawab of Bengal and each one of them was a strong ruler. 

Why was the Battle of Plassey fought?

This battle was fought because the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah, did not like the uncontrolled use of privileges by the East India Company. Apart from this, the company workers stopped paying taxes which became one of the reasons for the Battle of Plassey.

  • The British and the French came to India for trading proposes, and they were ultimately drawn into Indian politics.

  • The battle was waged when the British and French governments were fighting the Seven Years' War in Europe (1756–1763, it involved every European great power of the time except the Ottoman Empire, spanned five continents, and affected Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines). 

  • The French East India Company sent a small contingent to fight against the British East India Company. Then the victory of the Britishers eliminated the French competition in India. 

  • This led to a treaty arrangement with the Mughal Empire, and then the East India Company was left as a de facto ruler of the province of Bengal. 

  • The province of Bengal, being the base, the Company decided to extend effective rule over the entire Indian Sub-Continent.

Background of Battle of Plassey

Let’s go through the events before the Battle of Plassey to know its main causes:

  • Siraj-Ud-Daula succeeded his grandfather Alivardi Khan to become the Nawab of Bengal. On becoming a Nawab, he ordered the English to stop the extension of their defences.

  • The victory of the Britishers in the Carnatic wars has made Siraj-Ud-Daula apprehensive about the rising power of Britishers in India. 

Did you know?

The Carnatic Wars were a series of military conflicts in mid 18th century in India's coastal Carnatic region, a dependency of Hyderabad of India. Three Carnatic Wars were fought between 1746 and 1763. I.e.; First Carnatic War (1740-48), Second Carnatic War (1749-54), Third Carnatic War or the Battle of Wandiwash (1758-63)

  • The East India Company officials made grave misuse of its trade privileges that adversely affected the Nawab’s finances.

  • Even the Britishers secured Fort Williams without seeking permission from the Nawab, which infuriated the Nawab of Bengal further. He marched to Fort Williams and captured 146 Britishers and imprisoned them in a small room, due to which 123 Britishers died. This incident is called the “Black Hole Tragedy of Calcutta”.

  • Aggrieved by this, Robert Clive was sent to Bengal to strengthen the position of the Britishers in Bengal. He bribed some of the chief members of the Nawab of Bengal and promised kinship to Mir Jafar in exchange for his betrayal to Nawab. 

Timeline of Battle of Plassey

  • In the 17th century, Surat, Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay factories were established.

  • In 1717, the company got the right to engage in trade freely in the entire Mughal Empire

  • The British station in Calcutta was attacked. However, a 3000-strong army of Siraj Ud Daulah defeated the British troops

  • In 1756, the Nawab troops took over Calcutta and imprisoned British officers and soldiers in a small cell in Fort William

  • The Cell in Fort William had the capacity of only six people but more than a hundred people (Britishers) were kept. This incident was called the ‘Black Hole Tragedy of Calcutta’.

  • When Nawab found out about the incident, he dispatched troops

  • In January 1757, the British captured Calcutta

  • In February 1757, Robert Clive tried to attack the Nawab’s camp

  • On February 4th, In an indecisive conflict between the Nawab’s men and the company forces, both sides lost men. As a result, a panic situation was created, where the Nawab signed the Treaty of Alinagar.

  • As per the signed Treaty of Alinagar, Nawab agreed to Calcutta’s fortification and permitted the restoration of English factories and troops were also withdrawn

  • Lately, the company supported Mir Jafar (who was approached by the Britishers to betray Nawab) and signed a treaty with him, according to which he will be the next Nawab if he supports the British in the war

  • On June 14th, Siraj Ud Daulah received the declaration of war from Robert Clive

  • Then, on 21st June, the Nawab’s troops reached Plassey

  • On  23rd June, the British forces reached the village of Plassey

  • Nawab, even with the French support, lost the battle due of the betrayal of Mir Jafar.

Why did the British company remove Mir Jaffar & Mir Qassim from the throne of Bengal?

When Mir Jafar started to protest, the Company decided to remove him and install Mir Qasim. As we know that Mir Jaffar helped the British East India Company defeat Siraj-Ud-Daulah, and was installed as the Nawab of Bengal in 1757. After a year, they discovered that he had taken up sides with the Dutch East India Company, which led to his removal.

After Mir Jaffar’s removal, his son-in-law, Mir Qassim, was appointed the Nawab of Bengal from 1760 to 1763. Though initially, Mir Qassim played along with the demands and rules of the British, he got away from them & raised an independent army, fighting many battles with the British. After living in anonymity for a few years, he died in 1777.

The Battle of Buxar

Mir Qassim was defeated in 1764 during the battle at Buxar, which reinstalled Mir Jafar. Although the Nawab was already paying the company a hefty sum of Rs 500000, they were still looking for money to manage finance and fulfil the emerging trade demands. As we know from above, Mir Qassim died in 1777 after the Battle of Buxar, the Company was changed, and Clive declared: “We must indeed become nawabs ourselves.” Hence, the rule of the East India Company until the revolt of 1857 when the powers from the British East India Company went to the Crown of England.

Simultaneous events during this battle

Growing French influence

Simultaneously the French influence was growing, at the urging of the enterprising French Governor-General Joseph François Dupleix, at the court of the Nawab. So, this increased French trade in Bengal. They lent the Nawab some French soldiers to operate heavy artillery pieces.

Ahmad Shah Abdali

At the same time, Siraj Ud Daulah was facing conflicts on two fronts. On his Western border was the advancing army of the Afghan, Ahmad Shah Abdali, who had captured and looted Delhi in 1756. (Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India eight times b/w 1748 and 1757. His army was defeated at the Battle of Manupur and he had to return home. This Battle of Manupur was fought between the Mughal Empire and the Durrani Empire in 1748). So, Siraj Ud Daulah sent the better part of his troops west under the command of his general, Raja Ram Narain.

Troops

The British army consisted of 2,200 Europeans and 800 native Indians with a small number of guns. The Nawab supported by the French had an army of about 50,000 with some heavy artillery operated by about 40 French soldiers sent by the French East India Company.

British Principal officers

  • Major Killpatrick

  • Major Grant

  • Then Major Eyre Coote (later, Lieutenant-General), and then Sir Eyre Coote

  • Captain Gaupp

  • Captain Richard Knox (1st CO of the 1st Bengal Native Infantry)

Nawab Principal officers

  • Mir Jafar Ali Khan—commanding 16,000 cavalries

  • Mir Madan

  • Manik Chand

  • Rai Durlabh

  • Monsieur Sinfray—French artillery officer

British East India Company Regiments

  • 1st Bombay European Fusiliers, also known as 103rd Regiment of Foot

  • 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot]], 1st Battalion

  • 1st. Bengal Native Infantry (BNI), also known as the Lal Paltan (Hindi for Red Platoon)

  • Royal Madras Fusiliers, also known as 102nd Regiment of Foot

  • Royal Bengal Fusiliers, also known as 101st Regiment of Foot

  • 9th Battery, 12th Regiment, Royal Artillery

  • 50 naval ratings from HMS Tyger

 Impact of Controlling Bengal

The East India Company was allowed Bengal’s Diwani rights (the right to collect revenue, the company could use the revenue to finance its trade or expenses and to strengthen its military power. This resolved the financial problems of the company to a larger extent. Later, in the 18th century, trading with India immensely multiplied. But they had to buy Indian goods with silver or gold in exchange. After the Battle of Plassey, the outflow of gold from Britain slowed, and it was put to break after Diwani's assumption. Cotton & silk textile was purchased with this revenue in India & it was used to maintain the troops and the cost involved in constructing company offices and forts in Calcutta.

Conclusion

The Battle of Plassey fought between Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-Daulah and the British East India Company on June 23, 1757, at Plassey near Murshidabad was a skirmish that had been critical to the East India Company’s victory over French rivals and the British rule in long run. Siraj- ud- Daulah was killed by his own people, and Mir Jafar replaced him thus, leading to Clive effectively becoming the master of Bengal. 

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 137 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Curator at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course) & she is a patent analyst. She has pursued advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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