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The Battle Of Plassey (1757): A Turning Point In India's History

It is claimed that the British rule in India actually begun after the British defeated the Nawab of Bengal at Plassey in the Battle of Plassey.

The Battle of Plassey was a war fought between the British East India Company and the Nawab of Bengal and his close allies who were mainly the French troops. The battle was won on June 23, 1757, leading to the consolidation of the British in Bengal and later expanding other territories of India. The Battle of Plassey was fought at Palashi, on the banks of the Bhagirathi River near Calcutta and Murshidabad which was the public capital of Bengal. The Battle of Plassey was more of skirmishes than a battle according to some historians who were part of the seven years' war fought in India by the British.

Background Of The Battle Of Plassey

The Company had a strong presence in India and were located in three main stations; Fort St. George, Fort William, and Bombay Castle. The stations or camps were under the stewardship of the president and a council which was appointed by the directors in England. The British allied themselves with the Nawabs and princes in exchange for security against rebels and any form of external and internal attack. The Nawabs would give concession in return for their safety and protection. The French also established the French East Indian Company with two central stations; one in Bengal and the other in Carnatic both under the leadership of the presidency. The French became a threat to the British and poised to overtake them in India. The eruption of the War of the Austrian Succession which took place from 1740 to 1748 marked the start of a struggle for supremacy between the British and the French in the Indian subcontinent. However, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 stopped the direct hostility between the British and the French powers.

The treaty did not last long before the two powers were again involved in indirect hostilities. The feud between the powers was for the succession of the position of Nawab and Nazam with both powers nominating their candidates for both posts. In both cases, the French candidates usurped the position through manipulations and assassinations. When Alvardi Khan who was the Nawab of Bengali died in April 1756, his son Siraj-Ud-daula succeeded him. The young Nawab immediately laid siege to Calcutta capturing it and imprisoning several British officials in June 1756. The news of the fallen Calcutta reached Madras in August 1756 with the council quickly sending the expedition of forces under the command of Colonel Clive to confirm the report and try and salvage the city. Clive managed to drive out Siraj and his army by early January 1757.

Conspiracy Against Siraj

Clive, the commander of the Company’s forces, concluded that the only way to secure the interest of the Company was to replace Siraj with a friendly Nawab. General Mir Jafar was found as a possible replacement. After series of complicated negotiations and promises of bribes to the parties involved, a secret agreement was passed through the women’s quarter to Mir Jafar’s residence. By this time there was also growing dissatisfaction against the Siraj in his court. The traders in Bengal were in constant fear that their wealth under Nawab was not secure as was under his father’s reign. The Seths who were the traders secretly met with Mir Jafar and agreed to support him for the position of Nawab in exchange for the protection of their wealth. However, the conspiracy to dethrone Siraj was nearly spoilt by Omichund who was Nawab’s confidential servant except for the intervention of Clive in deceiving Omichund into signing a false agreement that would have benefitted him if he kept quiet.

The Grand March To Plassey

On June 12, 1757, Clive assembled more than 2,000 armed forces with sophisticated artilleries at Chandernagar. The army under the command of Clive set out for Murshidabad the following day with Clive sending messengers to Nawab declaring his intention to march into the city to lodge complaints regarding the treaty of February 9 with the Nawab’s government. Siraj immediately ordered his army to move to Plassey with the army reaching the ordered destination on June 21, 1757. On June 23, Clive and his army also reached the villages of Plassey and immediately occupied Laksha Bagh which was an adjoining grove enclosed by a ditch and a mud wall. The grove was near the Nawab’s entrenchment. The French under Jean Law reached Plassey two days after the British with their army lying behind the entrenchment.

The Battle Of Plassey

On June 23, 1757, at daybreak, the Nawab’s army emerged from their camps and started to advance towards the grove. Their army consisted of about 40,000 with war-elephants and over 50 cannons. The Nawab’s army also consisted of 50 French artillerymen. Mir Madan Khan and Mohan Lal commanded about 7,000 army officials while the rest of the army was commanded by Rai Durlabh and Mir Jafar. Clive who was commanding the British Army anticipated the news of Mir Jafar taking his side, but all was in vain.The French artillery fired the first shot which acted as a signal for the Nawab’s army to engage in a heavy and continuous fire. The British forces opposed the French and Nawab’s fires using their artilleries by targeting the Calvary divisions. After three hours of intense fighting, the British army retreated to re-strategize. During the retreat, there was a heavy downpour with the British taking precaution to protect their ammunition while the Nawab army was not taking any precaution. The rains reduced the effectiveness of the Nawab’s weapons. Rendered ineffective by the rains, the Nawab army retreated while Siraj and 2000 members of the armed forces fled Plassey for safety with the British entering the enemy’s camp at about 5 pm.

Casualties And Effects Of The Battle

According to Clive, the British lost 22 men while 50 were wounded. The Nawab army lost about 500 men including several key officials and suffered several causalities and the exact numbers were not confirmed. Siraj was killed by his people and was replaced by Mir Jafar. Clive became an efficient master of Bengal and supported the new Nawab. The French became insignificant in Bengal. The British installed puppet governments in various parts of India leading to the atrocities by the British East Indian Company. The British drew a treaty with Mir Jafar which allowed the British to acquire all land within the Maratha Ditch and the land between Calcutta and the sea. Omichund who had been tricked with a treaty to keep him silent became insane when he realized that he would not get anything or benefit from the treaty between Mir Jafar and the British.

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