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Bengal & The Battle of Plassey

The British Takeover of Bengal


Bengal's revolution was precipitated by a variety of unique circumstances. In 1755, the British dispatched Clive and his army to Madras because of the approaching Seven Years' War.


Bengal's succession issues, combined with British mercantile inefficiency, precipitated a crisis at a time when the French in south India were still awaiting French reinforcements.


The Nawab Of Bengal


Ali Vardi Khan, Bengal's nawab and de facto ruler died in April 1756, leaving control to his young grandson, Sirajal Daulah. The latter's position was insecure due to dissatisfaction among his subordinates, both Hindu and Muslim, and due to his own pompous and contradictory temperament.


On June 20, 1756, he invaded and seized Calcutta on a false claim that the British were preparing the city. The departure of the British governor and some councillors added to the humiliation of the defeat. The survivors were detained for one night in the local jail, which are known as the "Black Hole of Calcutta," and many of the inmates died the next morning.


When word of this disaster reached Madras, a force assembled to expel Bussy-Castelnau from the Deccan was redirected to Bengal, giving Clive with an army of 900 Europeans and 1,500 Indians.


Clive relieved the Calcutta survivors and reclaimed the city on Jan. 2, 1757. On February 9, after a protracted struggle, a settlement was reached with Siraj al-Daulah, returning the company's rights, authorising the defence of Calcutta, and announcing a partnership.



The Battle of Plassey


This was a watershed point in British India's history. 'Robert Clive' was scheduled to return to Madras to fight the French, but he did not. He sensed Siraj al-Daulah's nervousness and began to accept signals indicating support for a military coup.


He attempted to choose a friendly and loyal nawab and found the right candidate in Mir Jafar, an elderly officer who was Siraj al- Daulah's brother in law & commander, wielded tremendous military influence.


The Clive was encouraged by Bussy Castelnau's example in Hyderabad, where he had successfully maintained the Nizam, Salabat Jang, and French control in the largest south Indian state with an Indo-French force. Clive envisioned Bengal as a "supported" Indian state that would be controlled but not ruled by the British.


At first glance, it appeared as though the chances of success were favourable. However, the story occurred in a manner that was not anticipated for a multitude of reasons. Local leaders lacked initiative and frequently offered no resistance to British efforts.


The external threat could only originate from one direction and source—the destabilised Mughal government at the time. While Bussy-Castelnau was devoid of French merchants, the British merchants in Calcutta were eager to capitalise on the situation.


Additionally, because the British company's government was mostly comprised of merchants, there were considerable pressures to invade the sponsored state.


Prior to battling Siraj al-Daulah, Clive captured the French town of Chandernagore, which the Nawab abandoned in order to avoid having British assistance in repelling a northern Afghan onslaught.


The Defeat of Siraj-ul-daulah


On June 23rd of that year, the East India Company's men led by Robert Clive defeated Siraj-ul-daulah's army at the Battle of Plassey, a small village and mangrove swamp located between Calcutta and Murshidabad.


The "war" lasted only a few hours, and the outcome was decided well before the men arrived on the battlefield.


Mir Jafar, the Nawab's heir apparent, had already pledged his allegiance to Clive, and a significantly larger number of the Nawab's men had been paid to abandon their guns, surrender prematurely, and even turn their weapons against their own army.


In short, Plassey was won not by superior numbers but via Clive's forces being bolstered by dissensions inside the Nawab's camp and, most importantly, Mir Jafar's betrayal of his superior.


Plassey was followed by the assassination and flight of Siraj al Daulah, the occupation of Murshidabad, the capital, and the installation of Mir Jafar as the new Nawab of Bengal.


After war Developments


Clive now governed a sponsored state, and he performed admirably for the British. The problem was exacerbated from the start by the Nawab's inability to uncover the supposed hidden treasures necessary to compensate the British. As a result, the Nawab sought financial assistance from outside sources, causing substantial economic damage to the region.


Clive's Involvement


Clive was frequently involved in Bengali affairs. In 1759, he defended Patna against an effort by Ali Gauhar (later Shah Alam II), the Mughal heir apparent, to consolidate his authority by the conquest of Bihar. Clive also had to contend with the Dutch, who deployed a six-ship armament to their port at Chinsura on the Hooghly River after learning of Mir Jafar's unhappiness with his British backers and fear of the growth of British control in Bengal.


Though Britain and the Netherlands were at the time at peace, Clive provoked the Dutch, seizing their fleet, beating them on land, and demanding ransom. While the Dutch retained Chinsura, they were unable to reclaim Bengal from the British.


Clive left Calcutta on Feb. 25, 1760, at the height of his reputation and only 34 years old, with an eye toward a career in English politics. The Nawab was completely dependent on the British, with whom he could now trade the great wealth of Bengal.


Post Plassey Problems


Despite the triumph at Plassey, a number of problems occurred in Bengal during the next few years, most of them were directly related to Clive's operations.


Two specific steps threatened a sponsored state's approach, culminating in the company's demise on the one hand and Bengal's virtual takeover on the other.


  • The first was an agreement with Mir Jafar that business people would be exempt from tolls and customs taxes for personal domestic commerce (i.e., trade within India), although this was not included in the official contract.


Commerce


Since 1717, the company's commerce with Europe had been tax-free, but extending similar benefits to individual workers or, for that matter, to anybody who possessed an exclusion pass (dastak) was a fiscal disaster, given how frequently the pass system was abused.


Local merchants were unable to compete against rivals with such an advantage, and even the Company was quickly crushed by its own employees (who received little compensation from the company and relied on their own entrepreneurial skills to make ends meet).


Worse yet, many business employees began employing intimidatory tactics, recruiting agents to terrorise the countryside and disrupt the corporation's monopoly.


Corruption


The second trend was British workers' open acceptance of presents. This was not banned by the firm and was in fact a widely accepted practice, but it opened the floodgates to corruption.


For instance, substantial sums were given to the armed troops and corporate leaders following Murshidabad's collapse. Additionally, Clive acquired additional Mughal lands and subsequently claimed a revenue assignment, or jagir, for their upkeep, which was worth a sizable yearly payment.


These grants accounted for over one-fourth of the average annual Bengal revenue and, in fact, accounted for around 6% of Great Britain's yearly revenue at the time.


With such a forceful opening of the loot floodgates, it was almost necessary that the company's other servants would demand additional loot as a matter of course, and that the company's directors in London, with relatives and connections on the ground, would prefer verbal protests to any resolute or steady action.



Consequences


The effects of these enemies became clear when the Murshidabad wealth was discovered to be worth just a fraction of its reputed value, forcing the Nawab to sell jewels, commodities, and furniture in order to satisfy his commitments.


The effects of these policies became apparent during the next decade and remained for a generation.

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