23 June 1757
Battle of Plassey
The historic Battle of Plassey took place on 23 June 1757 between the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daulah and the British East India Company. As a result of the battle, the British became the paramount power in Bengal.
- In the 17th century, the East India Company had set up factories at Surat, Madras, Bombay and Calcutta.
- In 1717, the company acquired rights to settle and engage in trade freely in the entire Mughal Empire. It was also given rights for the movement of goods called dastaks. These were misused by the officials of the company.
- When Siraj-ud-daulah became the Nawab, he took a stringent stance against the company and asked the British to stop their fortifications. Even though the company was not given the permission to build forts, they continued to do so.
- So, he attacked the British station in Calcutta. The British troops were defeated by the 3000-strong army of Siraj.
- The Nawab’s troops occupied Calcutta in June 1756 and took many British soldiers and officers as prisoners. The prisoners were kept in a tiny cell in Fort William. The cell, with a capacity of only 6 people, was stuffed with more than a hundred prisoners.
- This incident, called the Black Hole of Calcutta, led to the deaths of most of the prisoners.
- When the news of this incident and that of the British possessions in Calcutta being taken over by the Nawab reached the company establishment at Madras, they dispatched troops under Colonel Robert Clive to secure back their Bengal possessions.
- Calcutta was captured by the British in January 1757.
- Robert Clive intended to attack the Nawab’s camp in February 1757. In an indecisive squirmish between the company forces and the Nawab’s men on February 4th, both sides lost men. However, the led the Nawab into panic mode and he signed the Treaty of Alinagar with the company on 5th February 1757. As per this treaty, the Nawab agreed to restore the English factories and allow Calcutta’s fortification. He also withdrew his troops to his capital, Murshidabad.
- In the Nawab’s own court, many people were discontent and were hatching conspiracies to overthrow him. The plotters were Mir Jaffar, Yar Lutuf Khan, Rai Durlabh, Omichund, and other officers in the army. When the company representative at the court, William Watts got wind of this conspiracy, he promptly informed his bosses.
- The company decided to support Mir Jaffar and had a treaty with him stating that he would receive the throne of Bengal if he supported the British in battle and bestow huge sums of money as compensation for the Calcutta attack.
- On 14th June, Clive sent a declaration of war to Siraj. Accordingly, the Nawab’s troops reached Plassey by 21st
- British forces reached the village of Plassey on 23rd
- The Nawab had about 50000 men under him and also got French support of about 50 artillerymen.
- The British had about 3000 troops, a much smaller force. But, the Nawab’s army had defectors under Mir Jaffar and the other conspirators.
- The Nawab lost the battle because of the betrayal of Mir Jaffar.
- After the battle of Plassey, which lasted for less than a day, Mir Jaffar was installed as the Nawab of Bengal (which included Bihar and Odisha). Siraj-ud-daulah was captured and killed.
- The British became paramount in Bengal since Mir Jaffar was their puppet. They also captured French and Dutch possessions in Bengal.
- Robert Clive was made Lord Clive, Baron of Plassey in recognition of his services to the company in Bengal.
- This also led to the exploitation of Bengal, especially its peasants at the hands of the British in the name of tax collection.
Also on this day
1761: Death of Balaji Bajirao, the third Peshwa of the Marathas as a result of the loss at the Third Battle of Panipat. 1953: Death of politician and founder of the Jana Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. 1980: Death of Sanjay Gandhi, politician. 1985: Crash of the Air India flight ‘Kanishka’ after an explosion near Ireland leading to the death of 329 people; the explosion was carried out by a Sikh militant group.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.