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Overview of a Great Battle at Plessey in 1757 That Made the British Masters of India

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MG is an air warrior with a distinguished career and now a corporate advisor, writer, and intrepid traveler and novelist

Painting of Mir Jafar and Robert Clive after the battle

Painting of Mir Jafar and Robert Clive after the battle

Background


The Raj a euphemism for British rule lasted for nearly 200 years. The British came to India as traders and for this purpose formed the East India Company. The company soon entered local politics and became the ruler of India. The foundation of this rule by the East India company was led by Robert Clive at the battle of Plessey in 1757.

Plessey is located in the Indian state of Bengal about 100 km from Calcutta. It is a non-descript place now, but its strategic importance in world history is incalculable, as at this place a battle was fought between the East India Company and the local ruler Nawab Siraj-ud Dowlah, that changed the course of Indian History. To quote Field Marshal Viscount Barnard Montgomery the famous British Commander of World war II in his History of warfare “It was the most significant battle fought by the British in India”.

The battle fought on 23rd July 1757 resulted in the complete domination of the British over Eastern India and the start of 190 years of British rule that ended in 1947. This battle made India the brightest jewel in the British crown.


Buildup to the battle

The 18th century was a period of great turmoil in India. The Mughal rule which had commenced in 1526, after the first battle of Panipat had collapsed. The Mughal Empire had broken into small parts and Hyderabad, Punjab, and East India had broken away from Delhi. The Sikhs established their hold in Punjab and in the south; local Mughal satrap’s usurped power. In the east also the states of Bihar, Bengal, and Oudh came under the sway of Nawab Zain-u-din.

Nawab Zain-u- din and the Anointment of Siraj as Nawab

Nawab Zain-U-din was the Nawab of East India. He was getting old but had no heir. The Nawab was desperate to anoint an heir so that his dynasty could carry on. The Nawab had a grandson named Siraj who was the son of Ali Vardi Khan who was the ruler of Bengal. The daughter of Ali Vardi Khan was the mother of Nawab Zainuddin.

Ali Vardi Khan had no sons as such he anointed his grandson Siraj as the ruler of Oudh, Bengal, and Bihar. In April 1756 Siraj was crowned Nawab at the young age of 23.

Court Intrigue and Conspiracy

The anointment of Siraj as Nawab did not go down well with the senior courtiers of the Nawab and they plotted to remove Siraj. The courtiers were led by Mir Jafar who thought of opening lines to the East India Company which had its headquarters at Fort William in Calcutta. These traitors offered the East India Company help and support in defeating Siraj. They also informed that In case required they were ready to join the battle against him.

The British looking for a foothold readily consented to the plan of Mir Jafar.

The reaction of Nawab Siraj Ud Dowlah

Nawab Siraj came to know of the plan of Mir Jafar. He asked Mir Jafar about it, who denied everything. The Nawab contacted the company headquarters at Calcutta, but the British who were in league with Mir Jafar did not give any reply.

Attack on Calcutta

Exasperated at the lack of a reply from the British the Nawab turned to the French for help. The French were at Cossim Bazaar near Calcutta and they readily consented to help Siraj. The French representative Jean Law promised military support with guns and ammunition. Based on these assurances the Nawab attacked Calcutta and the British taken by surprise were defeated and Fort William was occupied.

The British Reaction

The British in India at that time were headed by Robert Clive. He was a genius having risen from the position of a clerk in the Company office to the post of Commander of the East India Company army.

Clive moved troops from Madras to Calcutta and he made plans to confront nawab Siraj.


overview-of-a-great-battle-at-plessey-in-1757-that-made-the-british-masters-of-india

The battle


The Nawab thought it prudent to vacate Fort William and face the British at a village about 100 km from Calcutta at Plessey. He had about 50,000 troops as well as 40 guns from the French army which were manned by French Gunners. It was a formidable force, but unknown to nawab Siraj, his commander in Chief Mir Jafar had already contacted Robert Clive and promised all help. He had a one-point condition that he be recognized as Nawab after the battle. Clive consented.

Clive had about 10000 troops and a similar number of guns, with one exception, the British guns had a longer range compared to the French guns.

Clive marched out from Calcutta towards Plessey, confident that he would win as Mir Jafar was on his side. The stage was thus set for the greatest battle in that period.

The opposing forces met for battle on 23 July 1757. The Battle commenced at 7 am with the Nawabs force leading the charge with covering fire from the French guns. The British were hard-pressed and would have probably lost. At this critical juncture, Nawab Siraj ordered Mir Jafar to mount an attack on the British to finish the battle. Mir Jafar refused and in fact ordered a retreat.

Clive was waiting for this moment and the long-range British guns opened up. In the confusion, the Nawabs army fled.

The British suffered very few casualties, while the Nawab’s force lost 2000 dead. One other factor compounded the situation. A heavy thundershower commenced and drenched the battlefield. The British had taken precautions and covered their guns while the French did not.

Robert Clive

After the defeat of Nawab Siraj, Clive was appointed governor of Bengal. Nawab Siraj who was just 24 was captured and handed over to Mir Jafar. This decision of Robert Clive had perverse consequences. Clive appointed Mir Jafar as Nawab, but he treated him with contempt all through.

Execution

Mir Jafar and his son Mir Miran took a decision to execute nawab Siraj. On 27 July 1757, the young Nawab Siraj was beheaded by a man named Mohammad Ali Baig. This forever has remained a black day in Indian history. He was executed on 27 July 1757 on the orders of Mir Miran the son of Mir Jafar. The executioner was Mohammad Ali Baig a confidant of Mir Jafar. When Robert Clive handed over Nawab Siraj to Mir Jafar he knew that he would be executed, perhaps it was part of the agreement.

Last Word.
All the characters in this drama did not survive long. After the execution of Nawab Siraj, Mir Jafar died in 1765 and Robert Clive committed suicide as he was addicted to opium. Clive killed himself with a penknife on November 22, 1774. H e was only 49. Mir Miran the son of Mir Jafar died in 1760. The curtain thus came down on the most significant battle in British Indian history and paved the way for British rule in India


Comments

MG Singh (author) from UAE on March 25, 2021:

Thanks Thomas for reading and commenting

Major Thomas Kutty on March 25, 2021:

Read your article. You have nicely encompassed the entire sequence of events of this great battle very well. This battle was also part of the seven-year war between the British and the French which had a spillover in India.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 13, 2015:

Thank you Servena

Servena on January 08, 2015:

Taking the ovreview, this post hits the spot

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 07, 2015:

Thank you Candy. Sweet of you to comment

Candy on January 07, 2015:

I'm imessrepd. You've really raised the bar with that.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on May 17, 2014:

Eric, yes it did, for the British expanded their influence into Tibet and made it a buffer state between India and China. This continued till Nehru squandered all the gains of 150 years of the British by caving in to some silly notions and allowed China to occupy Tibet.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 17, 2014:

I just cannot help but wonder if this was not the road that kept India safe from China.

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