• Omer Haq

Genesis of the New Masters

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

The humiliating defeat and the elimination of Siraj-Ud-Duala marks the genesis of the new masters of Bengal and eventually of Indian Subcontinent- the Rise of East India Company and Robert Clive

"The Capture of Chandernagore, March 1757" by Dominic Serres (1771)
"The Capture of Chandernagore, March 1757" by Dominic Serres (1771)

Siraj-Ud-Daula’s fight in Calcutta after Clive's night attack left him only in humiliation. After the Treaty of Alinagar, distrust among his courtiers grew and Jagat Seth conspired to have Siraj-Ud-Daula removed by the members of the court. The all-powerful dynasty of the bankers was now colluding with members of the royal court to have Siraj-Ud-Daula replaced as the Nawab of Bengal. The plotters began to look for support. First, they looked out at Ali Khan's daughter, Gasti Begum, but Siraj had moved quickly to eliminate her. Now that Clive had demonstrated his military capacity in taking back Calcutta and seizing Chandannagar, the plotters decided to go out to the Company and ask them for help to remove Siraj-Ud-Daula using EIC’s military forces for their own end.

Mir Jafar was ready to offer the company a vast sum of 2.5 crore rupees (which equals to 10 million rupees in today and 325 million pounds) if they would help remove the Nawab.

The further investigation only brought out that Mir Jafar was just a face for the real force behind the coup of the Jagat Seth bankers. The cause of the English had become that of the state.

Watson passed on the offer to Clive who was still encamped outside Chandanagar and who had also quite independently begun to hear rumblings about a possible palace revolution. Writing to the Governor of Madras, Clive observed that Siraj-Ud-Daula was behaving in an even more violent way than usual. “ …. And twice a week threatens to impale Mr. Watts….,” he wrote so on.

He wrote to the Madras committee in order to get their confidence to move ahead with whatever coup was being planned and how he was approached by Jagat Seth for help in this plan of the palace revolution. The bankers and the merchants of Bengal, who sustained the Siraj-Ud-Daula regime, had finally turned against them and united with disaffected parts of his own military.

This is one of three surveys by Mark Wood, a Captain in the East India Company's Bengal Army. A minutely-detailed survey drawn at a scale of 4 inches to a mile, the map shows the city of Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) in West Bengal and the land surrounding the River Hooghly.

In fact, the East India Company men on the ground were ignoring their strict instructions from London which was only there to repulse French attacks and avoid potentially ruin with their Mughal hosts.

When the secret committee began to hassle over the terms of service, Mir Jafar and Jagat Seth significantly raised their sum to a promised sum of 28 million Rupees or 3 million Sterlings.

The entire annual revenue of Bengal for their help overthrowing Sirajj and a further 100,000 rupees a month for a company troop. In addition to this, the East India Company was to get zamindari --- landholding rights--- near Calcutta, in payment and confirmation of duty-free trade

Mir Jafar considered to pay the company a further enormous sum of 1 million pounds as a compensation for the loss of Calcutta and another half a million as a compensation to the affected European inhabitants

Later settled, an Englishman was carried into Mir Jafar’s house to get the signatures of the old general and his son, Miran, and to take their formal oath on the Quran to fulfill their part of the treaty obligation. The signed document was back in Calcutta with the select committee then countersigning it. Watson and his men set off pretending to be on a hunting expedition and then made their escape through the night, down the road to Chandanagar. On the 13th of June, 1757, a year after Siraj had begun his attack on Calcutta, Clive sent an ultimatum to Siraj accusing him of breaking the terms of the Treaty of Alinagar which was for choosing to side with the French during Chandanagar. The same day with a small army of 800 Europeans, 2,200 South Indian sepoys, and only 8 cannons, Clive began his historic march towards Plassey.In the scorching pre-monsoon heat, Clive marched his sepoys along the shaded embankment and during all this Clive began to feel nervous by the increasingly ominous silence from the plotters.

Watercolour and ink by William Heath, 1821
Watercolour and ink by William Heath, 1821

On the 15th of June, Clive wrote to reassure Jagat Seth that he remained committed to the terms they had agreed. As he did not receive any reply from Jagat Seth, the next day he wrote again, this time to Mir Jafar.

" I am in expectation of your news and shall enter into any measure you desire. Let me hear from you twice a day. I shall not start from Patli until I have news from you."

Once again, there was no reply. Clive was now becoming suspicious. “I have arrived at Patli with all my forces,” he wrote on the seventeenth “and I am very much surprised at not hearing from you. I expect that on the receipt of this you will acquaint me fully with your intentions.”

He got nothing, but silence. Clive then decided to send his platoon North on the 18th and to take the Fort of Katwa which he ceased without any opposition. It was here that Mir Jafar was supposed to meet the Company forces but there was no sign of reply from his ally. Clive was beginning to go into a crisis of confidence.

“I am really at loss on how to act in the present situation of our affairs,” he wrote back to the select committee in Calcutta.

Later that night, Clive received the letter from Mir Jafar. Although it was a very ambiguous note, Clive was initially so relieved to hear anything from Mir Jafar. Then he started to go into suspicion as to what the meaning of the letter was. On the 21st of June, Clive called the Council of War to decide whether to continue the campaign. They were now just a day’s march away from the mango plantations of Plassey, where Siraj’s army had swelled up into 50,000 and was safely entrenched. Clive spent the night indecisive. But rather than waiting, he decided to press on regardless. After this, a short message arrived from Mir Jafar that he was committing himself to action. He replied saying “ When you come near I shall be able to join you.”

Later, Clive ordered his sepoys to move forward. The sepoys marched into the liquid waterscape where the island and land appeared to float in a mid network of streams and rivers, filled with fish and littered with lilies and Pokhara ponds.

The night passed and morning broke and there was still no reply from Mir Jafar. At 7 in the morning,

An anxious Clive wrote, threatening the general saying that he would make up with Siraj if Mir Jaffer continued to do nothing and remain silent.
“I'll march from Plassey to meet you, but if you don't comply with us, pardon me I should make it up with the Nawab.”

However, it was too late. The Nawab’s forces began to appear, thousands emerging from their entrenchment and they began to circle the small Company force that was so outnumbered by them - at least twenty to one.

Clive estimated the Nawab had gathered around 35,000 infantry, 15,000 cavalry, 53 pieces of heavy artillery superintendent by a team of French experts. At 8 a.m. there was no exit. For Clive, there was now no realistic option but to fight.

Then towards noon, the sky began to darken. Thunder was heard and the monsoon broke over the battlefield. The company troops made sure to keep their powder and fuses dry under the tarpaulin. However, the Mughals did not. All of Siraj’s guns had fallen completely silent. Expecting that Clive's guns would have been disabled by the monsoon, Mir Madan the commander of the Nawab cavalry gave the order to 5000 of his elite Afghan horses to charge towards the Company’s right. “With all of this, the fire of battle was out in flames,” writes Ghulam Hussian Khan.

Among those killed was Mir Madan himself as he was hit by a cannonball in the stomach while he tried to push to the front. Siraj-Ud-Daula’s army retreated and the artillerymen with the corpse of Mir Madan moved into their tents. Major Kilpatrick, seeing several mobile batteries abandoned, defied the orders of Clive and without permission advanced to hold the abandoned position. Clive was angry and furious, threatening to arrest Kilpatrick for insubordination, but it was this act of disobedience that won the battle for the Company.

Now the guns which were annoying the English since morning had all fallen silent. All of a sudden, a huge contingent of the Mughal cavalry on the left of Siraj’s army then began to move away down the bank of the Hoogli and left the fighting. Turns out that it was Mir Jafar who was withdrawing just as he had promised. All the Murshidabad forces were now beginning to fall back. A large body of the Mughal infantry now began to flee, chaos taking over, causing a stampede.

Clive wrote in his initial report that he pursued the enemy 6 miles passing upward. 40 cannon had been abandoned with an infinite number of hatcheries and carriages filled with the baggage of all kind

Siraj-Ud-Daula escaped on a camel reaching Murshidabad early the next morning with only three or four of his attendees carrying with him whatever jewelry he conveniently could.

On the morning of the 24th of June, Clive wrote a letter to Mir Jafar, congratulating him on the victory which was neither Mir’s nor his own.

Cannon ball fired at the Battle of Plassey, 23 June 1757
Cannon ball fired at the Battle of Plassey, 23 June 1757

After this victory, Clive and company were to be paid the full commission and this could only come true only if it were to be brokered by the target, the Seth of Bengal, as the treasury of Murshidabad only had rupees 1.5 crores. The money Clive personally made was 234,000 pounds as well as land in jagir, whose annual amount was around 27,000 pounds. At the age of 33, Clive was suddenly about to become one of the richest men, not only in England but in Europe. Clive was clearly anxious that Mir Jaffer would default on his promises and that again he was in danger of being double-crossed by the old general.

Meanwhile, Mir Jafer’s son was sent to follow Siraj-Ud-Daula who had fled the capital. He was dressed in menial clothing and was attended by his favorite concubine and eunuch. Gulam Husain Khan writes how after Plassey, Siraj found himself alone in the palace for a whole day without a single friend to talk to and without a single companion to lay his mind off to. As a desperate resolution, he vacated the palace at 3 in the morning and fled to Bhagwangola.

An oil-on-canvas painting depicting the meeting of Mir Jafar and Robert Clive after the Battle of Plassey by Francis Hayman
An oil-on-canvas painting depicting meeting of Mir Jafar and Robert Clive after the Battle of Plassey by Francis Hayman

Two days later, when Siraj-Ud-Daula had got off to have some food (hungry as he was for the past three days) and to dress up a little better, he was invited by the fakir in the neighborhood who himself was disobliged and depressed during the days of Siraj’s power. The fakir was overwhelmed with the joy of having revenge served home and sent the news of Siraj’s arrival to his enemies about his presence in his quarters

Immediately, Sha Dana, the fakir, and Mir Kasim, the son-in-law of Mir Jaffer, crossed the water catching Siraj-Ud-Daula and surrounding him with armed men. The dreaded Siraj sought mercy to be let alone and retire away in peace promising never to disturb them. The Prince was shackled and brought back to Murshidabad in a wretched condition

Siraj-Ud-Daula was only 25 years old. Shortly afterward, Miran wiped out all the women of his house, the same day the remains of Siraj-Ud-Daula were paraded through the streets. Clive finally got his hands on the money. It was one of the largest corporate windfalls in history.

Bengal had always produced the biggest and easily collected revenue surplus in the Mughal Empire. After Plassey, this became the Britishers' source for all of the ill-conceived plans they had. Becoming a dominant military and political force in Bengal, they could probably seize any part of the country that they took fancy with and could grow an army sufficiently from the revenue collected.

Bengal was beginning to destabilize.

The new Nawab sat on the chair of his master's blood. It was very clear that Mir Jafar was not up to the job and no matter how many members of Siraj’s regime were put out, there could not be any legitimacy for a general who had his own Nawab murdered.

Medal commemorating Robert Clive's victory at Plassey, 1757
Medal commemorating Robert Clive's victory at Plassey, 1757

From now on there would be a slow drift to the company- of troops, merchants, bankers, civil servants, leaving the Nawab with nothing more than a shadow of their former grandeur. But what they had done inside was to fatally and permanently undermine the authority of the Nawab bring in chaos to what had been to the point the most peaceful and profitable part of the old Mughal Empire.

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