Lesson 6 of 47

4. The Battle of Plassey 1757

Introduction to the Battle of Plassey, 1757

By the mid-18th century, the Mughal Empire was in a state of collapse as native Indian and European states attempted to carve out their own political and economic power bases.

The East India Company was one of these competing powers. While battling the French for trading supremacy, it simultaneously began to involve itself in local politics, especially in Bengal, India’s richest province.

The Battle of Plassey was fought in north-eastern India on 23rd June 1757. Troops of the British East India Company, led by Robert Clive, came up against the forces of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last Nawab of Bengal, and his French allies. Clive’s victory eventually led to the British becoming the greatest economic and military power in India.

Important Facts about the Battle of Plassey

  • Fought between: Siraj-ud-daulah, the last Nawab of Bengal and the British East India Company.
  • People involved: Siraj-ud-daulah, Colonel Robert Clive, Mir Jaffar, Mohan Lal, Small French Forces.
  • The armies met on the banks of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly River.
  • Mir Jafar, who was Siraj-ud-daulah’s army commander-in-chief was bribed by Clive and promised to be made the Nawab of Bengal if the British won. Mir Jafar switched sides and on account of this treachery, the battle was lost.
  • Result of the Battle of Plassey: Decisive victory for the British and the installment of Mir Jafar as Bengal’s Nawab by Clive.

Background into the Battle of Plassey

  • The East India Company had established factories at Surat, Madras, Bombay and Calcutta in the 17th century.
  • Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar had issued a Farman in 1717. It granted the Company – Right to reside and trade freely within the Mughal Empire. The Company was also accorded the right to issue dastaks for movement of goods. This right was in turn misused by the Company officials.
  • When Alivardi Khan, grandfather of Siraj-ud-daulah became the Nawab of Bengal, he took a stricter stance against the Company.
  • On Siraj’s succeesion as the Nawab, the company was ordered to stop their fortification activities. However, the company did not follow the orders.
  • This led the Nawab to attack the British station in Calcutta in which they were beaten by the Nawab’s 3000-strong army.
  • Calcutta was occupied by the Nawab’s forces in June 1756 and the prisoners were kept in a dungeon in Fort William. This incident is called the ‘Black Hole Incident of Calcutta’ since only a handful of the prisoners survived the captivity where over a hundred people were kept in a cell meant for about 6 people. They died of suffocation and anoxia.
  • The ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ subsequently proved to be a useful justification for British revenge and conquest. 
  • When news of this incident reached Madras, troops were sent under Colonel Robert Clive to win back the Bengal establishments of the British.
  • Siraj-ud-Daulah (1733-57) commanded around 50,000 men, including 16,000 cavalry. Officers on loan from the French commanded this artillery.
  • On the other hand, Clive’s army was about 3,000-strong, including 2,100 Indian sepoys (infantry) and about 800 Europeans. Clive had only ten field guns and two small howitzers.
  • On being aware of this stark contrast and on learning that Siraj was negotiating with the French, the Company decided a change of regime was needed to achieve its political and financial gains.
  • It secretly offered to make one of Siraj’s army commanders, Mir Jafar, the new nawab of Bengal, if Siraj was defeated. 
  • On 23 June 1757, Mir Jafar got his chance at Plassey.
  • Calcutta was recaptured by February 1757. The following month Robert Clive also seized the French fort of Chandernagore.
  • On the day of the Battle, Robert Clive’s forces won against the much larger force of the Nawab since the Nawab was betrayed by Mir Jafar and others in his own camp.

Effects of the Battle

  • After the Battle of Plassey, Robert Clive was made the Governor of Bengal post this victory.
  • In 1765, Clive secured the ‘diwani’ (the right to collect tax and customs revenue of Bengal) from Emperor Shah Alam II for the Company. This confirmed British military supremacy in the region and gave the Company a political stake in India.
  • The Company was no longer purely a commercial organisation, it had become an imperial power.
  • Mir Jaffar was made the Nawab of Bengal (Bihar and Odisha) but he remained a puppet figure. He was forced to cede control of Bengal through the treaties he signed with the British.
  • Clive also captured the French forts in Bengal. The French were no longer a force in Bengal after this battle.

CONCLUSION

  • The British became the paramount power in Bengal. They successfully ousted the French and resisted the Dutch.
  • Colonel Clive became Lord Clive, Baron of Plassey because of his exploits in the battle.
  • Victory for the British East India Company in this Battle was the start of nearly two centuries of British rule in India.
  • The Battle of Plassey was an important landmark in history that increased the stronghold of the British.

Practice Questions

  1. The battle of Plassey marked the beginning of political supremacy of the English East India Company in India. Elucidate. 
  2. Discuss the causes that led to the ‘economic drain’ in Bengal following the Battle of Plassey. (UPSC CSE 2004)