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Friday, August 6, 2021

The Profound Revolution: The Battle of Plassey

The victory of the coalition consisting of the East India Company (EIC) troops led by Robert Clive, the troops led by Mir Jafar and his allies, and the financial interests represented by Jagat Seth over the forces of Siraj ud-Daulah, the 24 year old Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey resulted in a massive social transformation of India. If Siraj ud-Daulah had won, then India, in the shape that it exists today, might not have been possible. The Battle of Plassey was a profound revolution. It led to a tectonic transformation in the politics and culture of the Indian subcontinent. 

On Jagat Seth, Jean Law de Lauriston, who was in India during this period, serving as the Governor of French held territory of Pondicherry, said: “They are, I can confirm, the originators of the revolution. Without them the English would never have carried out what they have. The cause of the English had become that of the Seths.” 

On 1 May 1757, Jagat Seth and Mir Jafar had jointly offered Rupees 28 million (£3 million) to Robert Clive for his assistance in overthrowing Siraj ud-Daulah. In addition to this, the EIC was to get the right to duty free trade, landholding rights near Calcutta, and a mint. They also agreed to pay Rs. 110,000 as salary to all the staffers of the EIC. By 19 May, they had agreed to pay Robert Clive another £1.5 million.

Siraj ud-Daulah had become violent and erratic, and several high level commanders of his military, the members of aristocracy, and the bankers and merchants represented by Jagat Seth wanted to overthrow his regime. In his letter dated 30 April 1757 to the Governor of Madras, Robert Clive mentioned that Jagat Seth was heading the conspiracy to remove Siraj ud-Daulah: “This induces me to acquaint you that there is a conspiracy carrying on against him [Siraj ud-Daulah] by several great men, at the head of whom is Jagat Seth himself…”

At the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757, Robert Clive had 3000 troops, while Siraj ud-Daulah had 50,000 troops. But the core section of Siraj ud-Daulah’s army, including his cavalry, was loyal to Mir Jafar who was in a secret alliance with Robert Clive. At a key juncture of the battle, Mir Jafar left the battlefield. Following his lead, other contingents of Siraj ud-Daulah’s army—the Murshidabad forces—started withdrawing. With large sections of the cavalry and infantry moving out of the battlefield, the other sections of the army began to retreat which soon turned into a full-fledged and disorderly flight.

In his report filed with the Company headquarters, Clive said, “We pursued the enemy six miles, passing upwards 40 pieces of cannon they had abandoned, with an infinite number of hackeries and carriages filled with baggage of all kinds.” Siraj ud-Daulah and his family were captured by Mir Jafar’s troops and brought to Murshidabad. He was executed and his body was hacked to pieces and loaded on an elephant which was paraded through the city. After that the female members of his family were sentenced to death. Around 70 women were taken by boat to the middle of the Hooghly river and their boat was capsized.

On 7 July, Clive received his windfall payment. The East India Company’s share was close to £232 million—this sum included the booty captured from Siraj ud-Daulah and his allies. Out of this Clive’s share was £22 million. He also received a jagir (territory with feudal rights) which had a yearly income of £27,000. He was now the richest man in England. The people of the EIC had made massive profits, but they had profoundly and permanently transformed India. They had set India on a new road to modernity.

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