The Battle of Plassey was fought on June 23, 1757, between the British East India Company and the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula. The battle was won by the British, who secured their control over the region. The victory was due to the Company’s use of superior artillery and musketry, as well as its ability to rally support from local rulers and merchants. The battle marked the beginning of British colonial rule in India.

Battle of Plassey - Causes and Consequences

Causes of Battle of Plassey

The Mughal Emperor had granted the company valuable privileges under a royal farman in 1717, which allowed the company to export and import goods within Bengal without paying taxes and to issue passes or dastaks to facilitate the movement of goods. This farman did not cover the Company’s servants, who were also permitted to trade. These traders had to pay the same taxes as Indian merchants. Company and Nawabs of Bengal were perpetually at odds over the farman. As a result, the Bengal government lost revenue.

There was a misuse of the dastak power by the Company’s servants to evade taxes on private trade by issuing dastaks for the Company’s goods. Almost all Nawabs of Bengal opposed the English interpretation of the farman of 1717, starting with Murshid Quli Khan and ending with Alivardi Khan. The Company was forced to pay lump sums to their treasury, and dastaks were firmly suppressed. Despite being forced to accept the Nawabs’ authority, the Company’s servants had evaded and defied the authority from day one.

Upon Alivardi Khan’s death, his young grandson Siraj-ud-daula succeeded him as the Nawab of Bengal. He wanted the English to trade based on the same principles as those used by Murshid Quli Khan. Having defeated the French in South India, the English did not feel obligated to comply. Aware of the weaknesses of Indian states on both the political and military fronts, British imposed heavy duties on Indian goods entering Calcutta, the capital under their control, instead of remitting taxes to the Nawab.

Siraj-ud-Daula didn’t only have several foes against the succession in the family, but he was immature and lacked the skills to deal with the situation. The English began building fortifications in Calcutta without seeking the consent of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula. Also, Siraji’s foe Krishna Das, the son of Raja Rajballava, was protected by the British.

Background of Battle of Plassey

Siraj-ud-Daula retaliated against the Company by striking Calcutta on 16 June 1756 and taking control by 20 June 1756. English troops were overwhelmed by the Nawab’s huge force and caught by surprise. A majority of the English escaped to Fulta, twenty miles down the Hoogly, and the many were held as prisoners.

Rather than annihilating the English completely from Fulta, Siraj allowed the English to flee to Fulta. Following the capture of Calcutta, he did not attempt to consolidate his position and defend it from any counterattack. A British force headed by Robert Clive and Watson attacked Calcutta in January 1757 and retook it. Siraj-ud-Daula was forced to agree to all their claims under the Treaty of Alinagar (as Calcutta was renamed in 9 February 1757). After securing a stronger position, the English sought to embarrass the Nawab further by attacking the French settlement at Chandernagar in March 1757.

Course of Battle of Plassey

Clive requested Siraj to refrain from aggression towards the French as Siraj wanted French support in his fight against the English. Due to this, Clive conspired against the Nawab and allied himself with those in the court and army who disapproved of Siraj’s succession, namely, Mir Jafar, Mir Bakshi, Jagath Seth, and Amin Chand.

Due to the treachery of Mir Jafar and Rai Durlab, approximately 50,000 soldiers (including defectors), 40 cannons, and 10 war elephants were defeated by 3,000 soldiers of Col. Robert Clive’s army (23 June, 1757). In about 11 hours, the battle was over. After being held captive, Siraj-ud-Daula was killed by Mir Jafar’s son Miran. The throne of Bengal was given to Mir Jafar. This company received undisputed rights to trade in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, as well as the zamindari of the 24 Parganas near Calcutta. In compensation for the attack on Calcutta, Mir Jafar paid Rs. 17,700,000 to the Company and the traders of the city. Also, he paid large sums as gifts or bribes to the high officials of the company. In order to transport the spoils to Fort William, almost 300 boats were needed. This demonstrates the extent of the loot from Bengal.

Mir Jaffer and Rai Durlabh, the Nawab’s army commanders, had shifted their allegiance to the English and made no effort to contest their English opponents during the Battle of Plassey. The treasury of Mir Jafar soon ran out of money as the Company’s servants demanded more presents and bribes. After Mir Jafar was no longer able to meet the Company’s expectations, the English replaced him with his son-in-law, Mir Qasim. As a reward for their support, the newly appointed nawab gave the English zamindari over Burdwan, Midnapur, and Chittagong as well as expensive gifts.

Consequences of Battle of Plassey

Plassey was of great historical significance. In this way, the British were able to conquer Bengal and eventually the whole of India. British prestige was boosted, elevating them to the position of a major contender in the Indian Empire. Sir Jadunath Sarkar, a well-known historian, declared the end of the medieval period in India and the start of the modern period on 23 June 1757.

Plassey, however, failed to make the English the rightful rulers of Bengal. According to the Supreme Court of Calcutta, other English officials aside from those living in Calcutta were not British subjects. So, after Plassey, the English did not shed their ‘commercial character’. As Clive pushed Mir Jafar, the meek puppet nawab of the English, to concede more privileges, the commercial activities of the English gradually became political.

Also during this period, the Marathas suffered a crushing defeat at Panipat and the French lost severely due to a shipwreck in south India, leaving no serious contenders to challenge the English in Bengal. Following Plassey, the Marathas were routed and the French were subdued, thus allowing the English to take control of Bengal. Within ten years, a new regime took hold of paramount influence.