Clive was born in an ordinary and unknown family in England in 1725. His childhood was remarkable in one sense that he was known to his neighbours as a wicked and in-disciplined boy who did not know how to fear or to obey.
Nobody could have thought at that time that he was the same boy who one day would change the history of three nations, England, France and India.
It was that violent and fearless character of the man which was partly responsible for his success in the East amid difficult and dangerous circumstances.
The economic condition of Clive’s father was getting worse day by day and his father was unable to maintain the big family. Clive’s mother could not rear up the child in happy and affectionate conditions. The ancestral house was getting old and falling to pieces. The parents thus could not give the boy good training at home. Clive even did not get good education. In that background he grew in years and his wickedness also continued to increase day by day. To Clive’s father his son’s future appeared dark.
Clive was not even prepared to listen any advice from any one nor should he remain obedient to his parents. Having lost hope about the future of his son Clive’s father thought of sending him to India as a petty clerk of the East India Company. His prayer was granted and Clive was appointed to work in Madras. When he reached Madras he was only eighteen years old. In that hot summer day Clive landed in India. The new country, the new climate and the new surrounding everything appeared to him unpleasant.
His work appeared to him monotonous and there was no satisfaction from the work. He desperately desired to return back to England and that became impossible. Clive gradually felt disgusted with the stereo-typed work of keeping account of trade, talking to traders and loading goods in ships.
The climate of India proved too unhealthy for him. Once Clive became so ill that the hope of his life was given up but he survived. Yet the life appeared to him so painful he did not want to live so twice Clive did try to commit suicide by directing his gun at his own head but both the times he failed. “It seems that fate must be reserving me for some purpose” Clive thought. With that consolation in mind he started working in the changing situation of the company. Political factors entered into company’s activities.
The Anglo-French wars began in India. In that changed circumstances Clive gave up the clerk’s job and received military training. He possessed the qualities of courage and organizing capacity required of a soldier. Those were the days when the number of the English men in India was small. Naturally enough Clive could quickly show his capacity as a soldier in facing grave dangers with strong determination. Among his fellow soldiers he could mark himself out as a man of superior intelligence. Clive utilized his real intelligence in the Second Anglo-French War.
When actually the English were losing ground and the French were gaining success. Both at Hyderabad and the Carnatic the candidate of Dupleix ruled as monarchs. In the whole of the Deccan the British prestige was at the lowest point. It was at that critical point of time Clive stepped into show the talent both in ideas and action. Under his leadership the capital of Carnatic Arcot was attacked and captured that suddenly turned the course of the Second Carnatic War.
The French army was defeated and the British influence was restored in the south. That unexpected and measured move of Clive brought the decline of Dupleix and the fame of Clive and the English as well. Much greater role was waiting him in the Eastern Zone of India. Grave situations developed in Bengal when the Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-daula humiliated the English. Clive’s reputation rose into height in the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
When he played a vital role in defeating the Nawab and placing Mirzafar as the new Nawab of Bengal. From the South the fortune of Clive was shifted to Bengal where the fate had reserved for him a historic achievement with the title as the founder of the British Empire in India.
Political Condition in Bengal:
Bengal was a province of the Mughal Empire and after the decline of the Mughal Empire the Subadar or the Viceroy of Bengal proclaimed him as the Nawab of Bengal. He paid respect to the Emperor of Delhi only outwardly. In fact the Emperor had authority on him. The Nawab though independent was not powerful. From various sides there were dangers to the throne and territory.
The internal condition was getting worse day by day. The administration was corrupt and weak. The people were living in discontent. Alivardi Khan was the Nawab of Bengal when the Anglo-French Wars or Carnatic wars were going on. He was a competent ruler but his entire role was shattered due to the Maratha invasions.
The Maratha Bargis plundured the subjects of the Nawab again and again. People spent their days in poverty and terror. The helpless Nawab surrendered a big portion of Orissa to save himself.
The Europeans gradually increased their strength in Bengal for which Alivardi was greatly disturbed. The courage of the English merchants caused deep concern to the Nawab. They were fortifying Calcutta by every means. On this death bed therefore the old Nawab Alivardi advised the future Nawab Siraj-ud-daula “keep in view the power the European nations have in the country. This fear would also have freed you from if god had lengthened my days. The work now be yours”. After the death of Alivardi in 1756 Siraj-ud-daula ascended the throne as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
Siraj-ud-daula was young and energetic but for a difficult time he was not the necessary man. Siraj proved in-equal to the hard task. He was very much fond of pleasure. Surrounded by flatterers and courtiers he neglected his duties as the Nawab for the sake of enjoyment. On the other-hand he was cruel haughty and proud.
He even displeased his well-wishers by his arrogant behaviour. Most of his people turned his enemies. Thus the internal and external difficulties increased day by day and the young Nawab remained blind to realities. In no time grave dangers threatened the throne of Bengal. The Nawab began his conflict with the English East India Company.
The audacity of the English, the shelter granted by the Company to Krishna Das the son of Raj Ballav, the construction of a huge bunker by the English inside the Fort William at Calcutta for defence purposes roused the Nawab to take immediate action against the English/Orders were sent to Governor Drake to break down the new fortification. On reply the English said they had built the fort to defend themselves against the possible invasion from the French side.
The Nawab could realise that as in the Deccan the foreigners would enter into the local politics of Bengal. So in-order to punish the English Siraj proceeded with his army and invaded Calcutta in the summer of 1756. Terror struck in the minds of the inhabitants there.
Drake the coward Governor escaped in boats along with some English women in the darkness of the night to a safe place. The boats were so much crowded that many men and women were drowned as the boats capsized. Calcutta thus fell to the hands of the Nawab’s army.
Most of the English men had left Calcutta before the fall. The remaining few on the advice of Holwell, the governor decided to fight but they were taken as prisoners. Those 146 prisoners were put in a small room for the whole night of 25 June 1756. In that terrible summer and unbearable night with oppressive night the prisoners suffered indescribable agony. Moment by moment they endured the pain and nobody was ready to listen their pathetic cry.
In the morning it was found that 132 prisoners were lying dead. Holwell who himself was the prisoner in that room survived and narrated the story of that terrible night. For long the story of the Black-Hole tragedy was believed to be true but some modern historians have doubted the validity of the whole episode. Fact or fiction the Black- Hole tragedy stirred the imagination of the English race more than any single event of that period. The East India Company made their hectic preparation for its next course of action.
At the time of the attack of Siraj-ud-daula Clive was in Madras. The news of the fall of Calcutta reached Madras. Clive was taken aback and without making any delay he proceeded to Calcutta. Admiral Watson accompanied him. Clive in Bengal showed his capacity for trick and treachery. Before Clive reached Bengal the Nawab had gone back to his capital Murshidabad with his army. It became easy for Clive to recapture Calcutta. Siraj wanted peace but Clive did not. Clive availing the opportune moment attacked Chandernagor.
The Nawab protected against this kind of behaviour of Clive. On the other hand Clive without any fear proceeded with his scheme and in March 1757 conquered Chandernagor. His audacity crossed all limits but the Nawab could not do anything to oppose the English.
Clive gradually understood the political situation of Bengal. He came to know about the discontent of some of the prominent nobles including the commander in chief of Siraj-ud- daula, Mirzafar. Among the enemies Manik Chand, Omin Chand, Jagat Seth, Mirzafar were the prominent members. Clive entered into a conspiracy with them. He first won over the greedy Omin Chand and through him negotiated with others. It was decided that Mirzafar would be made the Nawab.
In the last moment Omin Chand demanded heavy rewards for his role in the conspiracy and neutrality. He pressed that the amount of reward should be written down in the agreement itself otherwise he would ruin the conspiracy by disclosing the fact to the Nawab. Clive however raised equal to the occasion.
He prepared a counter feat agreement in which was written about the payment of reward. He himself signed and wrote the name of Watson on the paper and forged his signature. Such was the limit to which Clive could go. On the other-hand in simple faith Omin Chand proceeded with his negotiation.
The simple minded Siraj-ud-daula also could not even imagine at first the possibility of this conspiracy against him with Clive as a party to it. Instead of arresting Mirzafar to foil the purpose of conspiracy he appealed him for his support to save the throne.
The treacherous Mirzafar pretended innocence and advised the Nawab to give up fear and to face the situation bravely. Siraj without suspecting any danger from internal enemies decided to teach Clive a good lesson and ordered for preparation of the army under Mirzafar as the general to lead the army. By that Siraj invited his doom.
The East India Company as an organized company of traders came to India for trade with the East. They did not have the experience of administration and Clive himself at first was a clerk and thereafter a soldier. It was not expected of him much about administration.
But under historical circumstances the East India Company became the master of a rich area of India and the same circumstances made Clive the master of the Company. With much thought and consideration he introduced a system of Government popularly known as the Dual Government of Clive.
According to that system Clive placed a Nawab on the throne. The Nawab remained in charge of the administration of Law and Order and Justice. He was paid an annual grant for the maintenance of officials and for his own expenses. The Company retained the power of the collection of the revenue and military administration.
The governmental work was thus divided into two parts. Two separate groups of officers were found to remain in charge of the country. For this dual nature of administration this system was called the Dual Government. The Company collected the land revenue and got the money. From that money they maintained their army. Thus with money and military power the East India Company became the real master of the country. On the other hand the Nawab and his officers remained in charge of administration and justice without money nor power. Therefore they became unpopular before the people and the administration proved a failure.
In brief the Nawab was given responsibility without power and the company enjoyed enormous power without responsibility. Such a system of administration led to disastrous results. The whole of Bengal experienced an unprecedented type of administration which they have not seen before.
The powerless Nawab could not deliver justice to the people or maintain Law and Order. The strong plundered the weak and the weak received no protection from the administration. Oppression continued. People suffered untold misery and thus the Economic crisis followed. The Dual Government of Clive a failure that further proved Clive’s lack of foresight.
Clive showed his capacity as an able administrator in other fields. The servants of the company turned very corrupt and they were receiving presents, rewards, and bribes from every available source.
It was a regular feature with the servants that created a very low image of the English before the Indians. Realizing this fact Clive proceeded to root out corruption from the company. The main cause of this corrupt practice was the low salary of the servants. Clive adopted two methods.
He enforced strict orders that no servant of the company should receive money as bribe reward or presents. On the other hand he enhanced their salary. To improve the financial condition of the company Clive reduced the amount of Batta which the soldiers used to receive during peace time.
The soldiers became angry but Clive suppressed their anger by the use of force. After this administrative changes Clive left India in 1767 living behind him a British territory which was his own creation.
An Estimate of Clive:
Robert Clive is one of those men who are remembered as the makers of history. He holds a key position in the history of modern India. In the annals of his country he holds a significant place as the founder of the British Empire in India.
Born in an ordinary family and brought up in hardship he came to India as a clerk to earn his livelihood. But he turned into a soldier of fortune when the future of his countrymen in the East appeared dark. He became one of the greatest men of Great Britain due to his achievement.
Clive’s character was a combination of good and bad qualities. As a soldier he was able, adventurous and brave. He saved the British fortune in the South with those qualities. In Bengal he has used some of his bad qualities and resorted to falsehood, treachery, plots and forgery.
He won the Battle of Plassey not by the use of his soldierly qualities but with the help of the traitors. He laid the foundation of the British Empire in impure hands. Even after the Battle of Plassey he abandoned his conscience for acquisition of wealth in shape of bribes, rewards, and presents Clive might have succeeded as a leader but he failed as a man.
Clive could not mark himself as an administrator. He had the golden opportunity to give to his conquered territories a good and efficient government. But that could not be materialized as he was chiefly concerned with the collection of revenue but not with law or justice. His Dual Government was an example of the abuse of power. Bengal suffered one of her worst days in history due to the introduction of that system. Inspite of shortcomings Clive achieved remarkable success. All that he did had a permanent value.
His victory over the French power in the South, over Siraj-ud-daula in the Battle of Plassey and his gain of Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were the solid pillars on which the future castle of the East India Company constructed. Such being the case he is judged by the results of his work but not by the means he adopted to achieve his goal.
England was grateful to him for his achievements but to some of his countrymen his conduct in making a money appeared objectionable. So charges were brought against him in the British Parliament that “the Right Honourable Lord Clive Baron of Plessey in consequence of the powers vested in him in India had illegally acquired the sum of 2,34,000 to the dishonour and detriment of the state”. Clive’s prestige pride and vanity were shattered. He prayed pathetically “Take my fortune but save my honour”.
However the charges were not fruitful and Clive was not punished. Instead the Parliament praised him that “Robert Lord Clive did at the same time render great and meritorious services to this country. At last in the November of 1774 he committed suicide. It was indeed a life full of memorable events that brought real glory for him and his countrymen.