This article provides a close view on Bengal under the rule of Nawabs.
Murshid Quli Khan:
Murshid Quli Khan was a Brahmin by birth but was sold to a Persian named Haji Shafi Isfahani who made him a Muslim and brought him up like a son. Haji Shaft gave him the name Muhammad Hadi and took him to Persia.
Muhammad Hadi while in Persia grafted the refinement, discipline and wisdom of the Persians. When Haji Shafi returned to India Hadi also returned and on Haji Shaft’s appointment as Diwan of the empire of Delhi and also as Diwan of Bengal, he worked under him and learnt the details of the working of the revenue department.
When Haji Shafi retired in 1690 and returned to Persia Hadi also accompanied him. But he returned to India when his patron died. On his return he was employed for some time under another Persian Haji Abdullah Khorasani, the Diwan of Berar. Hadi’s extraordinary talent and ability in revenue matters soon came to be known to the Emperor Aurangzeb who took him to his own service and appointed him Diwan of Hyderabad and faujdar of Yelkondal. His honesty and ability earned him the confidence of the emperor and when a highly capable officer was needed to reform the revenue administration of Bengal Hadi was appointed to the post by Aurangzeb (1700).
As Diwan Muhammad Hadi was supreme head of the revenue administration of Bengal and in addition he was appointed faujdar of Maksudabad, Midnapur, Burdwan, and later on of Hughli, in which capacity he exercised executive functions of a district Magistrate and criminal judge.
When Muhammad Hadi took over as the Diwan of Bengal at the beginning of 1701 he was first disobeyed and slighted openly by the older classes of officials and who would often send complaints against him to the emperor. But Muhammad Hadi was strong and knew his strength that the emperor’s confidence in him was boundless. Aurangzeb did not pay any heed to the complaints he received against Muhammad Hadi, on the contrary in 1702 invested him with the title Murshid Quli Khan and raised him to higher and still higher posts.
The emperor had reasons to be grateful to Murshid Quli Khan, for, when he was in dire need of money to meet the salaries of the civil and military personnel and to stave off near starvation situation of the royal family due to the huge expenditure for his Deccan campaigns Murshid Quli Khan by his efficient revenue administration of Bengal sent one crore of rupees to the imperial treasury at Delhi.
This made Murshid Quli a ‘life-saving angel in the eyes of the emperor’ and the emperor’s trust in Murshid Quli Khan became unshakable. Murshid Quli Khan was rewarded by deputy-subahdarship of Orissa in addition to his posts in Bengal (1703). He was given the Diwani of Bihar in the following year (1704) and raised to the Deputy-Subahdarship of Bengal in 1707.
Prince Muhammad Azim-ud-din, better known as Azim-ush-shan, son of Bahadur Shah I and grandson of Aurangzeb was the subahdar of Bengal from 1697 to 1712 but from 1703 to 1712 he was absent from Bengal and governed through his agents only. His only aim was to amass sufficient money to fight the war of succession after the death of Aurangzeb who had become very old. He, therefore, carried on a monopoly trade in most of the necessaries of life which heightened prices, to inflate his own profit.
This system of monopoly was called sauda-i-khas, i.e. the personal trade of the Prince. This evil practice had prevailed in Bengal from Prince Shuja’s subahdarship and was followed by Mir Jumla and Shaista Khan. Azim-ush-shan’s practice of sauda-i-khas which oppressed the merchants of Bengal reached Aurangzeb’s ears and he wrote a very strongly worded letter to him and the practice was abandoned.
The infuriated Prince sought to take revenge on Diwan Murshid Quli Khan and plotted his murder which, however, miscarried. Murshid Quli reported the whole incident to the emperor and obtained his permission to shift his headquarters from Dacca to Makshudabad, a place at a safe distance from the Prince. He also obtained permission of the emperor to name it Murshidabad.
As long as Aurangzeb was alive Murshid Quli Khan enjoyed supreme influence with the imperial government but after his death Murshid Quli Khan was sent to the Deccan as Diwan and also removed from the subahdari of Orissa (1708). But in 1710 he was appointed Diwan of Bengal but the subahdarship of Orissa was not restored to him. But during 1713-14 he was made deputy-subahdar of Bengal and also subahdar of Orissa with the title Ja’far Khan. For three years there was no change in his position and in 1717 Murshid Quli Ja’far Khan paid a nazarana of one lakh rupees to the emperor and was appointed full subahdar of Bengal and was conferred the title of Mutaman-ul-Mulk Ala-ud-daulah Ja’far Khan Bahadur Nasiri Nasir Jang.
“The years 1717” remarks Sir Jadunath, “marks a turning point not only in the career of Murshid Quli Khan but also in the history of Bengal.” The emperor of Delhi a rois faineant stationed at far off Delhi engrossed and entangled in court intrigues and revolutions seldom had any time nor any wish to actively interfere in the administration of Bengal.
The subahdar was left undisturbed so long as the surplus revenue of the province was sent to Delhi. Murshid Quli Khan, therefore, was firmly saddled as the sole and supreme authority in Bengal. Gross fiscal tyranny and illegal exactions were put under check by Murshid Quli Khan who demanded only the standard revenue from the ryots.
He forbade all extra revenue or illegal exaction and trade monopoly which had been practiced by his predecessors. So under his rule the people of Bengal gained a breathing time and a chance of prosperity. Murshid Quli enforced peace in the country with utmost severity but this increased the tax paying capacity of the people and the revenue increase was free from extortion. He even did not hesitate to disregard emperor Farrukhsiyar’s firman granted to the English to carry on duty-free trade in Bengal in 1717 in order to safeguard the interests of people of Bengal. His eventful career ended with his death in 1727.
Murshid Quli Khan’s Revenue System: Its Results:
When Murshid Quli Khan assumed the Diwani of Bengal he found that the finances of the province in utter confusion and the government did not receive any income from the land revenue as the whole country had been allotted to the officers as jagirs in lieu of their salary.
The only income of the government was the customs duties. Naturally the Subahdars and Diwans pressurized the merchants, specially the European traders in Bengal who were the biggest traders buying and selling goods worth millions of rupees.
To rationalise the revenue system Murshid Quli Khan adopted a two-fold measure:
(i) He resumed all the jagirs and converted them into khas lands directly under the government and gave the dispossessed officers fresh jagirs in poor, wild and un-subdued province of Orissa,
(ii) He introduced ijara system, i.e. contract system by which contracts of the collection of land revenue were granted to ijaradars, i.e. contractors by taking security bonds from them. This was called by him mal zamini system. The second or the third generation of these contractors came to be known as zamindars.
The old houses of zamindars had gone out of existence. Many of the new zamindars were given the dignified title of Maharaja. Under Murshid Quli as also under Lord Cornwallis later, the old hereditary landed families of historical origin were extinguished except a very few, small and unimportant of them and a ‘new official capitalist class came in. In choosing the contractors, i.e. ijaradars Murshid Quli preferred’ the Hindus as most of the Muslim collectors before his time were found to have peculated the collections. Thus he created a new class of aristocrats in Bengal whose position was confirmed by the Permanent Settlement of 1793,
Murshid Quli Khan was responsible for yet another change in the Hindu society of Bengal. Before his time all high offices in the army as well as in the revenue, accounts and law departments were filled in by persons imported from Agra or Punjab who did not settle in Bengal but came and left with the changing subahdars.
But this flow of outsiders was stopped after the death of Shah Alam in 1712 when the central government was in disintegration due to palace revolutions and independent provincial dynasties grew up in Hyderabad, Lucknow etc. Bengal was no exception and Murshid Quli had for all practical purposes become independent. Under him as also under the succeeding Nawabs Bengali Hindus because of their talents and mastery of Persian came to occupy the highest civil posts under the subahdar and many of the military posts under the faujdars.
There had been in Bengal Hindu diwans and qanungoes, well versed in Persian and in Muslim court etiquette since the days of Hussain Shah. Such men grew prosperous under Murshid Quli Khan and founded new zamindari houses. “Such ennobled civil servants came from the Brahman, Vaidya, Kayastha and even confectioners castes”. Under later nawabs many Hindus held the office of Ray-i-rayan, i.e. Khan-i-kanan which was equivalent to the post of the Chancellor of Exchequer., Many of the Hindus held posts both in the civil and military departments and were called Dastidars, Sarkars, Qanungoes, Shahna, Bakshi, Chakladar, Tarafdar, Munshi, Lashkar, Khan etc and these continue even today as the surnames of many Bengali families.
By close attention to details and honest control of finances Murshid Quli Khan succeeded in enhancing the revenue collections. But he practiced bestial torture and draconic severity on the defaulters. Salimullah’s description of the severity of Murshid Quli Khan may be quoted at some length: “He put strict muhasils (bailiffs) over the mutasaddis, amils, qanungoes and other officers, confining them in the kachari or in the diwan khanah of the Chihil Situn (Hall of Forty Pillars) in Murshidabad, where they were refused food and drink and not suffered to perform other necessary calls of nature”. Murshid Quli Khan’s major domo Nazir Ahmad would flog the defaulters till they consented to pay the money.
If Murshid Quli would discover that the amil or the zamindar had dissipated the revenue he would compel the offenders along with his family to become Muhammadans. Sayyid Razi Khan, husband of the granddaughter of Murshid Quli Khan who was appointed deputy diwan of Bengal would perpetrate inhuman tortures to the defaulters by ducking them in a pit full of human excreta, calling the pit sarcastically Vaikunth, the name of paradise in Hindu language. Complaints of the excess had reached the emperor Aurangzeb but his confidence in Murshid Quli was unshakable.
Besides the cruel treatment of the defaulting ijaradars, there was another cause of the revenue increase. He followed strictest economy in financial administration and cut down the collection charges to the barest minimum.
Nawab Shuja-ud-din Khan Muhammad:
In 1727, June 30, died Murshid Quli Khan leaving no male heir and his son-in-law Shuja-ud-din Muhammad Khan succeeded him to the nawabship of the two provinces of Bengal and Orissa. He is known more by the name Shuja-ud-daulah. By descent he was a Turk. He married Zinat-un-nisa, daughter of Murshid Quli and had a son through her, named Sarfaraz Khan.
When Murshid Quli Khan was also appointed as the subahdar of Orissa he appointed his son-in-law deputy governor of Orissa but soon the relation between Murshid Quli and Sujaud-din became bitter due to the dissatisfaction of Zinat-un-nisa, daughter of Murshid Quli, at her husband’s profligate nature.
The difference in temperament of the father-in-law and the son-in-law also contributed to the estrangement between the two. Murshid Quli, when he felt that his end was near, he tried to obtain imperial consent to the succession of his grandson to the subah of Bengal and Orissa. Sarfaraz had already been declared Diwan of Bengal by Farrukhsiyar. Shuja-ud-din naturally coveted the masnad of Bengal and Orissa.
He kept himself in touch with the affairs at Murshidabad through two brothers, Haji Ahmad and Alivardi, while he himself was trying to get support at the imperial court. As information reached him that Murshid Quli was nearing his death he set out with a large army from Orissa for Bengal leaving his son, Taqi Khan, born of a wife other than Zinat-un-nisa in charge of Orissa.
On his way information reached him of the death of Murshid Quli and when he reached Midnapur imperial patent appointing him Subahdar of Bengal reached him. He reached Murshidabad expeditiously and entered straight into the Chihil Satun (the palace of forty pillars) and formally proclaimed him nawab of Bengal. His son Sarfaraz Khan was persuaded by his mother and grand-mother not to oppose Shuja-ud-din, his father.
Shuja-ud-din appointed his friends and kinsmen to the government offices and his son Sarfaraz was retained as nominal diwan of Bengal. His second son Taqi was appointed deptity governor of Orissa. His son-in-law Murshid Quli II was made deputy governor of Dacca. Alivardi and his three nephews were elevated to high posts. Alamchand who was Shuja-ud-din’s diwan in Orissa was now made the diwan at Murshidabad.
In all important matters Shuja-ud-din was now guided by the advice of Alivardi and his brother Haji Ahmad who had rendered valuable service for his timely move for the nawabship of Bengal. Alamchand was conferred the tide of Ray-i-rayan by the imperial court. He was a devoted officer and able financier. He and Jagat Seth Fatehchand a famous banker of Murshidabad exercised profound influence on Shuja-ud-din. It was from this time that the Seths of Murshidabad began “to play an active part in the history of Bengal and actively participated in the political revolution in Bengal in the mid-eighteenth century”.
Shuja-ud-din tried to undo the wrongs of the previous regime and condemned to death those who were found guilty of oppression on the zamindars. The guiltless zamindars were all freed and those who were in arrears were let off on executing a bond to make punctual payments to the government through the banking agency of Jagat Seth Fatehchand.
He realized from the zamindars one crore fifty lakhs as nazararui. He earned the pleasure of the emperor by timely remittance of the tribute to Delhi and occasional presents of elephants, horses and fine cloth from Bengal. The emperor conferred on him the title of Mutaman-ul-Mulk Shuja-ud-din Asad Jang.
During the early part of his nawabship Shuja-ud-din evinced great solicitousness for the welfare of his subjects. ‘He was kind and bountiful towards his officers civil and military, benevolent and hospitable towards those happened to visit Murshidabad…had a scrupulous regard for justice and dispensed it impartially.’
He was also a great builder. He considered the buildings constructed by his predecessors unsuitable for State-offices. He ordered demolition of these and caused to be constructed magnificent buildings at Murshidabad. These were a palace, an arsenal, a high gateway, public audience hall, revenue court, private chamber, court of ex-chequer. He completed the mosque begun by Nazir Ahmad who was an agent of Murshid Quli Khan in torturing the zamindars and whom Shuja-ud-din himself had got executed. It was a mosque beautifully decorated with a garden in which there were flower beds, artificial springs, canals, fruit trees etc.
But due to some fault in the private character of Shuja-ud-din he gradually became addicted to luxury and profligacy neglecting the affairs of the State. This gave opportunity to Alamchand and Jagat Seth Fatehchand to take the management of the state into their own hands. “This body of advisers, acting without any restraint from the supreme authority, soon degenerated into a clique of self-seekers, eager to serve own interests even by fomenting intrigues and conspiracies which began to eat into the vitals of the Bengal government and made the downfall of the nawabship only a question of time”.
These self-seekers brought about an estrangement of feelings between Shuja-ud-din and his son Sarfaraz, and an open rupture between the later and his half-brother Muhammad Taqi Khan when he came to Murshidabad.
In 1733 emperor Muhammad Shah added Bihar to Bengal subah, thus Shuja-ud-din became the subahdar of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. For the convenience of administration Shuja-ud-din divided his territories into four divisions: the central division comprised central, western and a part of northern Bengal. The Dacca division included eastern Bengal, southern Bengal, and part of northern Bengal, Sylhet and Chitagong. Bihar formed the third division, and Orissa, the fourth.
The first, i.e. the central division was directly administered by the Nawab with his council of advisers and each of the three other divisions through deputy governor, (Naib Nazim). Bihar was placed under Alivardi as deputy governor. Dacca continued to be under Murshid Quli II, son-in-law of Shuja-ud-din. He was originally appointed to this post by Murshid Quli Ja’far Khan. On the death of Muhammad Taqi Khan, second son of Shuja-ud-din, Murshid Quli Khan II was transferred to Orissa as deputy governor and the deputy governorship of Dacca was conferred on Sarfaraz Khan.
Shuja-ud-din strictly asserted his authority on the European traders in Bengal. The English described him as a rash and powerful Nawab and did not think it expedient to risk an open rupture with him. Very often the European merchant companies had to conciliate the Nawab by payments of large sums of money. They were also subjected to occasional interference and impositions by Nawab’s officers.
The faujdar of Hughli once demanded high duties from the French, the Dutch, and the English which was resisted by them. The faujdar retaliated by seizing some bales of silk and cloth belonging to the English which the latter recovered by use of force.
The faujdar persuaded the Nawab to believe in the necessity of punishing the English. Soon all supplies to the English settlements in Calcutta and Qasimbazar were stopped and the English were constrained to conciliate the Nawab by payment of three lakhs as nazar. Similar conflicts with the English and the Nawab’s officers took place in 1733 and 1735 and gradually the Calcutta Council realized the need for avoiding dispute with the Nawab’s government and followed the policy of keeping the Nawab in good humor by sending him occasional presents.
The attempt of the Calcutta Council of the East India Company, under instructions from the Court of Directors to obtain favourable orders from the imperial court for business in Bengal ultimately did not materialize because in the words of the Council in Calcutta itself, the Nawab was ‘too absolute to regard any orders from Court in their favour.
This shows that the Nawab of Bengal was virtually independent even under Shuja-ud-din. The English and the Dutch were asked by the Nawab to pay arrears of rent of their towns from the date when it has been last paid to Murshid Quli Khan. The demands were made on the grounds of extension of English private trade and abuse of their dastaks.
The Nawab complained that the English were ‘screening immense quantities of Merchant goods, thereby defrauding the king of his customs’. The evil of misusing dastaks for the private trade by the English was growing. Dastaks were transit permits for duty-free transit of export and import goods. These were being used by the English to cover their private trade. Nawab’s demand for arrear rent was not readily agreed to by the English. This compelled the Nawab to stop the saltpetre trade of the English at Patna and a great quantity of goods was stopped at Azimganj near Murshidabad.
The English had to ultimately come down and pay 55,000 rupees to the Nawab in 1736. The Nawab of Bengal so long did not allow the English to import their Madras currency into Bengal as this meant a loss to the government in respect of the minting charges. Now that the English paid the Nawab 55,000 to satisfy him, they were permitted to use their currency for their trade. The rest of the period of Shuja-ud-din’s Nawabship was one of good relations between the English and the Nawab’s government.
Shuja-ud-din’s period, according to contemporary historians was marked by peace and prosperity. According to John Shore it was moderate, firm and vigilant. The exactions were no doubt burdensome but as Shore points out the resources of the country were adequate to the measure of exactions. Yet it must be pointed out that Shore also observed that ‘the mode of imposition was fundamentally ruinous both to the ryots and the zamindars and the direct tendency of it was, to force the latter into extortions, and all into fraud, concealment and distress’.
Sir Jadunath remarks that “it set a dangerous precedent, the imitation of which must have in future considerably strained the resources of the people during the second half of the eighteenth century when Bengal had to pass through a very unhappy period due to acute economic troubles”. Shuja-ud-din died in 1739 (March 13) and his son Sarfaraz ascended the masnad of Bengal with the title Ala-ud-daulah Haidar Jang.
Accession of Sarfaraz Khan to the masnad of Bengal was peaceful. He retained in his government officers Alamchand, Haji Ahmad and others of his father’s time. But he was personally incapable of holding the reins of the government. He was devoid of any sound administrative ability and naturally could not manage affairs of the state. His excessive debauchery under the cloak of religiosity, his addiction to the pleasures of the harem not only impaired his energies but also weakened his intelligence and strength of character.
For such a person it was difficult if not impossible to pilot the ship of the state. His inefficiency told on the efficiency of the government and whetted the ambition of the officers who were trusted and faithful under his father, to usurp power at his cost.
Nadir Shah’s invasion of Delhi also had its repercussions on the Bengal politics. The helplessness of the emperor afforded a fair opportunity to the ambitious officers of Bengal government to aggrandize themselves at the cost of the Nawab. Alivardi and his brother Haji Ahmad possessed of keen insight and cunning and they realized that the time was opportune for furtherance of their ambition. Ray-i-rayan Alamchand and Jagat Seth Fatehchand who were faithful to Shuja-ud-din turned hostile to Sarfaraz although the latter had given them no offence.
They and Alivardi’s brother Haji Ahmad formed a triumvirate to summon Alivardi from. Patna on the pretext of his meeting the Nawab and to install him on the masnad of Bengal removing Sarfaraz. They first tried to discredit Sarfaraz in eyes of the emperor and cleverly persuaded him (Sarfaraj) to read the khutba in the name of Nadir Shah in Bengal and to strike coins in his own name. All this succeeded in exasperating the Delhi court against Sarfaraz. Further the triumvirate advised Sarfaraz to reduce his army to half strength on grounds of economy. The disbanded soldiers were at once sent by Haji Ahmad to Patna and got them appointed by Alivardi in his army. The advice of a group of officers of Sarfaraz was also responsible for estrangement between him and the party of Haji Ahmad.
While Alivardi’s brother Haji Ahmad with all his cunning was keeping him informed of move of himself and his party in Murshidabad Alivardi was trying to obtain legal sanction from the Emperor for his Nawabship of Bengal and an order to march against Sarfaraz. But Alivardi had his enemies in the Delhi court and they informed Sarfaraz of Alivardi’s plan. Sarfaraz also came to know of the despicable game of villainy Haji Ahmad was playing against his master under the garb of friendship. Sarfaraz became highly incensed with Alivardi and Haji Ahmad because of their infidelity. Yusuf Ali a contemporary writer says that he had personally heard from Alivardi that he had been goaded to oppose Sarfaraz by his brother Haji Ahmad and others.
But as Prof. K. K. Datta points out ‘it cannot be gainsaid that Alivardi’s ambition was a big factor in the whole transaction’. ‘It would be incorrect’ he remarks ‘to regard the latter (Alivardi) as an innocent tool in the hands of the former (Haji Ahmad)’. By the middle of March, 1740 permission arrived from the Delhi court as asked for by Alivardi to remove Sarfaraz from the masnad of Bengal. Alivardi left Patna with his army for the purpose by the end of March, 1740, and proceeded towards Murshidabad. Sarfaraz was kept in the dark by false report till the Teliagarhi fort guarding the passage to Bengal had been occupied by Alivardi. Sarfaraz was struck with surprise.
He summoned his army officers and after consulting their opinion prepared to proceed against Alivardi. The two armies almost of equal strength met at the field of Giria where a furious battle was fought. Sarfaraz Khan fought unto the last till he received a musket shot on his forehead and fell down dear) from his elephant. He was only thirty-six when he met with a hero’s death.
The Nawab’s corpse was carried by his faithful elephant-driver to Murshidabad and buried at the dead of night. Many more heroes on the side of Sarfaraz died martyrs’ death in the field of Giria and elsewhere in defence of Bengal which redeemed partially the cowardice, chickenery and treachery of the officers of the Nawab. Two or three days after the battle of Giria Alivardi marched into the city of Murshidabad, entered the Chihil Satun and declared him Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
The Bengal revolution of 1939-40 synchronised with the more disastrous revolution in the Mughal empire. All this showed how the political atmosphere in the country had been utterly vitiated by vices of treachery, ingratitude and boundless ambition. Alivardi’s treatment of Sarfaraz, the son of his benefactor to whom he and his entire family had been indebted for prosperity was a conduct which was not only abominable but of the wrost kind of ingratitude. Nemesis followed it when his favourite grandson Siraj-ud-daulah fell a victim to the forces of ingratitude, machination, and disloyalty that he had himself used to overthrow Sarfaraz. As Prof. Datta aptly remarks, “The Battle of Plassey was the reply of historical justice to the battle of Giria”.
Two or three days after the battle of Giria Alivardi entered Murshidabad and tried to soothe the wounded feelings of Sarfaraz’s relatives by feigning penitence for his vile conduct to the son of his benefactor. He visited Nafisa Begam, sister of Sarfaraz, in her chamber and expressed repentance and solicited her pardon. His effected speech did not evoke any response from Nafisa Begam who kept silent all the time without uttering a word. He then went to the Chihil Satun and ascended the masnad with all the necessary formalities.
Alivardi with his usual prudence sought to remove the discontent among the people and win them over by all possible means. By behaving kindly and being on friendly terms with all, by acting with discretion and by distribution of money he won over to his cause all men living far and near.
He also did not fail to make provisions for the family of Sarfaraz. Nafisa Begam, sister of Sarfaraz was granted, in addition to her own properties a portion of the khas taluq yielding an annual revenue of rupees one lakh. She was taken to Dacca by Nawazish Muhammad, nephew of Alivardi, who looked upon her as his own mother and put her in control of his household affairs. Married wives of Sarfaraz were sent away to Dacca with their children. AH the members of Sarfaraz’s family were granted monthly allowances for their maintenance. An illegitimate son of Sarfaraz, born on the very day he was killed in the battle of Giria, named Aka Baba was specially provided for. He was later adopted by Nafisa Begam.
Alivardi now effected some changes in the offices of the government. One of his nephews Nawazish Muhammad was appointed Deputy Governor of Dacca and diwan of the crown land. Zain-ud-din the youngest nephew was appointed Deputy Governor of Bihar. Nawazish Muhammad was married to Alivardi’s daughter Ghasiti Begam and Zain-ud-din to Amina Begam, mother of Siraj-ud-daulah. On the death of Ray-i-rayan Alamchand Chin Ray was appointed to the post. Alivardi also secured a formal recognition of his new position as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa by the emperor Muhammad Shah by profusely bribing him and officers like Qamar-ud-din, the wazir and others.
Alivardi was now in full control of Bengal but Orissa still remained unsubdued. Its Deputy Governor, Rustam Jang, formerly called Murshid Quli II, was the son-in-law of Shuja-ud-din. He refused to recognise the usurper’s authority. He marched against Alivardi for conquering Bengal. Alivardi along with one of his nephews, Saulat Jang, started to oppose Rustam Jang. Alivardi was attacked on the way by Raja Raghunath Bhanja of Mayurbanj. But ultimately Alivardi overcame this opposition.
But Alivardi suffered from want of adequate supply of provisions which the zamindars of Midnapur promised to send. Whatever provisions were actually sent were intercepted by the zamindars of Orissa. Need-less to mention that Rustam Jang was popular with the people of Orissa and they also did not approve of the conduct of Alivardi towards Sarfaraz. Alivardi in this strait was thinking of coming to terms with Rustam Jang but Mustafa Khan advised him to wait till the end of the rains. But the collision came about soon. Mirza Baqar, son-in-law of Rustam Jang, took the offensive against Alivardi’s troops and fierce fighting ensued.
The day was lost for Rustam Jang who fled with his wounded son-in-law. Alivardi remained in Orissa for a month and returned to Murshidabad leaving his nephew and son-in-law, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, surnamed Muhammad-ud-daulah Saulat Jang as Deputy Governor of Orissa. Saulat Jang was a bad choice. His insolence, intemperance and overbearing attitude soon made him unpopular and officers of Rustam Jang invited Mirza Baqar to Orissa. Mirza Baqar entered Cuttack with a Maratha contingent with him and confined Saulat Jang and his entire family in the fort of Barbati. Midnapur and Hijli also fell into the hands of Mirza Baqar.
It was now a question of restoring his prestige to Alivardi. He marched with 20,000 strong cavalry and defeated Mirza Baqar who had to run away to the Deccan with his Maratha allies. Saulat Jang and family were rescued from the Barbati fort.
Alivardi stayed at Orissa for three months in order to restore order in Orissa. He appointed his friend Shaikh Masum Deputy Governor of Orissa and Durlabhram, son of Raja Jankiram as his peshkar. He then started for Murshidabad but received information when he reached near Midnapur that the Marathas were advancing towards Bengal.
Alivardi was not destined, to enjoy what he had gained by cleverly engineering plots and by hard fighting. The Maratha incursions all the more made complicated by Afghan rebellions at the same time gave Alivardi neither peace nor rest. The province of Bengal was devastated by the Marathas and added to this Afghan rebellions adversely affected the economy of the country. The economic decline became so alarming that Orissa ultimately had to be ceded to the Marathas.
Alivardi signed a treaty with the Marathas in 1751 and had now time to turn his attention to undo the damages done to Bengal by the Marathas. He made some administrative changes. But his task of repairing the loss of Bengal could not be completed by him.
He was already 75 in 1751 and was overpowered by some premature deaths of his near and dear ones. Ikram-ud-daula, younger brother of Siraj-ud-daulah, who adopted by Sahamat Jang one of the nephews of Alivardi, died of small-pox. Shamat Jang died soon after. Within a short time Saulat Jang, another nephew of Alivardi, died. All these bereavements seriously affected the health of Alivardi. He was attacked by dropsy and died on April 10, 1756, nominating his grandson, Siraj-ud-daulah, as his successor.
According to Orme, Alivardi’s private life was very much different from the usual manner of the life of the Mohammadans in India. He was above prevailing vices of the time. Trained in the school of adversity, Alivardi developed a puritanic temperament. Jean Law, the chief of the French factory at Qasimbazar, described him as ‘deceitful and ambitious to the highest degree’ but he was extremely temperate, always lived as the husband of one wife, had implicit faith in God and passed his leisure in reading books on history and theology.
Alivardi was an intrepid warrior and knew to command an army. According to Ghulam Husain, the author of Seir-ul-Muta-kherin, Alivardi’s ‘generalship had no equal in his age except Asaf Jah Nizam-ul-Mulk’. He was a kind and generous master and was attentive to the interests of his officers. He extended his favour’s to his friends and relatives and did not forget the help he had received from his friends in days of his adversity. He was a patron of arts and letters and adorned his court by a number of scholars who were noted for their eminence in different branches of learning.
Under him people were not subjected to forcible exactions but under pressure of extraordinary circumstances he took casual aids from some of the chief zamindars and the European trading companies. Of course he levied abwabs as did Murshid Quli Khan.
In the midst of darkness and despair Alivardi sank into his grave in 1756 (April, 10) leaving no son to succeed him. He had three daughters only, married to three sons of his elder brother Haji Ahmad. The eldest daughter Mihir-un-nisa, also known as Ghasiti Begam was married to Nawazish Muhammad Shahamat Jang, Nawab of Dacca, the second daughter to Saiyid Ahmad, Nawab of Purnea and the youngest daughter Amina Begam to Zain-ud-din Ahmad Haibat Jang, Nawab of Bihar. Siraj-ud-daulah was born a few days before Alivardi was appointed Deputy Governor of Bihar in 1733 which became the stepping stone for his rise to exalted position of the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Alivardi and his family regarded the birth of the new child as the bringer of good fortune. This led to a superstitious affection on the part of Alivardi for the child.
According to Sir Jadunath, Siraj was ‘given no education for his future duties, he never learnit to curb his passionate impulses, none durst correct his vices, and he was kept away from the manly and martial exercises as dangerous to such a precious life! Thus the apple of Alivardi’s eye grew up into a most dissolute, haughty, reckless and cowardly youth and the prospect of his succession to the government of Bengal, filled all people with alarm’. But according to Ghulam Husain, author of Seir-ul-Mutakherin “Alivardi had him (Siraj) educated in his own house”.
Karim Ali, author of Muzaffarnama says that Alivardi “tried to teach him (Siraj) the art of government and administration and the noble traits that befit a ruler of men”. But Alivardi’s love which was almost doting, made him turn his blind eye to every misdeed done by him (Siraj). As Prof. K. K. Datta observes “Siraj-ud-daulah’s education may have been of usual formal type, marked by rudirtients of ordinary knowledge and not well calculated to foster high virtues”.
Alivardi’s doting affection proved a fatal boon for Siraj. He developed unruly impulses and obstinacy.
About the character of Siraj the evidence of the English merchants or of Ghulam Husain might be suspected as prejudiced. But Monsieur Jean Law, chief of the French factory at Qasimbazar “a gentleman, prepared to risk his own life in order to defend Siraj against the English troops” is certainly likely to be more impartial in describing the character of Siraj. He writes “The character of Siraj-ud-daulah was reputed to be of the worst known. In fact, he had distinguished himself not only by all sorts of debaucheries but by a revolting cruelty”.
At the time of Alivardi’s death Siraj and his cousin (mother’s sister’s son) Shaukat Jang stood face to face as rivals to the masnad. Siraj’s greatest enemy was, however, Ghasiti Begam. She had adopted Ekram-ud-daulah, younger brother of Siraj, and was planning to put him on the masnad on the death of Alivardi. But Ekram died before Alivardi’s death. She then turned her eye to Shaukat Jang and invited him to invade Murshidabad. Ghasiti Begam had reasons to be inimical to Siraj. Nawazish Ahmad Shahamat Jang was imbecile and incapable and he left the management of the affairs of Dacca to his wife Ghasiti Begam and her favourite Husain Quli Khan. There were all sorts of gossips about the relation between Ghasiti Begam and Husain Quli Khan which to the mind of Siraj was eroding the prestige of the Nawab family, and with the seeming consent of Alivardi Siraj got Husain Quli killed. Ghasiti Begam naturally could not forget this.
But the most formidable and ambitious enemy of Siraj-ud-daulah was Mir Jafar Ali Khan, brother-in-law of Alivardi and com-mander-in-chief of the army. He was known to” have once conspired against the life of Alivardi’’ in order to get the masnad and was punished. It was this treacherous officer of the state that Siraj had reasons to dread most.
Thus Siraj came to the masnad in a house divided against itself, with a hostile faction in the army, a disaffected subject people, an ambitious conspirator Mir Jafar and a rival Shaukat Jang supported by inimical Ghasiti Begam.
Siraj-ud-daulah made certain changes in the official posts placing his own partisans in important places. The selfish traitor Mir Jafar was removed from the supreme command of army and he was given to the brave and devoted Mir Madan. Another capable and faithful officer Mohan Lai was made the peshkar of Siraj’s diwan-khana with the tide of Maharaja.
Even when Siraj-ud-daulah was administering the State during the illness of Alivardi, his main relation with the English had been anything but friendly. The main reason for this was the additional fortifications the English had undertaken in the wake of their conflict with the French. The recent affairs in the Carnatics roused the suspicion of the Nawab all the more. Further, the English who thought like many others of the time that Ghasiti Begam’s nominee was likely to succeed to the nawabship of Bengal, made them eager to court the friendship of Rajballabh, diwan of Ghasiti who stepped into the shoes of Husain Quli. Even during the life time of Alivardi, Siraj wanted to take action against Rajballabh on charge of peculation.
It was on the advice of Alivardi that Rajballabh who was at Murshidabad was not beheaded by Siraj, but he was put into the prison. Rajballabh’s son Krishnadas fled to Calcutta with all treasures and his family and got asylum there under the English. Siraj also had information of the support the English were rendering to Ghasiti and brought the matter to the knowledge of Alivardi who summoned Dr. Froth who was attached to the factory of Qasim- bazar and questioned him as to the report of the English support to Ghasiti which Dr. Froth disavowed on behalf of the English nation and assured the Nawab that the English had no intention of interfering in the Indian politics. But this disavowal did not satisfy Siraj-ud-daulah.
Thus immediately after his accession to the masnad Siraj communicated his views to Watts, chief of the English factory at Qasim-bazar, that while he welcomed the English only as merchants he did not approve of their undertaking fortifications and insisted on their immediate demolition. He also sent an envoy Narayan Das to Calcutta to demand surrender of Krisna Das who had been sheltered by the English and to spy out the unauthorised fortifications then going on in Calcutta. As Narayan Das who had entered Calcutta in disguise and could not produce any credentials when taken to the Council, was driven out of Calcutta as a spy.
In the meantime by a stroke of statesmanship Siraj took possession of the person of Ghasiti Begam and brought her to his own palace. The English now came to realise their mistakes. Excuses and apologies were offered for their earlier conduct. Siraj wrote a letter to Mr. Drake, the Governor of Calcutta, repeating his orders to demolish the additional fortifications. He then left for Purnea to punish his rival Shaukat Jang. At Rajmahal he received Drake’s reply couched in polite language but showing no indication that he would comply with the orders for the demolition of the fortifications. He at once marched back to Murshidabad and seized the English factory at Qasimbazar, some English men were taken prisoner and the factory looted. (May 24, 1756).
On June 5, 1756, Siraj-ud-daulah marched against the English in Calcutta to punish their contumacy. With unusual expedition he covered 160 miles in eleven days and arrived outside Calcutta on June 16, 1756. Calcutta was practically in a defenceless condition with 250 men of the militia consisting of 100 Europeans and 150 Armenians and Indo-Portuguese. Besides, there were 180 men available for other duties. Commanding officer Captain Minchin and his second-in-command were extremely incompetent men. Nawab’s army attacked Perrin’s Redout which covered the approach of the Chitpur bridge over the Maratha Ditch but failed to take it Nevertheless many of the Nawab’s troops forded the Ditch and found their way into Calcutta. Siraj-ud-daulah himself took up quarters in Omichand’s garden in the area known as Simla.
The English decided to defend only the European part of the city which comprised the area now known as Dalhousie Square and regions east and south of it. The part of the city where the Indians lived and termed by the Europeans as Black Town had bamboo and straw huts. The English set fire to the huts in the night of 16th June to drive away Nawab’s troops, as well as to clear the line of defence. The next day the English destroyed all the native houses to the east and the south and the looters who hung about the Nawab’s troops set fire to the Great Bazar (north of modern Fairlie Place).
On 16th and 17th all English women as well as Portuguese and Armenian women crowded into Fort William throwing everything into confusion within the Fort. Attack of the line of defence began on the 18th and the English had to fall back into a smaller and inner line of defence. Situation became desperate for the English and on the 18th in the night as many women as could be accommodated on board were sent to the ships.
The next day (19th June, 1756) was a day of greater confusion since very early in the morning Mr. Drake, the Governor, decided to abandon the Fort. Mr. Drake and Captain Minchin also escaped in the last few boats. Only 170 white men were leff to defend the Fort. They appointed Mr. J. Z. Holwell as Governor and tried to put up a semblance of defence. At night all around the Fort were ablaze and the English soldiers refused to fight any more. 53 Dutch deserted to the enemy. On the 20th at 4 o’clock in the evening the Nawab’s soldiers scaled the wall and entered the Fort. The English men who had surrendered were well treated. Holwell met the Nawab and received assurance of safety.
The Myth of the Black Hole Tragedy:
After the capture of the Fort William the Nawab’s troops in a flush of victory plundered the Europeans of the valuables but did not ill-treat them. But with the night-fall some European soldiers got drunk and assaulted the natives. On their complaint the Nawab enquired where the Europeans were accustomed to be confined if they misbehaved. He was told that such persons were kept confined in the Black Hole.
Some of Nawab’s officers suggested that it would be inadvisable to keep the prisoners at large during the night and that they should be kept confined. The Nawab ordered that the prisoners should be kept in Black Hole, a chamber, 18 feet long and 14 feet 10 inches wide, with one window. Some of the prisoners must have died in the hot night of June. This gave rise to a story that 146 persons were crammed in the Black Hole and in the next morning 123 were found to have died of suffocation and only 23 miserable survivors remained to tell the story of the tragedy. It was Holwell who gave currency to the story.
On 17 July, 1756, he wrote to the Bombay Council:
“The resistance we made and the loss they (the Nawab’s officers) suffered so irritated the Nawab that he ordered himself and all the prisoners promiscuously to the number of about 165 or 170 to be crammed altogether into a small prison in the fort called Black Hole, whence only about 16 of us came out alive in the morning, the rest being suffocated to death”. In a subsequent letter written to Fort St. George he corrected the figures by writing that he had “over-reckoned the number of the prisoners put into the Black Hole and the number of the dead; the former only 146 and the latter 123”. The veracity of Holwell’s story came to be questioned by both European and Indian writers. J. H. Little described the story as a ‘gigantic hoax’. Certain contradictions have been found in Holwell’s own account. The list of names given by Holwell to his family in England became a subject of enquiry by the Court of Directors, and it was found that many of the names listed as dead were still serving in the rank and file of the English army. Major B. D. Bose has proved to (the hilt the discrepancy in Holwell’s list.
Further, it has been pointed out by many a writer that the floor space of so small a chamber could not accommodate 146 adults even if the-whole air space in it was covered. Annie Beasant aptly remarks that “geometry disproving arithmetic gav6 lie to the story”. It is also surprising how so terrible an incident could not find mention in the official documents of the time or how a single native in Calcutta or in the whole of Bengal did not know a word about the massacre.
Assuming that some prisoners who had been wounded in the battle died in the Black Hole it is agreed on all hands that Siraj cannot be held responsible in the least. For, his was a general order the execution of which was left to lowest grade officers. Even Holwell agrees on this point. Malleson points out that in Holwell’s narrative he himself writes: “. .and indeed I believe his orders were only general that for the night we should be secured, and what followed was the result of revenge and the resentment in the breasts of the lower jemaders to whose custody we were delivered.” There is, therefore, no question of involving the name of Siraj-ud-daulah in the so called Black Hole tragedy.
The Purnea Expedition:
Siraj-ud-daulah returned to Murshidabad after the capture of Calcutta on 11th July (1756) and celebrated his victory with great eclat. But soon a new danger compelled him to march out of Murshidabad. Mir Jafar had in the meantime, secretly sent a letter to Shaukat Jang of Purnea to march into Bengal and capture the masnad. Needless to mention Mir Jafar assured Shaukat Jang of his support.
It has already been seen that Shaukat Jang was an aspirant to the masnad of Bengal and his cause was also espoused by Ghasiti Begam. He had already been in touch with the Delhi Court to obtain some authorisation to seize the Bengal masnad and ultimately he obtained it by promising a bribe of one crore of rupees to wazir Imad-ul-Mulk. Both Karam Ali, author of Muzaffarnamah and Ghulam Husain, author of Seir-ul-Mutakherin, refer to the violent, impulsive, rude and vicious character of Shaukat Jang who was also under the stupefying influence of drugs and flattering advice of his sycophants. The inevitable contest soon broke out. Siraj marched with his troops for Purnea (Sept. 24, 1756) and was joined by Raja Ramnarayan, Deputy Governor of Bihar and others. Shaukat Jang’s army had in the meantime encamped at Manihari where a fierce battle was fought on the 16th of October, 1756. Shaukat Jang was defeated and killed in the battle.
Siraj had now reached the zenith of his fortune. He had trounced all his enemies. He was still more gratified at the arrival of a farman from Delhi confirming him in the subahdari of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
Recovery of Calcutta by the English:
Siraj-ud-daulah was expecting that the English would make amends for their conduct after his triple triumph over Ghasiti, the English, and Shaukat Jang. The English were now sheltering themselves at Falta and were spending bitter days for want of provisions and proper shelter. They were somehow carrying on with the support received by them from Raja Nabakissen of Sovabazar, Manik-chand, Khwajah Wajid, Jagat Seth and Durlabhram.
Already in response to the Bengal Council’s previous letters regarding the Nawab’s hostile attitude towards the English in Bengal, the Madras Council had sent a detachment under the command of Major Killpatrick who reached Falta on July 20, 1756. In the meantime the news of the capture of Calcutta reached the Madras Council through a letter from Watts and Collet. Madras Council sent a fleet under the command of Admiral Watson and Colonel Robert Clive.
On 15th December, 1756, the Admiral Watson and Colonel Clive reached Falta. They wrote a threatening letter on the 17th to the Nawab but received no reply. On the 27th December, the Admiral and the Colonel sallied from Falta for Calcutta. Manickchand, the Governor of Calcutta, surprised Clive and his troops near Budge Budge threw the English troops into panic and confusion. But advance of two more platoons of Clive’s soldiers soon dislodged Manickchand from Budge Budge who retreated to Calcutta to defend it.
On the 2nd of January, 1757 Watson began to fire from two of his ships Tyger and Kent so warmly that the Nawab’s troops were compelled to fun away from the fort. The fort was taken by the English. On 3rd January, Watson and Clive issued a manifesto declaring war on the Nawab showing reasons for doing so. After a week Clive set up a fortified camp near Baranagar and then stormed the Mughal Thana of Hughli. Clive’s soldiers sacked and plundered the town.
The news of the fall of Budge Budge reached the Nawab and he expeditiously reached Hughli on the 19th January and the English withdrew to their fortified camp at Baranagar. The Nawab took his quarters in Omichand’s garden on the eastern bank of the Maratha Ditch just outside Calcutta. He had with him 46,000 horses, 60,000 foot and 30 guns.
The English had an army of 711 Europeans, 100 artillery men, 1,300 sepoys and 14 guns. Negotiations for peace were started half-heartedly by the English, obviously to keep the Nawab in expection of a compromise. But on February 5, 1757 Clive made a surprise raid on the Nawab’s camp early in the morning.
The Nawab escaped with great difficulty. The skirmish between the English and the Nawab’s troops was fought in dense fog in great confusion. Four days later (9th February, 1757) a treaty was signed between the parties by which practically all the demands of the English were conceded. The Treaty is called the Treaty of Alinagar.
It had seven clauses drafted by Colonel Clive and all were agreed to by the Nawab:
“(i) Whatever rights and privileges granted to the Company by the Delhi emperor by his farmans shall not be disputed or taken away. Whatever territories are given to the English by farmans shall be granted and notwithstanding they have been denied by former subahdars.
(ii) All merchandise passing by land or water through Bengal, Bihar and Orissa with English dastaks shall be exempt from tax, fee or impositions.
(iii) All goods of the Company and its servants, tenants etc. must be restored and compensation shall be paid for what has been plundered or pillaged,
(iv) The English shall fortify Calcutta as they think proper without any interruption,
(v) The Company shall have the liberty of coining siccas of both gold and silver and there shall not be any batta for their exchange,
(vi) Treaty to be ratified by the Nawab by signing and swearing in the name of God and His prophet,
(vii) That the Admiral Watson and Colonel dive, on the part and behalf of the English nation and of the Company, do agree to live in good understanding with the Nawab to put an end to the troubles, and be in friendship with him, whilst these articles are observed and performed by the Nawab.”
The terms of the Treaty of Alinagar were highly favourable to the English in Bengal and it enhanced their influence. Clive himself had written to the Select Committee that the terms of the treaty “are both honorable and advantageous to the Company. The grants of Mint and the villages hitherto detained from us are very considerable, and the abolishing of the duties lately exacted by the Chokies, as well as confirming the free transportation of goods without customs of any kind, and the rest of the privileges of the royal phirmaund are not small points gained”.
That the pacific attitude of Siraj was in strange contrast to his earlier policy, is difficult to explain. In the opinion of some writers the surprise attack by Clive terrified the Nawab to submission. But Orme points out that from the military point of view the attack was a failure and Clive was taken to task by his own soldiers. But it may be mentioned that even before the attack Siraj-ud-daulah’s letters to the English showed his pacific intentions, “it is possible that the known treacherous designs of his own officers, and the apprehension of an invasion from the north-west induced him to settle with the English at any cost.”
Capture of Chandernagore:
The Treaty of Alinagar had neutralised the Nawab. Robert Clive in his far-sightedness saw the need of crushing the French power in Bengal so that no European rival of the Company might be left in the field to whom the Nawab could turn for assistance. Clive promptly turned to crushing the French power in Bengal. Siraj-ud- daulah had neither the courage nor the wisdom of Alivardi to sternly forbidding any hostility between the foreign traders within his dominion. He was suspicious of the French who had made the Nizam a tool in their hands and was afraid of the English hostility in case he openly stood by the French.
The Nawab was apprehensive of any possible junction of the French with the English; he was also afraid of the English after his Calcutta experience. He, therefore, oscillated between his suspicion of the French and fear of the English who were sure to attack him should he side with the French.
The exaggerated reports of the Afghan (Abdali’s) raids of the Punjab and Delhi and his possible move towards Bengal made Siraj nervous. He naturally felt that the English were a better immediate aid than the French and offered the English one lakh of rupees for one month for their aid in the event of any attack either by the Afghan or by de Bussy. But the English request for permission for advance against Chandernagore was refused.
But when Clive again asked for the permission to attack Chandernagore, the Nawab sent an ambiguous reply saying “Your friends and enemies will be my friends and enemies”. This reply was interpreted by the English as consent. Prof. Percival Spear remarks that “This was diplomatic finesse in the wrong context.” Clive lost no time and moved towards Chandernagore with both land and naval forces. Chandernagore surrendered after a hot fire and brave resistance under M. Renault for three hours. (March 23, 1757).
The conduct of Siraj-ud-daulah has been criticised by many a writer and he has been charged with weakness and vascillation as also of lack of foresight. But Prof.
Spear remarks that “Siraj-ud- daulah’s attitude was not absurd as some historians have been at pains to suggest.” After all, he had the:
(i) Vision of the irresistible de Bussy advancing from the Deccan before whom he would be helpless if deprived of British help,
(ii) Exaggerated reports about the Afghan advance towards Bengal, doubtlessly fanned by designing parties, made Siraj naturally nervous,
(iii) It must not be forgotten that Siraj did not possess the foresight, firmness and ability of Alivardi. He could not, therefore, realise that the Marathas would be a formidable barrier against the Afghans, for the Marathas themselves were contenders for the Indian empire,
(iv) He was also suspicious of the French after all that happened in the Deccan.
(v) He at least realised that any attempt to side with the French would terribly antagonise the English,
(vi) Siraj-ud-daulah was aware of the treacherous designs of his own officers. All these made Siraj nervous and evasive and he connived at the seizure of Chandernagore by the English.
Circumstances Leading to the Battle of Plassey (June 23, 1757):
There is no truth in the belief that Siraj-ud-daulah was wilfully inimical towards the English from even before his accession to the masnad. On the contrary, it was the English who believed like many others at that time, that Siraj would not have sufficient influence to get himself recognised as subahdar of Bengal.
They even “carried on correspondence with the Begam (Ghasiti)”. They were also suspected of having an understanding with Shaukat Jang of Purnea, another rival of Siraj-ud-daulah. The English were so sure of success of Shaukat who was also supported by Ghasiti Begam, that they with a view to securing favour of the party likely to succeed in the contest for the masnad gave shelter to Rajballabh’s son Krishna Das who had decamped from Dacca with treasures and his family to Calcutta. Rajballabh was the diwan of Dacca and when Siraj was looking after the administration during the illness of Alivardi, asked for revenue accounts from him which had not been rendered for a long time. Rajballabh was then at Murshidabad and was put under arrest by Siraj. Krishna Das in the circumstances had left Dacca and found asylum with the English in Calcutta. This was a great affront for which the English must be held responsible, for, they interfered in the application of law by the Nawab against one of his own subjects. All this took place immediately before Alivardi’s death.
A fortnight before the death of Alivardi Siraj reported to him his suspicion that the English were intending to support Ghasiti. On being questioned, Dr. Forth, attached to the Qasimbazar factory disavowed any such intention on the part of the English and assured Alivardi that the Company had no intention to interfere in political matters.
During Alivardi’s life time when Siraj wanted to visit the country house of the English near Qasimbazar, the factors there refused to admit him.
When Siraj-ud-daulah ascended the masnad the English did not congratulate him nor did they show him the customary courtesy by paying him nazar.
In 1756 when the Anglo-French war known as the Seven Years’ War was about to begin, the English and the French in Bengal started raising fortifications and repairing the existing ones with a view to transferring their continental war on to the soil of Bengal. Siraj-ud-daulah could not, naturally, allow the assumption of such sovereign powers by two trading communities in his dominion. He asked them to desist from raising any fortifications.
The French complied with the Nawab’s order but not the English. The envoy sent to the English was turned out of Fort William as a spy. The request of the Nawab to hand over Krishna Das to him was also not conceded by the English. All this led to Siraj’s capture of Calcutta which the English recovered shortly afterwards. Siraj-ud-daulah again marched against the English but by a surprise attack Clive had disrupted his forces and after some skirmishes the Nawab and the English signed the Treaty of Alinagar. This treaty conceded all the demands of the English and both sides were solemny bound to live in peace.
The Treaty of Alinagar not only gave the English great advantages but their influence in Bengal was also highly enhanced. They took advantage of the weakness of the Nawab and reduced the only rival of the English Company, the French, by seizing Chandernagore. This deprived the Nawab of the source to which he could perhaps turn for assistance. The English and the Nawab now were confronting each other. The situation was more tense now, though clearer.
During the three months that intervened between the fall of Chandernagore (March 23, 1757) and the battle of Plassey (June 23, 1757) ‘a relentless Fate seemed to be dragging a blind Siraj- ud-daulah on to destruction’. As Dodwell remarks, the capture of Chandernagore ‘deprived the Nawab of his natural and only capable allies against the English and nothing can extenuate his folly in allowing their destruction’. His conduct now became feebler and more unwise. His conduct became more inconsistent and he oscillated from one stand to another.
He had, gallantly enough, given shelter to the French after fall of Chandernagore and refused to drive them out even on the request of the English and their offer of military assistance against the threatened attack of Prince Ali Gauhar (later Emperor Shah Alam II). But ultimately he agreed to send the French away under the advice of his treacherous ministers and while leaving Murshidabad M. J. Law warned the Nawab about the conspiracy that was going on against him.
The English now understood the danger of the situation. While the Seven Years’ War was going on in Europe between the English and the French, the Nawab sympathetically disposed towards the French was a source of potential danger to the English. A French force from Pondicherry might join the Nawab and renew in a more favourable circumstance the policy of expelling the English from Bengal. The English were, therefore, bent on replacing the Nawab by one more pliable person on the masnad of Bengal.
The eagerness of the English to replace the Nawab synchronised with the conspiracy which was long afoot in the Nawab’s court, and the junction of the two inevitably led to the undoing of Siraj-ud-daulah.
Siraj-ud-daulah had on his accession, superseded the diwan by his favourite Mohan Lai, and Mir Jafar, the selfish traitor, was removed from the position of the Commander-in-chief and the vacany filled in by devoted Mir Madan. Above all, the banking house of Jagat Seth ‘the Rothschilds of contemporary Bengal’ had lost confidence in the Nawab who had threatened Fateh Chand with circumcision. Siraj had defeated his rival Shaukat Jang and confined his aunt Ghasiti Begam in his palace but all this did not increase his strength. Ghasiti begam, although kept confined was active in intrigue.
Further, ‘His (Siraj’s) vagaries, his vanity and arrogance, and his threat of violence, had alienated some without conciliating others’. There had been grumblings and tentative discussions for sometime past for a change in the Nawabship. But in April 1756, i.e. after the fall of Chandernagore, the grumblings crystallised into a conspiracy. The Seths took the leading part in organising the conspiracy and after Shaukat Jang’s death the English were found to be the only power that could deliver the country from the cowardly and tyrannical Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah. This conspiracy was conducted and completed in Murshidabad by William Watts, chief of the English factory at Qasimbazar with remarkable skill, secrecy and courage.
Events now moved very swiftly. On April 23, 1757, Scrafton wrote to Clive that Omichand, a great Calcutta merchant who acted as a go-between Watts and the conspirators at the court suggested the name of Yar Latif Khan, an officer of Siraj as the prospective Nawab, but the English abandoned this in favour of Mir Jafar who was naturally considered more suitable because of his noble blood and his relation with Nawab’s family, being the brother- in-law of Alivardi. Such a person, the English thought, would be more acceptable to the Muslim subjects of Bengal. “But an excursion into king-making” observes Prof. Spear “was a radical departure in the Company’s policy… The answer lies in the example of the French in the Deccan and de Bussy in Hyderabad.” Clive now assumed the role of king-maker in Bengal.
Events now moved very fast. On May 1, 1757, Clive and the Select Committee decided to support Mir Jafar. Omichand now undertook to get a treaty between Watson and Clive on the one hand, and Mir Jafar on the other signed. It was rumoured that Siraj-ud-daulah’s treasury was worth the equivalent of forty million pounds and Omichand wanted 5% of the treasures and 25% of the jewelleries of the Nawab. He insisted upon the inclusion of these stipulations in the treaty and threatened to divulge the conspiracy if his demands were not conceded.
Clive then devised two treaties, one with these stipulations meant for Omichand and the real one for Mir Jafar. Watson who displayed a semblance of morality by refusing to sign the faked treaty himself but he allowed his name to be signed by another. Clive put his own signature as also that of Watson. According to some the name of Wilson was signed by Lushington. Prof. Spear remarks that it was “A case of deception aggravated by forgery”.
Mir Jafar promised to comply with the terms of the treaty and finally signed it secretly on the 4th or 5th of June 1757. The terms were: To treat the enemies of the English as his enemies; to deliver upto the English all the factories and effects of the French in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and not to allow them to settle in any of these places; to pay the expenses of the English troops when requisitioned by him for his services; not to erect any fortification on the Hughli river.
As compensation of Siraj-ud-daulah’s capture of Calcutta Mir Jafar would pay 1-crore of rupees to the Company, 50 lakhs to the European inhabitants of Calcutta, 20 lakhs to the Hindu, Muslim and other natives of Calcutta, and 7 lakhs to the Armenians. The English Company was to get possession of all land bounded by the Marathas Ditch and 600 yards all around, and to receive the zamindari of all lands to the south of Calcutta between the Hughli and the Salt lakes as far as Kulpi.
Besides, by private arrangements the English officers were to receive large amounts after Mir Jafar’s accession to the masnad. According to Becher, Drake and Clive were to receive Rs.2,80,000, and Becher, Killpatrick and Watts to receive Rs.2,40,000 each.
Siraj-ud-daulah was naturally bewildered when he heard of the secret plot, but with growing irresoluteness he faded to rise to the occasion and instead of strong measures against Mir Jafar and other ring-leaders, he met Mir Jafar for a reconciliation which exposed his utter helplessness. Mir Jafar while swore fidelity was determined at heart to play the traitor. Siraj not knowing what to do, reinstated Mir Jafar to his former position of the Commander-in-Chief of the army to conciliate him. Siraj had erred before by abandoning the French, he erred now by placihg the charge of his army under the command of the traitor Mir Jafar. Mir Madan’s sane advice that “we ought to put them (Mir Jafar and Khadim Husain Khan) down first, so that the English on hearing the news, will themselves take to flight. The presence of these two will be the cause of distraction and anxiety to us and they are sure to practise treachery” was not heeded by Siraj-ud-daulah.
Siraj marched from his capital with his army on June 20, 1757 for the inevitable conflict with the English in the mango-grove of Plassey on the Bhagirathi.
When the secret treaty was signed by Mir Jafar, Watts hurriedly left Murshidabad and on the 13th June, Clive marched to fight against the Nawab. He reached Katwa on the 18th and became hesitant whether to risk the fortunes of the Company on the bare words of a man who was a traitor to his own master. Clive called a meeting of his War Council on 21st June which by a majority, Clive himself voting with it, decided against immediate advance.
Next day Mir Jafar’s letter arrived informing of the march of Siraj with his army and assuring Clive of sending “privately all the intelligence“. Clive decided to proceed immediately to Plassey which he reached about the midnight of the 22nd June. The next morning, the fateful 23rd June, 1757, the battle beween the Nawab and the English, which was to decide the fate of Siraj-ud-daulah as well as of Bengal, began. Upshot was Siraj-ud-daulah’s defeat.
The morning of 23rd June was clear and sunny. Across the green field in the north lay Siraj-ud-daulah’s camp projecting from a loop in the river Bhagirathi. Clive’s camp was a mango-grove called Lakshabagh i.e. a garden of a lakh of trees, surrounded by an earthen embankment on all four sides. The embankment and the branches of the trees served a good cover against the enemy’s shot. His flank was guarded by the Ganges (Bhagirathi), while the village of Plassey behind protected his rear. Very close to the mango- grove stood the Hunting House of the Nawab, which Clive immediately occupied and made his hearquarters. From the roof of his house he could survey the whole battle field.
The Nawab had 35,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry and fifty-three pieces of heavy guns; his army comprising a total of 50,000 men consisting of the French, Mughals, Rajputs, Marathas and Bengalis. The European army of 3,000 men was made up of 950 European infantry, 150 artillery men and the rest being sepoys. He had 8 six-pounders and two howitzers.
“The Nawab’s forces made a very impressive show, as after issuing from the camp they drew up on the plain north-east of the village of Plassey, in a vast arc, over two miles in length almost surrounding the British army and threatening to drive it into the Ganges, which flowed on the left.”
But the Nawab’s cause was foredoomed to failure as about 45,000 of his troops were under the command of the three traitors, Rai-Durlabhram, Yar Latif Khan, and Mir Jafar.
The battle began at 8 a.m. (23rd June, 1757) with the French opening fire on the English. In half an hour’s time the English lost 30 men killed and wounded and Clive retreated to the mango- grove. But the Nawab’s cavalry did not take the advantage of the falling back of the English army and lost the chance of finishing the enemy. For three hours static cannonade continued and at 11 a.m. Siraj’s destiny took an adverse turn and blasted whatever hopes he had entertained till then. A thunder storm burst with tropical fury which turned the plain of Plassey into a muddy swamp. Nawab’s uncovered gunpowder had been damped and his artillery went out of action. The English had kept their power dry. To add to the Nawab’s misfortune, a chance shot from the enemy killed Mir Madan, the faithful General.
In utter bewilderment Siraj-ud-daulah turned to Mir Jafar begging him to keep the honour of the Nawab’s turban. Scrafton describes Siraj-ud-daulah’s importunities to Mir Jafar : ‘He sent for Mir Jafar, threw his turband at his feet and told him with most dejected countenance, that it was he that must protect the honour of the turband.’ The perfidious Mir Jafar swore by the Quran to fight for Siraj, but gave him the wrong advice to stop fighting for the rest of the day and to fight next morning with fresh vigour. He immediately wrote to Clive to make a sudden charge on the Nawab’s army which was already shaky. The unlucky Nawab thus duped by the traitors ordered Mohan Lai to retreat when the latter was closely engaged with the enemy.
Mohan Lai remonstrated: “This was not the time for retreat, that action was so far advanced that whatever might happen would happen now, and that should he turn head to march back to camp, his people would disperse and perhaps abandon themselves to an open flight.’ But Siraj who had already lost his hopes, now lost his head also. His repeated command to Mohan Lai to retreat compelled him to withdraw from fighting. A party of the French men under Sinfray and such of the Nawab’s soldiers who were not made of the stuff of Mir Jafar or Rai Durlabh fought on refusing to accept defeat. It was here that the contest was most obstinate and the English sustained their greatest loss.
The Nawab’s cavalry under the traitors, Mir Jafar, Rai Durlabh and Yar Latif Khan retreated without firing a single shot for the whole day. Clive now struck the decisive blow and overpowered the still fighting remnants of the Nawab’s army. “Betrayed by his own officers and completely unnerved in that menacing hour, the unfortunate young ruler by following Rai Durlabh’s treacherous counsel left the battlefield in a hurry on a swift camel at about 4 p.m. for the city of Murshidabad, where he reached at mid-night.” ‘The work commenced by one of the traitors (Mir Jafar)’ writes Thornton, ‘was completed by another (Rai Durlabh)’. With’ the Nawab’s flight the inevitable followed and the English army captured almost a deserted camp.
On hearing the news of the defeat of the Nawab, Murshidabad fell into confusion and Siraj found there none to stand by him at that hour of calamity. He left Murshidabad with his devoted consort Lutfunnisa and a loyal eunuch, perhaps to make a last attempt against the English with the assistance of his faithful Deputy Governor Ramnarain of Bihar and M. J. Law. Driven by fatigue and hunger he stopped at Rajmahal for a meal but was recognised by Daud Muhammad, a Muslim Faqir, whom Siraj is said to have insulted previously. Siraj was betrayed to the faujdar of Rajmahal who was brother of Mir Jafar. Siraj was dragged as a captive to Murshidabad (July 2, 1757). The tragedy of Siraj’s life reached its climax here and Ghulam Hussain writes: “Every one of them he entreated to obtain a pension for him and a corner of ground where he might live a forgotten life, but no one heard him.” Ingratitude boundless showed itself when Muhammadi Beg on whom Siraj’s parents and grandfather had bestowed many favours brutally killed Siraj at the instigation of Miran, son of Mir Jafar, without the knowledge of the English (2nd or 3rd July, 1757).
The mangled body was put on an elephant and paraded through the streets of Murshidabad with greatest ignominy and the only person who had tears to shed for the unfortunate Nawab was his mother Amina Begam, youngest daughter of Alivardi, who “rushed out with bare feet and bare head and flung herself at the feet of the beast” but was forced back by Khadim Hussain, a General, cherished in his youth by Alivardi but turned a traitor now.
Reflections on the Battle of Plassey:
As the ruddy Sun’s rim dipped into the Ganges behind the blood-red field of Plassey on the fateful 23rd June, 1757, the curtain dropped on the last scene of the tragic drama enacted on the soil of Bengal. It was the successful culmination of the conspiracy, the main architects of which were the court officials, Hindu bankers and merchants, and the English.
“To counter the danger within by seeking the help from without, was an age-old Indian technique”, and the English help sought by the court nobility was of one piece with the invitation of Babur by Daulat Khan Lodi and Alam Khan to oust Ibrahim Lodi. The disaffected officers of Siraj-ud-daulah sought the English help without realising that they were inviting a master in the garb of a friend.
The Battle of Plassey was decisive for the English in India. But it was not a battle in the truest sense of the term. “The fighting was marginal and result fortuitous”. The victory of Plassey was a fluke —the result of forgery, treachery, and betrayal. All the same it was a decisive battle, for it decided the fate of India ushering in a new epoch in the history of Bengal by making the English the virtual masters of Bengal which eventually helped them to establish their supremacy over whole of India. The battle itself did not make the English de jure masters of, Bengal but sowed the seeds in the fertile soil of Bengal where it found proper nourishment to produce a splendid harvest for the British, namely, the vast Indian empire.
The battle was in the nature of a revolution (after all, eighteenth century was an age of revolutions in India) which while establishing the military supremacy of the English in Bengal gave effect to the common desire to end the tyrannical rule of Siraj-ud-daulah, and ousted the French, the greatest rivals of the English from Bengal.
The common people of Bengal, however, did not, care to go into the question of the back-stage play that led to the victory of the English at Plassey. Legally speaking, there was hardly any difference in the status of the Nawab immediately after the Plassey. Sovereignty, theoretically remained with the Nawab but its exercise was conditioned by the obligations into which the new Nawab Mir Jafar placed himself in his anxiety to get the masnad with the English help. The English became the power behind the throne and they had the de-facto control of the government of the Nawab. The position was certainly anomalous, for, without any formal rights or prerogatives, dive exercised an effective control over the actions of the new Nawab Mir Jafar whom he had placed on the masnad.
There is a school of opinion which considers the victory of the English at Plassey tantamount to establishment of supremacy over Bengal. A different school of opinion regards it only as an instance of occupation of the throne by use of force so common in the Muslim political history. The English rendered assistance to Mir Jafar, one of the most eligible aspirants to the masnad of Bengal for which the English were rewarded more than adequately and had in him a sympathetic Nawab. There was nothing in the treaty between Mir Jafar and the English that in the least militated against the sovereignty of the Nawab.
A dispassionate consideration will, however, show that neither of the above views is wholly correct.
First, the Battle of Plassey did not give the English any sovereign status in Bengal, nor did it mean any conquest of Bengal by the English. Stepping of the English into the shoes of the sovereign in Bengal was the result of a gradual process of transformation.
Secondly, Mir Jafar on his accession granted the English the zamindari of the 24 Parganas, but here also the English were in no way superior in status to that of other zamindars and had to pay rent as other zamindars did.
Thirdly, the Court of Directors was definitely against imperial expansion and repeatedly sent instructions to the Company not to get involved in the wars between the local princes. Even after the Plassey instructions not to build any fort were sent by the Court of Directors. In fact, the proposal for the construction of a fort at Berhampore after the Battle of Plassey was turned down by the Court of Directors.
Fourthly, the fact that Mir Qasim could change his capital from Murshidabad to Monghyr at his own choice and train up his troops- in European drill and warfare under European and Armenian officers is another evidence of his sovereign authority.
Fifthly, in 1759 Clive’s request to William Pitt, Earl of Chatham for military reinforcement to conquer Bengal was summarily rejected.
Sixthly, even when in 1765, the English obtained the grant of Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, they did not venture to openly stand forth as Diwan, although they received a legal status almost equivalent to that of the Nawab.
It must, however, be conceded that the Plassey enhanced the power and influence of the English considerably:
(i) Even though the Battle of Plassey was not worthy of mention as a military exploit, yet the victory which led to the substitution of Siraj by Mir Jafar generated both awe and respect for the English among the native princes and people. English prestige was enhanced in the estimation of the other European traders,
(ii) Soon after the accession of Mir Jafar to the masnad there were revolts both in Dacca and Purnea. Mir Jafar had, of necessity, to seek military help from the English for suppression of these revolts. Thus willy nilly Mir Jafar became dependent on the English military help,
(iii) Substitution of Mir Jafar by Mir Qasim, defeating the latter in the battle of Buxar, bringing the Nawab of Oudh and Emperor Shah Alam II under English influence, were all results of the enhancement of the prestige and power traceable from the victory at Plassey. There is no denying the fact that Plassey gave the English, if not directly, at least indirectly, power and influence over the administration of Bengal.
We may, therefore, conclude the although legally and ostensibly the Plassey did not confer sovereign rights on the English, it did certainly signified the transformation of the English Commercial Company into a political force and power behind the masnad.
Estimate of Siraj-Ud-Daulah:
Opinions are at wide variance about Siraj-ud-daulah. Some have regarded him as a martyr while others as a cruel monster of iniquity. But on a dispassionate consideration it will be found that there is no justification for one or the other view.
We cannot certainly judge him by the standard of our own times, nor can we overlook the circumstances of the time in which he lived. Eighteenth century in the Indian history was an age of horrors and violence, of foreign invasions and broken treaties, of jealousies and selfish struggles. Public ill-faith was endemic at the time in India. “Class and clan structure of Indian society precluded the natural formation of patriotic feeling.” Greed, ambition and struggle for power characterised the nobility. Wealth and leisure led to riotous and immoral living. It was a period of general decadence in the history of India.
When we consider Siraj-ud-daulah against this background his youthful intemperance does not seem to be unpardonable. “He was not much worse than most rulers of his age, and certainly better than Mir Jafar, Nawazish Muhammad and Shaukat Jang.” He had indeed vices and weaknesses of the time that characterised the Muslim nobility in particular and fell a victim to sensual pleasures in those days of utter demoralisation. True, that his youthful excesses connived at by his doting grandfather produced some undesirable and adverse effects on his character and behaviour, and he betrayed violent and uneven temper. But to call him “a cruel tyrant, a monster of iniquity and a coward” will be doing him a grave injustice.
Siraj-ud-daulah’s prompt seizure of the person of Ghasiti Begam and keeping her under surveillance was a stroke of statesmanship which is usually unrecognised. His fighting with the Marathas in Midnapore, his seizure of Calcutta and fighting with the English were not certainly instances of cowardice. His assertion of his authority over the treacherous officers and the foreign merchants during the first three months of his rule are definitely commendable.
His very young age and inexperience led to his mistakes at crucial moments. His attempt to conciliate Mir Jafar and to reinstate him to his former position as the Commander-in-Chief of the army, his rejection of the sane advice of Mir Madan to strike down the traitors like Mir Jafar and others, and his listening to the advice of treacherous Mir Jafar to stop fighting for the day at the most crucial moment of action and finally leaving the battlefield at the suggestion of the traitor Rai Durlabh were the conduct of a perplexed and bewildered person and the results of immaturity.
Yet to keep one’s poise and judgment unperturbed even when surrounded on all sides by traitors and enemies would have been beyond a seasoned statesman ruler. And when we consider the very young age of Siraj who had just passed his adolescence our sympathies are definitely with him. The cruel behaviour of those who were revengeful even in his last day and the public degradation of his dead body deserve severe condemnation. After all, Siraj-ud-daulah, the unfortunate Nawab, was a man more sinned against than sinning.
On the morrow of Plassey (24th June, 1757) Mir Jafar appeared in Clive’s quarters, hesitant and nervous, not being sure of what course of action Clive would follow. It was not until Clive embraced him that Mir Jafar was reassured. Clive sent him to Murshidabad immediately to occupy the palace and the treasury of the Nawab and await his arrival. Mir Jafar entered Murshidabad on 28th June and Clive reached there on the 29th, with 200 Europeans and 300 sepoys and met Mir Jafar in the palace Hirajhil. Clive led still nervous Mir Jafar by hand and placed him on the masnad and “saluted him as Nawab of the three subahs (Bengal, Bihar and Orissa), upon which his courtiers congratulated him and paid him usual homage”.
Mir Jafar in his anxiety to occupy the throne of Bengal made lavish promises of compensation and reward to the English for their help. The rumour that the treasury of Siraj contained money worth 40 million pounds besides jewelleries must have induced Mir Jafar to make such tall promises. But on his accession he found to his utter surprise that the treasury contained money worth only one and half million pounds. The amount was not sufficient to meet a part of his commitments to the English. But the demands of the English were insistent and could not be put off.
If Mir Jafar could satisfy all the demands of the English—the promised compensation for the loss sustained by the Company and the inhabitants of Calcutta and the prize money and all that—he would have been free to administer the province without any embarrassment. But the situation was not so easy.
The Company was given the zamindari of the 24 parganas against the opposition of the ryots and landlords who were averse to the introduction of new masters—the English merchants, because they were afraid that these merchants would appropriate to themselves the salt trade of the area. They also established a Mint at Calcutta and struck coins there first on 19th August, 1757.
As for the compensation money arrangements were made for payment by instalments. Of the compensation money of 2 crores 20 lakhs sicca rupees half was to be paid within 30th October, 1757 and the remaining half in three equal annual instalments. But Orme notes that the English actually received from Mir Jafar 72 lakhs, 71 thousand and 666 sicca rupees on 6th July, 16 lakhs 55 thousand and 358 sicca rupees on the 9th August, and cash, gold, jewels worth 1 crore 59 lakhs 99 thousand and 737 sicca rupees on the 30th August. Rupees 5 lakhs 84 thousand 905 remained to be paid.
Thus from the very start of his Nawabship Mir Jafar emptied his treasury, sold out his furniture, melted his utensils of gold and silver and made over his jewels to meet the English demands for compensation and rewards. Clive besides a money reward of huge amount also obtained a jagir yielding an annual income of 30 thousand pounds annually, dive was not unaware of the financial strait of Mir Jafar but he did not hesitate to pressurise him for payment.
This had resulted in administrative inefficiency from the very start of Mir Jafar rule. There cannot be any doubt that failure of Mir Jafar as a ruler was largely the contribution of Clive. In fact, the financial handicap of Mir Jafar from the very beginning of his rule determined the subsequent character of his government.
Driven to desperation for want of money to run his government Mir Jafar tried to despoil some of the notable Hindu officials who were known to possess enough wealth. He wanted to seize the wealth of Ram Ram Singh, officer-in-charge of Midnapore, Ram-narayan, Governor of Bihar and Rai Durlabh, diwan of Dacca on one or the other pretext. But his hands were stayed by Clive.
It was about this time that rebellions broke out in Dacca and Purnea. Mir Jafar had to fall on the support of Give in suppressing the rebellion in Dacca which only increased his financial debt to the English. Again, when Mir Jafar was about to march for Purnea his army refused to move unless payment of their salaries which had fallen into arrears was made. Only course open to him was to requisition English military help for the suppression of the rebellion in Purnea. Mir Jafar had agreed to pay rupees one lakh per month to the English when the English army would be in action for the Nawab.
The English military assistance for the suppression of the rebellion in Dacca and Purnea naturally increased the indebtedness of the Nawab to the English. Mir Jafar assigned the revenue of the parts of the districts of Nadia and Burdwan to the English for a period of two years but this source was also not adequate to meet the dues to the English.
In 1759 when Ali Gauhar (later emperor Shah Alam II) planned to invade Bengal and had actually invaded Patna Mir Jafar succeeded to avert the danger with English help. All this, and the stipulated payments to the English Company which had fallen into arrears led to a total indebtedness of the Nawab to the English which stood at 25 lakhs by 1760.
Mir Jafar was chafing under the galling influence and interference of the English, and however unwelcome the English might have been to him, he had of necessity to depend on them to keep him on the masnad.
Even for a craven-hearted Mir Jafar who was called ‘Colone Clive’s Jackal’ it became too much to tolerate the English whom he thought of using as friends but actually found them to be his virtual masters. Mir Jafar realised that although he was the Nawab he could hardly function as such due to the English interference and influence. He, therefore, secretly planned for the desperate expedient of changing one master for another and entered into a conspiracy with the Dutch at Chinsurah. The Dutch who were also eager to supplant the English influence and substitute the same by their own, requisitioned military help from their settlement at Bata-via. Seven ships were sent from Batavia which arrived at the mouth of Hughli towards the end of 1759. Clive’s vigilance did not escape notice of the arrival of the ships and the batde of Bedara in November, 1759 he defeated the Dutch who were compelled to sue for peace.
The treachery, incompetence and his failure to make payments of the Company’s dues made Mir Jafar a thoroughly detested and discredited person to the English. In 1760 February, Clive having left for England Holwell became the acting Governor. He thought of taking over the government of Bengal directly into the hands of the English Company, but the other members of the Council did not approve of his idea. But all were agreed that Mir Jafar should be removed from the masnad as no confidence could be placed on him.
Vansittart replaced Holwell as permanent Governor. He and other members of the Council supported Holwell’s suggestion to substitute Mir Jafar by his son-in-law Mir Qasim. A secret treaty was accordingly concluded between the English and Mir Qasim. It was agreed that the latter would liquidate all outstanding due to the Company and cede the districts of Midnapore, Burdwan and Chitta-gong to the English. It was also planned that the English would get Mir Qasim appointed Deputy subahdar to begin with, and later placed on the throne as the Nawab.
Governor Vansittart and the commander of the English troops Caillaud went to Murshidabad but after negotiations with Mir Jafar failed to get Mir Qasim appointed deputy subahdar as Mir Jafar firmly refused to do so. Vansittart ordered Caillaud to occupy the Nawab’s palace by force whereupon Mir Jafar decided to abdicate rather than yield to the English pressure. Mir Qasim was declared Nawab (1760). Thus a second revolution was effected in Bengal silently without shedding a drop of blood.
The game of king-making, besides increasing the power, wealth and influence of the English, became a lucrative trade with them. This selfishness without any regard for country and people of Bengal where they carried on an extremely profitable trade, brought the name of the English into mire.
The English had placed Mir Jafar on the masnad by an oath in the name of humanity and God and pledged them to support him in that position, but in utter selfishness and greed for money they forgot their solemn oath and dethroned Mir Jafar. They cannot divest themselves of their responsibility for failure of Mir Jafar as a ruler and pushing him to the desperate expedient of seeking a change of master. Sir Alfred Lyall rightly remarks: “The only period of Anglo-Indian history which throws grave and unpardonable discredit on the English name” while referring to the English transactions in changing Nawabs for selfish gains.
Character of Mir Jafar:
Mir Jafar belonged to noble blood but his character was ignoble. He was the brother-in-law of late Nawab Alivardi. He was ambitious without ability. He was essentially a coward and once fled from Midnapore in the face of Maratha raid and took shelter at Burdwan.
Mir Jafar was a born traitor and although related to Alivardi to whom he owed his high station of life as the commander-in-chief of the Nawab’s army he did not have any qualms of conscience to plot the murder of Alivardi in order to occupy the masnad of Bengal.
The plot, however, was detected in time and Mir Jafar dismissed from his post. He was later pardoned by Alivardi and reinstated to his position. He knew the strength of Alivardi and bided his time in the hope of occupying the masnad by any means whatsoever when opportunity would come.
Succession of Siraj-ud-daulah to the masnad was not taken by Mir Jafar in good grace since he was himself and aspirant for it. He became naturally inimical towards Siraj from the start of the latter’s rule. His enmity towards Siraj was all the more increased as he was removed from the position of the commander-in-chief by Siraj soon after his accession.
This was done by Siraj-ud-daulah for, a person of Mir Jafar’s character could not be safely relied on. All this made Mir Jafar desperate and he became the central figure in the Nawab’s court who started grumbling against Siraj-ud-daulah. The grumblings took the shape of a well-laid conspiracy in which he drew the foreigner—the English—without counting the cost. One thing that he was aiming at was the masnad.
It was his role in the Battle of Plassey that led to the victory of the English—victory not won but thurst upon Clive by the traitors the chief of whom was Mir Jafar himself. But Nemesis pursued him and he could not enjoy his ill-gotten gains. He soon found the English whom he invited as friends had for all practical purposes had become his masters whose galling tutelage was intolerable even to base person like himself.
Mir Jafar with his natural propensity for treachery and conspiracy for a moment thought of calling the Marathas to his assistance in order to avoid depending on Clive for military help to ward off the seige of Patna by Shah Alam. But it dawned on him that the remedy would be worse than the disease.
But his increasing dependence on the English and the greater influence and mastery exercised by the English on him, he thought of shaking off by a conspiracy with the Dutch. But his plans were thwarted by Clive by defeating the Dutch fleet that came to assist Mir Jafar. The English who had seen his inefficiency as a ruler now found that the same weapon by which he along with the English had dethroned Siraj-ud-daulah was being used against the English with the help of the Dutch, The result was his deposition.
Mir Jafar by his treachery and selfishness paved the way for the English to rivet the yoke of servitude round the neck of the Indians and his name goes down in history as a traitor who betrayed his master, betrayed his country, and sold the nawabship to the English.
Mir Qasim was declared Nawab on October 21, 1760. It appears unintelligible why neither the Nawab nor the English took advantage of the new arrangements to clarify their mutual relations after all the experiences of the time of Mir Jafar. It is doubtful if both the English and the Nawab left their mutual relationship undefined for the advantage of making claims and counter-claims as would suit their respective purpose in the future. It was gradually becoming clear that, while the Nawab claimed to be an independent ruler, the English authorities in Bengal had been acting in a manner which was incompatible with that position. It became evident that an open rupture between the Nawab and the English was inevitable and was only a question of time.
Mir Qasim clearly saw that the main reason for the undoing of Mir Jafar was his financial bankruptcy which, while made him more and more dependent on the English, in its turn made him more indebted to them. One of Mir Qasim’s first tasks, therefore, was to clear all his dues to the English. He also handed over the districts of Burdwan, Midnapore and Chittagong to the Company as stipulated in his agreement with them.
Thus making him free from the nagging demands of the English for their dues which had made the life of Mir Jafar miserable, Mir Qasim turned to setting his administration in order and putting the finances of the impoverished state on a sound basis. By utmost economy in administration and levy of a few abwabs, i.e. extra impositions, he succeeded in largely removing the bankruptcy of the government. He also forced the disloyal and recalcitrant nobles and zamindars to owe allegiance to him and within the course of two years (1760-62) he brought order out of confusion.
Mir Qasim was not of the stuff Mir Jafar was made of. He was an efficient ruler, a genuine patriot and a statesman of great courage and spirit of independence. He had no intention of getting unnecessarily involved in any conflict with the English but he foresaw that a conflict with the English lay in the logic of history.
Mir Qasim firmly took up the case of Ramnarayan, Deputy Governor of Bihar, who was not only dishonest but very much friendly with the English. Mir Jafar wanted to punish Ramnarayan but his hands were stayed by Clive. But Mir Qasim got Ramnarayan into his hands with the help of Governor Vansittart despite the support Ramnarayan received from some English officials. Ramnarayan was first robbed of his wealth and then put to death.
Mir Qasim realised the need of keeping himself out of the range of the influence of the English and to that end he transferred his capital from Murshidabad to Monghyr. Believing in the inevitability of war with the English, however, much he might try to avoid it, Mir Qasim engaged an Armenian Gurgin Khan as the commander-in-chief of his army and made arrangements for training up his troops in the European methods of drill and discipline by appointing a European Walter Reinhard, nick-named Sumroo and another Armenian for the training of his artillery. Dismissed and disbanded European soldiers were recruited and distributed among his troops for training them up in the European method of warfare. He also made arrangements for the manufacture of guns and other fire arms.
From all this, it is clear that Mir Qasim was determined to play the real Nawab, sovereign and powerful. From the very start Mir Qasim behaved with the dignity of an independent ruler and his fame spread beyond the limits of his dominion. In 1763, Muckwanpur, one of the gateways to Nepal from India, was conquered by the Gurkha king Prithvinarayan who took the king of Muckwanpur Bikram Sein prisoner. Kanak Singh, a local chief complained to Mir Qasim and requested his intervention. This gave a chance to Gurgin Khan to test the strength and skill of the troops he had trained and disciplined as well as to rescue Bikram Sein. Mir Qasim agreed to the plan. But the expedition did not succeed as the improvised bridge to cross a hilly river was washed away by torrential rain causing much loss to Mir Qasim’s troops and military stores. The expedition was abandoned.
By Farrukhsiyar’s farman of 1717, the English were permitted to carry on their export and import trade duty-free in Bengal. Some of the earlier Nawabs did not honour this imperial farnutn. Later the English were permitted to enjoy a monopoly of duty-free import and export trade in Bengal and higher officers were to issue dastacks, that is a sort of pass certifying that the goods in transit were for the purpose of export or had been imported. The English began to misuse the destocks and use them for inland trade. This was one of the complaints of Siraj-ud-daulah against the English. During the weak rule of Mir Jafar the misuse of dastacks assumed serious proportions.
Mir Qasim’s conflict with the English began on the question of the English claim of a monopoly duty-free trade along every road and river within the dominion of the Nawab. “Every Company employee continued to assert a right of inland trading free of customs to which the country’s natives were liable, and specially in such necessities and common commodities as salt, betel and tobacco.” Even the youngest assistant of the Company lived like a king by selling the dastacks to the Indians. Many carried on inland trade without caring to even taking out a dastack; they only put up an English flag.
The result of this evil was that while the honest native traders had to pay customs at different posts on roads and rivers, the employees of the Company carried on inland trade misusing the dastacks thereby avoiding payment of customs. This enabled them to sell goods at a cheaper rate than the native traders who sustained loss. Only those dishonest native traders who bought dastacks from the English or put up the English flag some how carried on.
“No Indian ruler would or could have granted foreigners leave to wreck his whole system by a monopoly of duty-free trade.” According to Governor Verelst the conflict between Mir Qasim and the English had a real cause as also an immediate cause. The real cause according to him was Mir Qasim’s political ambition while the immediate cause was the inland trade. Verelst remarks, “It was impossible that Mir Qasim should rest the foundation of his government on our support. Self-defence taught him to look for independence.” This view was also upheld by Dr. N. L. Chatterjee and Dodwell. While Dr. Chatterjee thought that inland trade was neither the sole nor the principal cause Mir Qasim’s war with the English, his object being the establishment of ‘an independent and unfettered subahdari in Bengal reducing the extraordinary power and influence of the European traders’, Dodwell thinks that the interests of the Nawab and of the English were irreconcilable and that ‘there would be no stability in affairs so long as the Nawab fancied himself an independent governor and the English claimed privileges wholly inconsistent with that independence’.
These arguments are based on the assumption that the Nawab of Bengal had lost his political independence and Mir Qasim’s attempt to regain it brought him in collision with the English. But there is nothing to show that there was legally or morally any loss of political independence of the Nawab even after all that had happened in the period subsequent to the Battle of Plassey.
What Mir Qasim wanted, was to exercise the legal right that his position as the Nawab had entitled him and to free himself from the English influence and interference, there is also nothing to show that Mir Qasim tried to interefere with the rights of the English conferred by legally valid agreement or treaty.
The misuse of the dastacks by the English servants of the Company, the high-handed behaviour of the Company’s agents and their gomasthas, and occasional beating up of the Nawab’s officers then were matters which Nawab having the least care for his subjects or his own status could overlook.
What Mir Qasim wanted, was to stop the high-handedness of the gomasthas and the agents of the Company and to bring the former under the jurisdiction of the Nawab’s court and above all to stop the practice of the servants of the Company to “under-sell the native in his own market”. It was, therefore, not the ambition of the Nawab to become independent which he was, but assertion of his legal rights which the English were infringing. The arrogance of the Company’s servants exceeded all tolerable limits and thus disgraced the Nawab’s officials, flouted the Nawab’s authority and plundered and even punished the Nawab’s subjects. Ellis, the chief of the English factory at Patna got an Armenian arrested because he purchased a little quantity of saltpetre for the personal use of the Nawab, because the English held monopoly of trading in saltpetre. Ellis even had sent two of his men to search the Nawab’s fort at Monghyr for two deserters from the Company’s army.
In 1762 Mir Qasim wrote to Governor Vansittart complaining against behaviour of the employees of the Company. He sought a settlement of the issue of inland trade. But the members of the Governor’s Council with the exception of Vansittart and Warren Hastings, one of the members of the Council, took a very unreasonable attitude.
Vansittart and Hastings, however, went to Monghyr, met the Nawab and concluded an agreement with him the terms of which were:
(i) Nawab admitted the English to the inland trade on condition of their paying a duty of 9% on the prime cost of the commodities,
(ii) The Nawab would issue dastacks which would be regarded as valid,
(iii) All trade disputes would be settled by the Nawab.
But the agreement was not ratified by the members of the Council for obvious reasons. They were themselves involved in the inland trade and derived huge profits from this clandestine business. A conflict with the Nawab was also not unwelcome to them since change on Nawab by itself was a lucrative business that brought handsome dividends to them. The members of the Council except Vansittart and Hastings were not amenable to reason for they were “obstinately inaccessible to the plainest dictates of reason, justice and policy”.
Protests and requests having been unavailing, Mir Qasim took the drastic step of declaring inland trade duty-free for every one in order to save his subjects from ruin. Thus there was no more scope for under-selling of goods by the Company’s servants thereby injuring the interests of the natives. The Council wanted to demand withdrawal of the order by the Nawab and in case of his refusal to do so to declare war against him. Vansittart and Hastings argued that there could not be any ground for demanding the withdrawal of the boon (order of abolition of inland duties) granted by a “sovereign prince to his subjects” or “for threatening him with war in the event of his refusal”. But the majority members of the Council demanded that the Nawab should withdraw his order of abolition of the inland duties. This was the other way of saying that the Nawab should tax his own people and allow the English servants to carry on duty-free inland trade to the total ruin of the Nawab’s subjects.
Mr. Ellis, chief of the English factory at Patna, was so incensed that he raided the city of Patna. Ramsay Muir rightly observes that Ellis in order to remove the impediment in the way of his own and his friends making illegitimate gains by inland trade, thought war with the Nawab was the only course open. Amyat, Hay, Smith and Verelst agreed with Ellis and war with the Nawab became only a question of days.
Attack of the city of Patna by Ellis was beaten off by Mir Qasim, and now he had no other alternative but to take up arms against the English. This led to the outbreak of war between Mir Qasim and the Company. Major Adams took field against Mir Qasim with 1,100 Europeans and 400 sepoys. Mir Qasim had with him an army 15,000 strong composed of soldiers trained and disciplined on European model. But despite this disparity in numbers the English were victorious in successive batdes of Katwa, Murshidabad, Giria, Sooty, Udaynala and Monghyr. Mir Qasim then fled to Patna where he killed the English prisoners and some of his own officers who were suspected of betrayal, and then went to Oudh.
Mir Qasim formed a confederacy with the Nawab Suja-ud-daulah of Oudh and Emperor Shah Alam II with a view to recovering Bengal. The confederates mustered a large army variously estimated at 40 to 60 thousand men including 5,000 Afghans. The English had 7,000 men including 857 Europeans under the command of Major Munro. The final battle in the bid to oust the English from Bengal was fought at Buxar on October 22, 1764. But the confederate army was defeated with 2,000 killed and thousands drowned in flight. The English lost 847 men.
Buxar was the biggest batde the English had yet fought and if Plassey was the victory of treachery Buxar was the victory of the superior military power of the English.
By the victory of Buxar the Company finally ceased to be a mere trading organisation and had become in fact ‘the most formidable commercial republic known in the world since the demolition of Carthage’. After Buxar the Company had no more to fight for its sheer existence; subsequent wars were all wars of imperial expansion.
Mir Qasim fled and wandered from place to place till he died in obscurity near Delhi in 1777. The entire territory from Bengal to Allahabad lay at the feet of the English and they now stood on the way to Delhi. The Nawab of Oudh became dependent on the English and Shah Alam joined the English camp.
Malleson observes that Buxar was one of the most decisive battles ever fought. It saved Bengal for the English, extended the English frontiers upto Allahabad, bound the Nawab of Oudh by ties of gratitude and dependence. ‘The emperor was brought to the English camp, treated him in a way which made him grateful to the English which he recompensed by granting Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the English Company in 1765.
The ignominous failure of the Nawab in the battle of Buxar betrays the “inherent and vital defects in the political fabric of Bengal” and also its military system.
Estimate of Mir Qasim:
Sir George Forrest calls Mir Qasim ‘one of the ablest and bravest men about the Court’. It was he who had saved the life of Mir Jafar, his father-in-law when on the death of Miran, the Crown Prince, the troops whose salaries were in arrear surrounded the Nawab and were about to kill him. Mir Qasim brick and bravery saved the situation. He pacified the troops, paid rupees three lakhs from his own fund to meet a part of the arrear salaries of the troops and stood guarantee for the payment of the remainder.
Mir Jafar’s other sons being very young Mir Qasim was universally regarded as the unquestioned heir and “the only person capable of retrieving the desperate affairs of the government”. The universal confidence in his ability and the failure of Mir Jafar as a ruler must have whetted his ambition to get the masnad without any further delay, now that the heir apparent was dead. He must have also noticed the lack of trust of the English in Mir Jafar, particularly after the exposure of his conspiracy with the Dutch to supplant the English.
The result was a secret agreement between the English and Mir Qasim for replacing Mir Jafar by Mir Qasim with the English help. There was nothing unusual in this sort of secret arrangement to get the masnad, remember as we do the history of betrayal that began with Alivardi’s seizure of the masnad from Sarfaraz, the son of his benefactor Shuja-ud-din. There was a chain reaction and Mir Qasim’s accession to the masnad of Bengal with the English help removing his father-in-law did not give rise to any moral compunction in Mir Qasim.
Mir Qasim, as Hastings remarks, “was a man of understanding, of an uncommon talent for business, and great application and perseverance joined to a thriftiness.” He was, as Thompson and Gar-rat remark ‘a genuine patriot, an able ruler, who quickly retrenched expenditure and suppressed disorders’.
Such eulogies from English writers who had no reason to be partial to Mir Qasim are unquestioned evidences of the merits of Mir Qasim as a ruler. He was a statesman for, he foresaw that a war with the English was inevitable ; it was only a question of time.
He, therefore, tried to modernise his army. His practical sense urged him to keep himself out of the range of the English influence and interference to which end he shifted his capital from Murshidabad to Monghyr. His sense of dignity, his solicitousness for the welfare of his subjects could be seen in his firmness in exercise of his sovereignty and the drastic step abolishing customs duties for one and all when he found protests and remonstrance’s with the English were unavailing.
As an administrator he was highly successful, for he brought order out of the prevailing confusion and set his finances on a sound footing. He was a clear-headed politician who saw what had proved undoing of Mir Jafar and his first task was to clear all his dues to the English and to begin with a clean slate.
Mir Qasim fought a series of battles with the English for retaining the sovereignty of the Nawab, and when defeated, he tried to make a final attempt to oust the English from Bengal by organising a combination with the Nawab of Oudh and Emperor Shah Alam. He was, in fact, the last independent Nawab of Bengal and only person fit for the post of the Nawab after Alivardi.
Second Nawabship of Mir Jafar (1765):
After Buxar the English reinstated Mir Jafar, the deposed Nawab to the masnad for they were no longer prepared to commit the mistake of choosing a person as Nawab about whose character and personality they were not absolutely sure. From that consideration there could be no better choice than Mir Jafar the rois faineant per excellence. But Mir Jafar was not destined to enjoy his position long; he died in the same year (1765) giving the English another opportunity to reap another rich harvest of reward by placing Mir Jafar’s son Nazm-ud-daulah on the masnad of Bengal. But it may be said that with Mir Qasim the Nawabship of Bengal had practically ended and what remained was but a phantom of a Nawab. All powers passed into the hands of the English.
Causes of the Downfall of the Nawabs of Bengal:
The fall of the nawabship of Bengal lay both in the circumstances of the time and the personal failings of the Nawab themselves. The Muslim system of government was personal despotism in which the personality and the ability of the ruler both in civil and military affairs determined the success or failure of the rule.
The Court of the Nawab was a miniature of the Mughal court, where the nobility held power and influence diminished or increased directly in proportion to the strength or ability of the Nawab. While under a strong and capable Nawab the nobility and the officials would be well under control, under a weak and incapable Nawab their power and influence would increase in direct proportion to the weakness of the Nawab.
Under the Muslim system succession to the throne was often determined by the sword unless the ruler was particularly strong to ensure a peaceful succession. Further, in fulfilment of personal ambition there was no scope for gratitude. Alivardi did not hesitate to oust Sarfaraz, son of his benefactor Shuja-ud-din, from the masnad of Bengal by his superior military force and supported by the intrigues of his elder brother Haji Muhammad and others.
Intrigues, selfishness and all sorts of unedifying conduct characterised the court nobility and the officialdom, whose illegitimate ambition aimed at the throne.
Alivardi himself was a strong ruler, but he did not ensure that his successor would be capable of keeping the reins of the government firmly in his hands. On the contrary, his dotage on Siraj, the apple of his eye, made him cruel, highhanded and intemperate and made the latter universally hated. Siraj was, however, not without a sense of patriotism, but having been drawn into the whirl pool of rivalry, treachery, intrigue and conspiracy and the greed of the English, and above all the threatened prospect of external invasion, he lost his judgment. Even in the Battle of Plassey he was betrayed by the traitor confederates Mir Jafar, Rai Durlabh and Yar Latif Khan. Plassey had made the English power behind the throne.
The last attempt to retrieve the position of the Nawab from where the incompetence of Mir Jafar had brought down, was made by Mir Qasim, was not crowned with success. The downfall of the Nawabship of Bengal was also largely due to the inherent defect of the political as well as the military system of the Nawabs. Lastly, there was none worth the position of the Nawab after the death of Alivardi Khan.