Factors, Significance and Impact of Battle of Plassey


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Prelims: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains: Modern Indian History from the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.

Battle of Plassey - Factors, Significance and Impact


The Battle of Plassey, fought on June 23, 1757, near the village of Plassey in Bengal, marks a momentous turning point in the history of India. This historical confrontation between the British East India Company and the forces of Siraj-ud-daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, set in motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to British dominance in the Indian subcontinent. 

The battle unfolded against a backdrop of conflicting interests as the British sought to secure their commercial foothold in Bengal. At the same time, the Nawab resisted the privileges enjoyed by the East India Company. Amidst political intrigues, secret alliances, and internal rivalries, the British victory at Plassey opened the doors to their growing control over Bengal, setting the stage for profound changes in the region's political and economic landscape.



Bengal on the Eve of the Battle of Plassey

Between 1757 and 1765, power gradually shifted from the Nawabs of Bengal to the British, as the latter defeated the former. 

  • Conflict of interests: The conflict between English commercial interests and the Bengal government, which resented the privileges of the East India Company, led to tensions between them.
    • Commercial interest: The English East India Company had significant commercial interests in Bengal, as nearly 60% of British imports from Asia comprised goods from Bengal. 
  • Factories: The Company had established factories in Balasore, Hooghly, Kasimbazar, Patna, and Dacca during the 1630s, and the foundation of Calcutta in the 1690s completed the process of English commercial settlement in Bengal.
  • Nawabs of Bengal: Under the rule of Murshid Quli Khan (1700-1727), Shujauddin (1727-1739), and Alivardi Khan (1739-1756), Bengal experienced unprecedented progress. 
  • Undisturbed region: The region remained relatively peaceful compared to the rest of India, which faced inter-border disputes, Maratha invasions, Jat revolts, and external invasions by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali. 
    • Cities like Calcutta, Dacca, and Murshidabad saw significant population growth during this period.
  • The problem of EIC: However, the English East India Company's privileged position and the loss it caused to the provincial exchequer generated resentment among the governors of Bengal. 
    • This friction between the Company's interests and the Bengal government became the leading cause of conflict.


Alivardi Khan and the British

In 1741, Alivardi Khan, the Deputy Governor of Bihar, defeated and killed the Nawab of Bengal, Sarfaraz Khan, in battle. He secured his position as the new Subahdar of Bengal by paying a large sum of money to the Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah. 

  • Rule of Alivardi Khan: He ruled for 15 years and successfully repelled the Marathas.
  • Company fortifying its settlements: Taking advantage of the Maratha incursions in Bengal, the English East India Company obtained permission from the Nawab to dig a ditch and construct an entrenchment around their settlement of Fort William
  • Alivardi Khan’s concern: Later, Alivardi Khan became concerned about the growing power of European companies in the Carnatic region
    • Realising this, he was urged to expel the Europeans from Bengal. 
    • However, Alivardi Khan passed away in 1756 before any action could be taken.
    • He was succeeded by his grandson, Siraj-ud-daula, the son of Alivardi's youngest daughter.


Siraj-ud-daula and the British

Siraj inherited numerous troubles from his grandfather. He had a rival in his cousin, the Nawab of Purnea, Shaukat Jang

  • Challenges: He faced challenges from his hostile aunt, Ghasiti Begum, as well as a rebellious commander of the army, Mir Jafar, who was married to Alivardi Khan's sister. 
    • There was a dominant group in his court comprising Jagat Seth, Omichand, Rai Ballabh, Rai Durlabh and others who were opposed to him.
    • In addition to these internal rivals, Siraj also faced a threat to his position from the growing commercial activities of the English East India Company.
  • Actions in haste: Impulsive by nature and lacking experience, Siraj felt insecure, which led him to make decisions that proved to be counterproductive. 
    • He defeated and killed Shaukat Jang in a battle, seized Ghasiti Begum's treasures, and dismissed Mir Jafar, replacing him with Mir Madan. 
    • A Kashmiri officer named Mohan Lal was appointed to oversee the administration, and he acted as almost a Prime Minister.


The Battle of Plassey

The Battle of Plassey, fought in 1757, was a pivotal engagement during the colonial period in which the British East India Company emerged victorious, solidifying their control over Bengal and marking the beginning of British dominance in the Indian subcontinent.

Background of the Battle

The officials of the British East India Company made rampant misuse of their trade privileges, which adversely affected the finances of the Nawab. Moreover, the English fortified Calcutta without Nawab's permission. 

  • Asylum to fugitives: The Company further attempted to deceive him and exacerbated the situation by granting asylum to a political fugitive, Krishna Das, son of Raj Ballabh, who had fled with immense treasures against Nawab's wishes. 
  • The French factor: The Company, in turn, suspected that Siraj ud-Daulah would collaborate with the French in Bengal to significantly reduce their trade privileges. 
    • This suspicion eventually led to an open display of hostility when Siraj attacked and seized the English fort at Calcutta.
  • Immediate cause-Black Hole Tragedy
    • According to popular belief, Siraj-ud-daulah imprisoned 146 English individuals in a very small room, resulting in the death of 123 of them due to suffocation. 

The Course of the Battle

  • The arrival of Clive: The arrival of a strong force under the command of Robert Clive at Calcutta from Madras significantly strengthened the English position in Bengal. 
  • Secret alliances: Clive entered into a secret alliance with the traitors of the Nawab, including Mir Jafar, Rai Durlabh, Jagat Seth (an influential banker of Bengal), and Omichand. 
    • The deal: According to the deal, Mir Jafar would be made the Nawab, and in return, he would reward the English East India Company for their services.
    • This secret alliance further solidified the English position, and thus, the outcome of the Battle of Plassey (June 23, 1757) was decided before the battle began. 
  • The defeat of Siraj: Due to the conspiracy involving Nawab's officials, the 50,000-strong force of Siraj ud-Daulah was defeated by a small contingent of Clive's forces. Siraj was captured and subsequently murdered under the orders of Mir Jafar's son, Miran. 
  • Result: The Battle of Plassey granted the English access to the vast resources of Bengal
    • Following Plassey, the English virtually monopolised the trade and commerce of Bengal.
    • The battle solidified the British influence in India, establishing their dominance in Bengal and paving the way for further expansion of their colonial rule.
    • The battle caused significant political upheaval in the region, leading to a shift in power dynamics and weakening the indigenous rulers.

Mir Jafar and the Treaty of 1760

Mir Jafar grew increasingly frustrated with the interference of Robert Clive after he was made the Nawab of Bengal. 

  • The defeat of Mir Jafar: He plotted with the Dutch at Chinsura, but they were humiliated when English forces defeated them at Bedara in 1759. The English were enraged by Mir Jafar's betrayal and failure to make the payments due to the English East India Company. 
  • Renewed contest for Nawabship: Meanwhile, Miran, the son of Mir Jafar, passed away, triggering a contest for the nawabship of Bengal between Mir Kasim, the son-in-law of Mir Jafar, and Miran's son.
  • Treaty with Mir Kasim: The new Governor of Calcutta, Vansittart, agreed to support Mir Kasim's claim after a treaty was signed between Mir Kasim and the Company in 1760. 
  • The essential features of the treaty were as follows:
    • Mir Kasim agreed to cede the districts of Burdwan, Midnapur, and Chittagong to the Company.
    • The Company would receive half of the share in the chunam trade of Sylhet.
    • Mir Kasim agreed to pay off the outstanding dues owed to the Company.
    • Mir Kasim promised to contribute a sum of five lakh rupees to finance the Company's war efforts in southern India.
    • It was agreed that Mir Kasim's enemies would be considered the Company's enemies, and his friends would be the Company's friends.
    • The treaty stipulated that tenants of Nawab's territory would not be permitted to settle in the lands of the Company and vice versa.
  • Resignation of Mir Jafar: Under pressure from the Company, Mir Jafar decided to resign in favour of Mir Kasim, and a pension of Rs 1,500 per annum was fixed for Mir Jafar.


Significance of the British Success

The success of the British in the Battle of Plassey had a significant impact on the history of Bengal. 

  • Political Puppetry: The victory of the British, whether by treachery or any means, undermined the position of the Nawab in Bengal. 
    • Although the Nawab remained the supreme authority in appearance, in practice, the Nawab became dependent on the Company's authority, and the Company began to interfere in the appointment of Nawab's officials.
  • Internal rivalries exposed: The battle also exposed internal rivalries within Nawab's administration, and the conspiracy of rivals with the British ultimately weakened the administration's strength. 
  • English monopoly over trade: The English East India Company successfully established their monopoly over Bengal trade, marginalising the French and Dutch companies.
  • Political control: The Battle of Buxar gave the British complete political control over Bengal. The transition process started with the Battle of Plassey and culminated in the Battle of Buxar
    • The Battle of Buxar sealed the fate of the Bengal Nawabs, and the British emerged as the ruling power in Bengal.


Freqently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) Who won the Battle of Plassey?

The British East India Company won the Battle of Plassey.


Q) What led to the Battle of Plassey?

The conflict of interests between the British East India Company and the Nawab of Bengal, along with the Company's support of political rivals and suspicions of collaboration with the French, led to the Battle of Plassey.


Q) What was the result of the Battle of Plassey?

The result of the Battle of Plassey was a decisive victory for the British East India Company, securing their control over Bengal and marking the beginning of British dominance in the Indian subcontinent.


Q) Why did the Battle of Plassey become famous?

The Battle of Plassey became famous because it marked a significant turning point in Indian history, leading to British control over Bengal and laying the foundation for British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent.