The Battle of Plassey (actually known as Palashi) was fought on 23rd June 1757 near the village Palashi, on the banks of the river Bhagirathi, about 150 km north of Calcutta. The name Palashi is imitative from the red flower known as Polash in Bengali. However, the name Plassey is the anglicised version and is well known for the historic battle fought there. The battle was fought between the East India Company under command of Colonel Robert Clive and Siraj-ud-Daula, the last independent Nawab of Bengal and his alliances, which also included a small French force.
In 1756, Siraj-ud-Daula succeeded his grandfather Alvardi Khan as the Nawab of Bengal and resolved to force out the East India Company which was spreading its base in Bengal. He accused the East India Company of extending fortifications against him and seized the company’s factory at Kasim Bazar on 4th June 1756.
He captured the city of Calcutta on 19th June 1756 and imprisoned the British garrison. This was followed by a Black Hole incident wherein more than a hundred British prisoners of the captured Garrison, which included their families, were locked up in a cell designed for 2 or 3 prisoners and died during the night because of excessive heat and suffocation. It is alleged that such a detention was not ordered by Siraj-ud-Daula who released the survivors the next morning.
The survivors escaped and awaited the arrival of a reliving force from Madras, which was sent under
Major Kilpatrick. In spite of the conflict with the French in Southern India, troops in large numbers were sent to re-capture Calcutta. Colonel Robert Clive commanded the military and Admiral Charles Watson took the charge of the fleet.
Clive re-captured Calcutta, which the Siraj-ud-Daula resolved to attack again and this paved way for the Battle of Plassey. This battle came up during the outbreak of Seven Years’ War (1756-63) and hence in view of the ongoing rivalry, a small contingent was sent by the French East India Company to fight against the British. The contingent joined Siraj-ud-Daula, who now had a numerically superior army, under command of Mir Jafar Khan, which moved and encamped at Plassey.
Robert Clive took it as a direct threat to Calcutta and tried to bribe Mir Jafar Khan by negotiating a secret treaty wherein the latter was assured of the Nawabi of Bengal in lieu of his betrayal with Siraj-ud-Daula, which Robert Clive was not very sure of. However, Mir Jafar Khan, through a letter to Clive confirmed that in the event of Battle he would join the English against Siraj-ud-Duala.
Sira-ud-Daula’s army marched and took up battle positions around the English army. Mir Jafar, Rai Durlabh and Yar Lutuf assembled their troops near the battlefield without any intention of joining the battle. On the other hand, the English army encamped in the cover of the mango grove, which was 800 yards long and 300 yards wide and comprised of regular rows of mango trees. Clive’s troops used the Mango Grove as cover to fire on Siraj-ud-Daula’s army.
Soon after, the place where the battle of Plassey was being fought was hit by a severe rainstorm, which lasted for about an hour. Clive’s army was used to campaigning in such places that were prone to rainfalls and thus used the rain to their advantage. The rain washed away most of the gun powder and caused severe damage to the artillery of Siraj-ud-Daula’s army.
The trusted commander of Siraj-ud-Daula’s army, Mir Madan Khan, presuming of the same damage on the other side of the army, attacked the British. Mir Madan Khan got severely wounded and was brought to Siraj-ud-Daula, who was forced to request Mir Jafar Khan to protect his army.
On the contrary, analysing the weak situation of Siraj-ud-Daula’s army, Mir Jafar Khan sent a message to Robert Clive to attack without any further delay. The message however did not reach Clive. The rest of the army, including the French commanded, St. Frais, remained loyal to Siraj-ud-Duala.
Thereafter, Major Kilpatrick saw that the troops of Siraj-ud-Duala were slowly withdrawing and the French side too was getting isolated. He immediately took charge and informed Robert Clive of the changing situation. Clive moved his force forward and started heavy bombardment on Siraj-ud-Daula’s camp, which his soldiers took complete possession of later that evening.
Siraj-ud-Daula was defeated by Robert Clive at the Battle of Plassey only because of the inactivity and conspiracy of Mir Jafar Khan, who was later appointed as the Nawab of Bengal. However, the real power vested in the East India Company who influenced the Nawab and compensated all previous losses they suffered in trades and battles. The might of the British also increased which was used to push out other European Colonial Powers (Dutch & French) out of South Asia.
The victory of the British at the Battle of Plassey established the rule of the East India Company over most of India which continued to expand over the next hundred years.