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Modern History / British Conquest of India

British Conquest of Bengal and the Battle of Plassey and Battle of Buxar

The British conquest of Bengal began with the battle of Plassey. With the battle of Buxar, British took the revenue administration from the Nawab of Bengal. By 1772, the British took complete control of Bengal by making the Nawab as pensioner.

Bengal was the first province to declare independence from the Mughal empire. In 1717, a governor named Murshid Quli Khan, a trusted officer of Aurangzeb declared independence during the reign of Farrukhsiyar. The kingdom lasted for next 4 decades. The later Nawabs were Shuja-ud-din, Sarfaraz Khan, Alivardi Khan and Siraj-ud-Daulah. Siraj-ud-Daulah came to power in the year 1756 and he was the Nawab of Bengal during battle of Plassey.

Battle of Plassey

The main causes of battle of Plassey that was fought in 1757 were Nawab's order to demolish the Forts, Misuse of Dastaks by the British and the Black Hole of Calcutta tragedy incidence. The British always interfered in the internal matters of Bengal. Because of this, there always used to be conflicts between the Nawab, Siraj ud Daulah and the British.

  • Fortification Issue - Nawab Siraj ud Daulah gave an order to demolish the Forts of British, Dutch and the French. Dutch and the French obeyed the order but British refused to do so.

  • Misuse of Dastaks - In 1717, Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar issued a Farman granting free trade rights (without any taxes) to the British in three provinces (Bengal, Deccan and Gujarat). In return, they have to pay Rs. 10,000 directly to the Mughal emperor.

    Nawabs of Bengal honoured the Farrukhsiyar Farman even though theirs was an independent kingdom. To identify the British goods, they introduced Dastak, a certificate signed by the governor of Fort William, making the cargo for tax exemption.

    English East India company always misused the Dastaks. It started selling Dastaks to other traders. Siraj-ud-Daulah ordered not to honour the Dastaks and imposed taxes.

  • Raj Ballabh, the Diwan of Dhaka revolted against the Nawab. He was defeated by Siraj-ud-Daulah. He took shelter in Fort William. Governor Drake gave shelter to him by taking money. This made Siraj ud Daulah to attack Fort William in 1756. Fort William was captured by Siraj-ud-Daulah.

  • An event took place in Fort William known as "Black Hole of Calcutta" tragedy, which became the immediate cause for Battle of Plassey. Siraj ud Daulah captured 146 officers and they were kept in a small dark room of 18 x 14 x 10 cubic ft size and having no ventilation. After few hours only 16 got survived.

  • On 23rd June, 1757, the battle of Plassey was fought between Bengal and the British, which was led by Col. Watson and Robert Clive. British had a secret treaty with Mir Jafar, a military commander of Bengal. The battle was fought for the namesake. It was not a kind of war but was a conspiracy. Siraj-ud-Daulah was executed. Robert Clive was made as the Governor of Fort William.

Battle of Buxar Causes

  • After the battle of Plassey was over, Mir Jafar was made as the Nawab (1757-1760). He gave 24 Parganas to East India company and Rs. 1.77 crore was paid to East India company as war indemnity.

    After that, Mir Jafar wanted to be independent. Now, friction started between the British and Mir Jafar. The East India Company dismissed him in 1760 and brought Mir Qasim (son-in-law of Mir Jafar) to power.

  • Mir Qasim ruled from 1760 to 1763. He gave 3 districts to East India Company, namely Chittagong, Midnapore and Burdwan. Mir Qasim refused to be a puppet in the hands of British. He shifted the capital from Murshidabad (Bengal) to Monghyr (Bihar) to liberate himself from clutches of the British.

  • In 1763, Mir Qasim was dismissed and Mir Jafar was brought back to power for the second time. This is the main reason for battle of Buxar. Mir Qasim went to Awadh and concluded a treaty with Awadh Nawab, Shuja-ud-Daulah and Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (who was taking refuge in Awadh) at Faizabad.

    In this treaty, Shuja-ud-Daulah would be given Rs. 3 crore and Bihar would be given to Shah Alam II after defeating the British.

  • In 1764, the Battle of Buxar was fought between the Tripartite alliance and the British, which was being led by Major Hector Munro. Tripartite alliance has been defeated. The Governor of Fort William during Battle of Buxar was Henry Vansittart.

Consequences of Battle of Buxar

  • After the war of Buxar, the British concluded the treaty of Allahabad in 1765. The importance of battle of Buxar is imposition of dual government in Bengal by the British.

    As per the treaty of Allahabad, the administration has been divided into two parts, namely (i) Diwani administration (revenue) and (ii) Nizamat administration (Law and order and Defence).

    East India company would take Diwani administration and Nawab of Bengal would take up Nizamat administration. Robert Clive was appointed as the first governor of Bengal. The result of battle of Buxar led the British to rule the people of Bengal directly.

  • For the lower order employees, duality of command affected a lot. Then happened the great Bengal famine of 1770 and 1/3rd people of Bengal died of starvation and it was because of the irresponsibility of the dual governance.

  • In 1772, Warren Hastings has been appointed as the governor of Bengal and he has done away with the dual government in Bengal. The Nawab was stripped off his powers and Bengal completely came under control of the British. The last Nawab of Bengal Mubarak-ud-Daulah was made as pensioner.

  • In 1773, the governor of Bengal was made as Governor General in India. Other governors were made subordinate to him. During 1757-1772, officials of East India Company were observing people of India and Parliament of England's reaction for their actions.

So, the British conquest of Bengal that began with the battle of Plassey, was the initial step in establishing the British rule in India.