The History of Bengal Episode 1 (Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah’s Coronation)
This is the History of Bengal(Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah’s Coronation) ….. Americas were discovered in 1492.
The European powers created their colonies in Americas. The colonization started a new power game at the international level. There was a race among European powers to find new territories for colonization. They wanted to loot the resources of those colonies to enhance their own power. Two European powers, Britain and France, were leading this power game. These two powers were fighting everywhere in the world. If you look at the world map of 1750s…
you will see the two countries fighting in all the key places around the world. In the snow-capped mountains and plains of the United States and Canada, both were wasting gunpowder to demean each other. They were also fighting in the hot plains of India.Both the European powers also wanted the riches of Bengal.
The spies of the two powers were also active against each other in every area. One of the British spies provided useful information in 1755. This information deprived Bengal of its independence. What was this information?
What was the story of Nawab Siraj al-Daula and his commander General Mir Jafar? How did this story get symbolic value?
I am Ayesha wahab and we are showing you the story of Siraj al-Daula and Mir Jafar. You will know the answers of these questions in this story.
In November 1755, an unknown spy provided useful information to the British East India Company. This man, lost in history, was doing something with a newly invented telescope. As he watched, he turned his telescope towards the Scorff River in France. He saw something unexpected. He saw a French army laden with weapons near the Scorff River.
It seemed that the soldiers were going for a military operation. The anonymous telescope owner also saw a large number of weapons and cannons in the ships. This scene was very interesting for him. So he tried to know the details of this scene. He also got information about the number of troops and the equipment they were taking with them.
Now friends, everything was fine so far. He was satisfying his curious mind. But the tide of history turned when this seemingly simple information fell into the hands of the East India Company. Now the things became more complex. This strategic information was very important the East India Company. How did this information reach the East India Company? We can’t say for sure because this young man with the telescope is unknown in the history. There is no credible source to find out the truth.
on February 13, 1756, the officers of the East India Company in London discussed this information. The directors of the East India Company, sitting in their headquarters on Leiden Hall Street, were worried. They were curious about the report. They thought that the French army was preparing to open a new front against Britain. Because the information that came from the unknown person were not about a normal trip. The directors suspected that the French army was planning a major operation.
This operation was possibly against British interests in India . There were two major strongholds of British in India. The French army might target one of them. These were Madras and Calcutta. Which city was their target. Joseph Duplex was the French governor of Southern India. He wanted to drive the British out of India. East India Company didn’t like this governor. Because the governor had defeated the British army in Madras in 1746. He had almost wiped out the British from Madras. The British only held one fort in Madras. All other forts fell to the French.
The British had to pay a heavy price to get these forts back. The British exchanged Madras for”Louisbourg” in Canada. The directors of the East India Company were well aware of this history. They thought the French army from river Scorff might reinforce the French governor. The British’s second concern was Calcutta.
The British had built “Fort William” in Calcutta. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir had allowed the British to build this fort. But this fort was only a trading post. It could not be used for military purposes. But now, half a century later, this trading post was becoming the center of British power in India. British governor “Roger Drake” supervised the company business in Fort William.
So the British were anxious to save these two cities, Madras and Calcutta. But they didn’t realize which city would be targeted? The British were confused but they were ready to do everything to avoid another defeat at the hands of the French. They would be ready this time. So the company directors sent a report to Fort William to warn their governor Roger Drake. They informed him that they feared a French attack on Calcutta. So he must be ready for the war.
They told him that the French might attack anytime and from anywhere. The British told their governor that 11 French ships were bringing 3,000 troops. It was quite possible that the destination of the fleet was the southeast coast or Bengal. Roger Drake was also instructed to contact the Nawab of Bengal, Alivardi Khan. He should ask Alivardi Khan to intervene to stop the expected war. He also had to ensure the neutrality of Nawab in case of war. When Roger Drake received the report, he started taking defensive measures to protect Calcutta. The British already had armed troops in Calcutta. They brought 49 additional cannons to defend the city.
Governor Roger Drake also ordered the construction of high walls to protect Calcutta. The Nawab was against this fortification of Calcutta. He considered this fortification a violation of the agreement with the East India Company. Therefore, Nawab Alivardi opposed the fortification of Calcutta. He warned the British not to fortify Fort William. Nawab Alivardi’s objection to the fortification caused a dispute between Bengal and the British.
The dispute changed the history of India. At this moment Nawab Alivardi became an important player of this great game of power. Who was Nawab Alivardi Khan? Alivardi’s political career started in 1740s, when the Marathas invaded Delhi. The Maratha invasion weakened the Mughal Empire Empire. Nawab Alivardi took advantage of the situation. He freed Bengal from the Mughal control.
He also stopped sending annual tribute to the Mughal court in Delhi. This tribute was a sign of his loyalty to the Mughals. But now he was not loyal to the Mughals. Nawab Alivardi’s capital city was Murshidabad, 200 km from Calcutta. Murshidabad was the center of the textile industry in Bengal. Murshidabad’s population was larger than London at that time.
So, Nawab Alivardi held his court in Murshidabad. From this city (Murshidabad) he ruled over the richest province of the declining Mughal empire. But he did not inherit this rule. He had snatched the throne of Bengal from the successors of the former ruler Shujauddin Muhammad Khan. It was the same Nawab whom he had served in his life.Bengal’s establishment had also supported Alivardi Khan’s takeover of Bengal.
What was this establishment? This establishment was actually Jagat Seth bankers of Bengal who had provided financial support for Alivardi’s rebellion. Jagat Seth was a Hindu moneylender family. This family had more money and assets than many wealthy bankers in London. Jagat Seths were part of palace conspiracies in Bengal for economic benefits. They used their money to make or break governments according to their desires. It was nearly impossible to rule in Bengal without that family’s support. This family used the puppet rulers to get financial benefits. The family was notorious for conspiracies.
The same family had brought Alivardi to power to get economic benefits. That’s why we may call this family the “establishment” of the 18th century Bengal. But Nawab Alivardi was not just a puppet in the hands of Jagat Seth bankers. He proved himself a capable ruler. He triumphantly overcame the challenges facing Bengal during his tenure. At that time the largest and most powerful empire in India was the kingdom of the Marathas. The powerful Maratha Empire was the neighbor of Bengal. The armies of the Marathas often raided the Bengali territory. Alivardi needed more power to stop Marathas. British and other European nations were also increasing their power by setting up their trading posts in Bengal.
Nawab Alivardi bravely countered all these challenges. He first separated himself from the Mughal court of Delhi and made Bengal an independent state. Then he paid attention to the danger of the Maratha empire. In the beginning, He tried to stop Marathas by force and defeated them in the battlefield. But he soon realized that a decisive victory against the Marathas was not possible. So he made a compromise. He decided to pay the revenue of Orissa province and a tribute to Marathas in return for peace.
In this way, he maintained peace with his troublesome neighbor. He then signed agreements with all the trading nations like the British, French and Portuguese. He allowed them to trade peacefully . Thus he made Bengal a secure state through diplomacy and treaties. Alivardi ruled Bengal for about 16 years from 1740 to 1756. In his time, Bengal had become so prosperous that foreign visitors were impressed. In particular, the last few years of Alivardi’s reign were also called the “Golden Age” of Bengal. Bengal’s progress was so great that its products reached every corner of the world. More than a million workers were employed in the textile industry. Sugarcane and opium were also widely exported from Bengal.
Because opium was not illegal in those days. Bengal was progressing because Alivardi had provided a peaceful environment for investment and business activities. In the days of Alivardi, an Englishman praised the peace in Bengal. He wrote that traders easily moved their gold, silver and jewels without any trouble in the province. Only two or three servants without guards could take precious metals to anywhere in Bengal. But as Bengal was peaceful in 1750s, other areas in India were not so lucky. Indian states were facing war and plunder everywhere.
Just a year before Nawab Alivardi’s takeover of Bengal Nadir Shah, the ruler of Iran, had captured Delhi and destroyed it. Nadir Shah looted Delhi so badly that the splendor of the Mughal court was reduced to dust. Nadir Shah’s army devastated Delhi in such a way that its former glory was never restored. Many military officers and artists from the Mughal court moved to Bengal to secure their future. They did so because Bengal was a peaceful province. These artists and wise people joined Alivardi’s court. The Nawab welcomed them with open arms. He used their abilities to further enhance the glory of Bengal. But when Bengal was progressing under Nawab Alivardi, another development was also taking place.
European companies were rapidly gaining ground in Bengal. We have shown you in the beginning of the video that Fort William was the most important British fort in Calcutta. Apart from this, companies from France and many other European countries had also…… set up their forts and outposts in the coastal areas of Bengal in the name of trade . They also had factories in the Qasim Bazaar area near Murshidabad, the capital of Bengal.
But even these companies were not strong enough to challenge the Nawab of Bengal. Or be able to fight with him. Therefore, these companies paid heavy taxes to Alivardi for their protection. The Nawab used this tax money to increase his military power. But Nawab Alivardi aware that the influence of these companies might harm his rule. He knew that the presence of foreign traders on his soil could threat his power in the future.
Therefore he maintained friendly relations with these companies. He didn’t want to give them any opportunity to conspire against him. He also said this to one of his military commanders. He said that the example of European nations is like that of bees. You can squeeze as much honey from them as you like, but don’t bother them. Because if you bother them, these bees would chase you down to your grave. This General later became Commander-in-Chief of Bengal. The name of this general was Syed Mir Jafar.
General Mir Jafar was not a Bengali. His family had migrated from Arabian lands to Bengal. Nawab Alivardi was 70 years old in 1756. \He was always worried about his death and the stability of his empire after him. He wanted to appoint a powerful successor to rule after Alivardi’s death. This successor was, in his view, his grandson Siraj ud-Daulah. Nawab Alivardi had no son or any other male heir. He had 3 daughters and Siraj ud-Daulah was the eldest young man in the family. Therefore, Nawab Alivardi was compelled to make him his successor.
Siraj-ud-Daulah was the son of Alivardi’s daughter Amina Begum. His grandfather Alivardi loved Siraj ud-Daulah so much. Siraj ud-Daulah’s father Zainuddin Ahmad Khan was the governor of Azimabad which is now called Patna. Siraj-ud-Daulah was born in Murshidabad in 1733. When his grandfather Alivardi saw his grandson for the first time, he was overwhelmed with love. He often kept his little grandson closer to him. When Siraj ud-Daulah grew up he accompanied Alivardi in wars against Marathas. Siraj-ud-Daulah had fought alongside his grandfather in many battles against the Marathas. Once Alivardi even sent Siraj-ud-Daulah as a commander in a military campaign against the Marathas.Siraj ud-Daulah defeated the enemy and forced it to flee.
Once during a battle, Afghan officers of the Bengali army revolted against Alivardi because of the death of one their chiefs. Alivardi then took Siraj ud-Daulah with him and reached the tent of the Afghan commander. He told the commander to kill them both to avenge the death of his chief. But if he was sincerely with Alivardi then he should fight the Marathas. The commander forgave Alivardi and Siraj ud-Daulah and fought hard against the Marathas. Siraj ud-Daulah and Alivardi were surrounded by the enemy. But two elephants of their army were standing near them. They got furious.
These elephants trampled many Maratha soldiers. The remaining soldiers fled from the scene. The enemy was crushed, but Alivardi and Siraj ud-Daulah were safe and sound. The Bengal army once again gained upper hand in the battle. Now you can understand that Nawab Alivardi was himself training Siraj ud-Daulah from the very beginning. He stood by his grandfather in difficult times. That’s why Nawab Alivardi trusted him so much. He appointed Siraj ud-Daulah as his successor without hesitation. Siraj-ud-Daulah’s succession was formally announced in 1752 when he was only 19 or 20 years old.
According to historian Mohammad Omar, Alivardi had given Siraj ud-Daulah all the government powers under his supervision. Then Siraj ud-Daulah ran the government till Alivardi’s death. In other words, the experience he got in government affairs was gained under the patronage of Nawab Alivardi. When Siraj-ud-Daulah became the successor, Nawab Alivardi was near his death.
In his last days, he would spend his whole day doing only two things. He enjoyed cockfights or spent his time teaching Siraj ud-Daulah the tricks of governing. He advised Siraj-ud-Daulah to adopt reconciliation as a policy because it was the best way to govern. He told him that fighting was harmful for any government.While Nawab Alivardi was teaching his grandson the tricks of governing another development took place. The European powers in Bengal started their power games.
The British officers in Bengal were not happy with Siraj-ud-Daulah. Because Siraj-ud-Daulah was also skeptical of the British ambitions in Bengal. Siraj ud-Daulah also thought that the growing power of the British in Bengal could be a threat to his power. That’s why when Alivardi chose him as his successor the British were alarmed. Now it was the first priority of the British to stop Siraj ud-Daulah from becoming the ruler of Bengal. They were looking for another candidate for the throne of Bengal.
There was another candidate but it was not Mir Jafar. This candidate was Nawazish Ali Khan, son-in-law of Nawab Alivardi Khan. The British contacted him and asked him to take over the government after the death of Alivardi. The British officers were convinced that Siraj-ud-Daulah’s bad reputation among the people would prevent him from becoming the Nawab of Bengal. Now they were thinking to exploit the situation.
Now, on the one hand, the British were supporting Nawazish Ali, on the other hand, the French wanted Siraj-ud-Daulah to become the Nawab of Bengal. The French officers did not miss any opportunity to pay their respects to Siraj-ud-Daulah. A senior French official at the time also wrote that Siraj ud-Daulah was favoring the French companies.
The French officer advised his colleagues to keep Siraj ud-Daulah happy. So this was the time of a cold war between the British and French in Bengal. But at the same time the both countries were at war with each other in America and Canada. In these circumstances, Nawab Alivardi died in 1756. But Nawazish Ali Khan who was a potential ally of the British didn’t come to power. Now the 24-years old Siraj ud-Daulah became new Nawab of Bengal.
Now he was the ruler of the richest province in India. Siraj ud-Daulah decided to crush all his opponents quickly. It was an unfortunate tradition. Whenever a new ruler came to power his opponents would rebel and he had to crush them.
He became Nawab in April and the very next month, in May, he set out with thousands of troops and 500 elephants on a military campaign. He was going to fight against his rebel cousin. But he could not reach his destination. Another event took place that made Siraj ud-Daulah a memorable character of the Indian history. One of his grandfathers close aide, Narayan Singh, met him in the way. Narayan Singh was returning from Calcutta.
He informed Siraj ud-Daulah that Governor Drake of Calcutta’s fort William had disgraced him. He said that the British were disrespectful towards his ambassadors. He said it was time to teach the British a real lesson. Siraj ud-Daulah’s young blood boiled over this information. He postponed the military campaign against his cousin for some time. Then he gathered his army and marched towards Qasim Bazar near Murshidabad.
There was a huge British factory in Qasim Bazar. Siraj ud-Daulah besieged the factory and started bombarding it. The British in the factory surrendered after few days. The chief of the factory himself came before Siraj ud-Daulah to surrender. He fell at Siraj ud-Daulah’s feet and said that he was his slave. It is said that Siraj ud-Daulah taunted the factory chief and whipped the British prisoners. He also confiscated the weapons of the British forces. This success against the British boosted his confidence.
Now he sent a message to governor Roger Drake of Fort William. He said that if the British were to stay on his soil they had to demolish their fortifications. He warned that if the British didn’t comply he would drive them out of his territory. Governor Drake received the message but he didn’t bother to answer.
Though he was well aware of the Nawab’s military might. He also knew that the Nawab was angry and he had already occupied the British factor in Qasim Bazar. Despite knowing all this he ignored Nawab’s warning. Siraj ud-Daulah wasn’t expecting such a behavior. He was very angry with Roger DrakeHe gathered 70,000 troops and launched an attack against the British forces in Calcutta.
Roger Drake had only 500 troops in Fort William, he didn’t stand a chance against Nawab’s army. When Siraj’s army bombarded Fort William, Roger Drake fled with his officers and their families. They used Hoogley river for their escape. The British troops in Fort William fought on for few days. But Siraj ud-Daulah’s forces damaged the fort with their intense bombardment. When the British exhausted their gunpowder, their Indian soldiers and servants also left them. The British surrendered.
Now Calcutta was under the control of Nawab’s forces.He also took over all the surrounding villages. That same evening, Siraj ud-Daulah held his court in Fort William. He renamed the city “Ali Nagar”. But the same night a tragedy took place that became a dreadful symbol both in India and the UK. What was this tragedy? What happened when the British returned to retake Fort William. Who was Lord Clive? and how he threatened Siraj ud-Daulah? We will show you all this in the next episode of this series.
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