Bengal And Indian Independence

Role played by Bengal in the Indian Independence Movement (Part 1) – Rise of British Paramountcy in Bengal

-Annoy Sarkar

During the reign of the later Mughals, when its confederacy started crumbling, Bengal was one of the first provinces under its reign that started moving towards autonomy. Gradually in 1717, when  Murshid Kuli Khan was appointed the Governor of Bengal by Emperor Fahrukhshiyar, he was practically ruling Bengal independently. However, Bengal’s loyalty was undeterred towards the Emperor.

Time passed by and British East India company started groping the motherland more as an administrator than just traders.  Murshid Kuli Khan was against the duty-free trade of the Company and issued an instruction to pay duties at the standard rate. Finally, Emperor Farukhsiyar released a Firman giving the English East India company exclusive free trading rights, the authority to mint coins and issue currencies from the Royal Murshidabad Mint.

Historians have termed Farukhsiyar’s Firmaan as the Magna Carta of the East India Company.

Calcutta to Alinagar

During the year 1756, Siraj – ud – Daula was ruling Bengal when he ordered the French and the English to demolish the fortifications of their respective trading centers in Bengal.  French abided while the English defied. As a retaliation, Siraj attacked Fort William and captured it within hours.  He renamed Calcutta to Alinagar in memory of his grandfather and the erstwhile Nawab of Bengal “Alivardi Khan.”

Fort William
The Fort William as it looked before Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah’s attack

Betrayers within the home

Robert Clive had reached Bengal meanwhile. He was quick to realize that unless they had their own nominee in Bengal, English interests were not in Bengal’s safe hands- their most abundant of all the Presidencies.

The Company had vital commercial interests. Britain’s import from entire Asia consisted of goods from Bengal alone!  He conspired with the nobles rather kingmakers of Bengal that included Jagat Seth (perhaps the wealthiest Banker of India at that time), Rai Durlav and Aminchand against Siraj and place Mir Zafar as a nominee to the throne.

On 23rd June 1757, the Company with 2200 soldiers confronted with The Nawab’s Army that comprised of 18000 cavalry and 50000 Infantry barring aside artillery. Victory would have been a natural progression of this had it not been for the treachery of the Nawab’s own nobles! History knows it today as the battle of Plassey.  The battle of Plassey had far-reaching consequences; it paved the path of British Imperialism all over India. Gradually, the Brits established themselves as the “real power behind the thrones.” 

Drain of wealth – the Plassey Plunder

Battle of Plassey - Wikimedia Commons
P.C: Wikimedia Commons

Mir Zafar, the nominee to the ‘masnad’ of Bengal now had to pay an enormous amount to the English. Clives’ share alone to the booty was a staggering 3,34,000 Pounds. This initiated the “Drain of wealth” also known as the Plassey Plunder. Later Mir Zafar wanted to undo his acts upon realizing that he was converted into a mere puppet in the hands of the Company. Finally, in the Battle of Bedara in 1759, he was defeated.

Dual Government in Bengal

Mir Qasim – the next ruler in Bengal, was diplomatic and played his moves intelligently. He shifted his capital from Murshidabad to Monghyr (present-day Munger). He appointed the Europeans primarily the French in his army to acquaint his army with the European war tactics. Marcus and Sombre (Sumroo) played a pivotal role in this. 

Qasim knew if he objected to the English’s free rights, that would be devastating for his reign, so he abolished trading duties for all. This gave the indigenous traders an equal platform to offer competitive rates. However, this enraged the traders’ community of the English, and the Company decided to overthrow the Nawab.

Eventually, with the defeat of the allied forces of the Mir Qasim, The Nawab of Oudh and the Mughal Emperor of Shah Alam II, Robert Clive established the Dual Government in Bengal in which both “Diwani” – revenue collection and “Nizamat” – Law and order came under the control of the Company.

Zamindari System
Zamindari System . P.C: Economic Advice

The Birth of the Zamindars

Over the years, the British established its supremacy in India with various Regulations and Acts with the sole objective of creating a centralized system of Power. Cornwallis’s permanent settlement in Bengal gave birth to a new class – “The Zamindars”, the revenue collecting agents of the East India company. It was decided that the Zamindars:

  1. They would be the absolute proprietors of the Land assigned.
  2. Revenue payable was to be fixed.
  3. They would be evicted from the estates if they fail to deposit within the specified time

Points 2 and 3 above opened Pandora’s box for all Indians, including the Zamindars. No provisions were made for the peasants during famines or floods. The Zamindars feared eviction and hence perpetrated extortion and exploitation on the peasants.

To Be Continued in Part 2

Let’s Welcome Independence Day With Aruhi Samanta

Source: Compiled from various history books

Feature Image: Souptima Basu

Video Courtsey: Paramita Mukherjee

About Annoy Sarkar

Annoy Sarkar, a pure Bangali from his heart and with a dire fascination for good food is genuinely in love with Bengal and its culture.
He works with CG and is a caring father of an active toddler. During his free time, he enjoys reading, binge-watching, and helping society in his small ways.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Any omissions or errors are the author’s and KolkataFusion does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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