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Siraj ud-Daulah

Mîrzâ Mohammad Sirâjud Dawla, more popularly known as Siraj ud-Daulah (1733 – July 2, 1757), was the last independent Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The end of his reign marks the start of British East India Company rule over Bengal and later almost all of South Asia. He was also called "Sir Roger Dowlett" by many of the British who were unable to pronounce his name correctly in Hindustani.

Early years

Siraj's father Zain Uddin was the ruler of Bihar and his mother Amina Begum was the youngest daughter of Nawab Ali Vardi Khan. Since Ali Vardi had no son, Siraj, as his grandson, became very close to him and since his childhood was seen by many as successor to the throne of Murshidabad. Accordingly, he was raised at the nawab's palace with all necessary education and training suitable for a future nawab. Young Siraj also accompanied Ali Vardi in his military ventures against the Marathas in 1746.

Ali Vardi Khan in 1752 officially declared his grandson Crown Prince and successor to the throne, creating no small amount of division in the family and the royal court.

Reign as Nawab

Mirza Mohammad Siraj succeeded Ali Vardi Khan as the Nawab of Bengal in April 1756 at the age of 23, and took the name Siraj-Ud-Daulah. He, as the direct political disciple of his grandfather, was aware of global British interest of colonization and hence, resented British politico-military presence in Bengal. He was annoyed at the company's alleged involvement with and instigation of some of his own court in a conspiracy to oust him. His charges against the company were mainly threefold. First, that they strengthened the fortification around the Fort William without any intimation and approval; second, that they grossly abused the trade privileges granted to them by the Mughal rulers, which caused heavy loss of customs duties for the government; and third, that they gave shelter to some of his officers, for example Krishnadas, son of Rajballav, who fled Dhaka after misappropriating government funds. Hence, when the East India Company started further enhancement of military preparedness at Fort William in Calcutta, Siraj asked them to stop. The Company did not heed his directives, so Siraj-Ud-Daulah retaliated and captured Kolkata from the British in June 1756. During this time, he is alleged to have put 146 British subjects in a 20 by 20 foot chamber, known as the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta; only 23 were said to have survived the overnight ordeal. The real facts around the incident are disputed by later historians, but at that time the lurid account of this incident by one survivor - Holwell - obtained wide circulation in England and helped gain support for the East India Company's continued conquest of India.

Siraj-Ud-Daulah's nomination to the nawabship aroused the jealousy and enmity of Ghaseti Begum (the eldest sister of Siraj's mother), Raja Rajballabh, Mir Jafar Ali Khan and Shawkat Jang (Siraj's cousin). Ghaseti Begam possessed huge wealth, which was the source of her influence and strength. Apprehending serious opposition from her, Sirajuddaula seized her wealth from Motijheel Palace and placed her in confinement. The Nawab also gave high government positions to his favourites. Mir Mardan was appointed Bakshi (Paymaster of the army) in place of Mir Jafar. Mohanlal was elevated to the post of peshkar of his Dewan Khana and he exercised great influence in the administration. Eventually Siraj suppressed Shaukat Jang, governor of Purnia, who was killed in a clash.

The Battle of Plassey

The Battle of Plassey (or Palashi) is widely considered the turning point in the history of India, and opened the way to eventual British domination. After Siraj-Ud-Daulah's conquest of Calcutta Kolkata, the British responded by sending fresh troops from Madras Chennai to recapture the fort and avenge the attack. A retreating Siraj-Ud-Daulah met the British at Plassey, but betrayed by the machinations of his former army chief Mir Jafar, he lost the battle and had to flee. He escaped to Murshidabad and then to Patna by boat, but was eventually arrested by Mir Jafar's soldiers. Siraj-Ud-Daulah was executed on July 2, 1757 by Mohammad Ali Beg under orders from Mir Jafar.

The character of Siraj-Ud-Daulah

Although proclaimed as a freedom fighter in modern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for his opposition to the British annexation, many historians of the period report that he was cruel and his opposition to the British was not out of any nationalistic fervor, but an expression of his desire to strengthen his own power. As a teenager, he led a reckless life, which came to the notice of his grandfather. But keeping a promise he made to his dear grandfather on his death bed, he gave up gambling and drinking alcohol totally after becoming the nawab. He was a fierce fighter against the Marathas and the pirates of Southern Bengal as a prince during 1740s, but his forces were later totally routed by the greatly outnumbered British.

"Siraj-ud-daula has been pictured", says the biographer of Robert Clive, "as a monster of vice, cruelty and depravity.". In 1778, Robert Orme wrote of the relationship with his maternal grandfather Ali Vardi Khan:

"Mirza Mahmud Siraj, a youth of seventeen years, had discovered the most vicious propensities, at an age when only follies are expected from princes. But the great affection which Allaverdy [Ali Vardi] had borne to the father was transferred to this son, whom he had for some years bred in his own palace; where instead of correcting the evil dispositions of his nature, he suffered them to increase by overweening indulgence: born without compassion, it was one of the amusements of Mirza Mahmud's childhood to torture birds and animals; and, taught by his minions to regard himself as of a superior order of being, his natural cruelty, hardened by habit, rendered him as insensible to the sufferings of his own species as of the brute creation [animals]: in conception he was not slow, but absurd; obstinate, sullen, and impatient of contradiction; but notwithstanding this insolent contempt of mankind, innate cowardice, the confusion of his ideas rendered him suspicious of all those who approached him, excepting his favourites, who were buffoons and profligate men, raised from menial servants to be his companions: with these he lived in every kind of intemperance and debauchery, and more especially in drinking spiritous liquors to an excess, which inflamed his passions and impaired the little understanding with which he was born. He had, however, cunning enough to carry himself with much demureness in the presence of Allaverdy, whom no one ventured to inform of his real character; for in despotic states the sovereign is always the last to hear what it concerns him most to know."

Two Muslim historians of the period wrote of him, and both made specific mention of his exceptional cruelty and arrogance.

Ghulam Husain Salim wrote:

''"Owing to Siraj ud Dowla’s harshness of temper and indulgence, fear and terror had settled on the hearts of everyone to such an extent that no one among his generals of the army or the noblemen of the city was free from anxiety. Amongst his officers, whoever went to wait on Siraj ud Dowla despaired of life and honour, and whoever returned without being disgraced and ill-treated offered thanks to God. Siraj ud Dowla treated all the noblemen and generals of Mahabat Jang [Ali Vardi Khan] with ridicule and drollery, and bestowed on each some contemptuous nickname that ill-suited any of them. And whatever harsh expressions and abusive epithet came to his lips, Siraj ud Dowla uttered them unhesitatingly in the face of everyone, and no one had the boldness to breath freely in his presence."'

Ghulam Husain Tabatabai had this to say about him:

"Making no distinction between vice and virtue, he carried defilement wherever he went, and, like a man alienated in his mind, he made the house of men and women of distinction the scenes of his depravity, without minding either rank or station. In a little time he became detested as Pharaoh, and people on meeting him by chance used to say, ‘God save us from him!'"

References

  • Akhsaykumar Moitrayo, Sirajuddaula, Calcutta 1898
  • BK Gupta, Sirajuddaulah and the East India Company, 1756-57, Leiden, 1962
  • Kalikankar Datta, Sirajuddaulah, Calcutta 1971

External links

Notes

  1. Riyazu-s-salatin, A History of Bengal - a reference to Siraj-Ud-Daul's character may be found
  2. The Seir Mutaqherin, Vol 2 - a discussion of Sirj-Ud-Daulah's character

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