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20. Siraj ud-Daulah



Siraj ud-Daulah


Born: 1733 Died: 2 July 1757


Mîrzâ Muhammad Sirâj-ud-Daulah (Urdu: مرزا محمد سراج الدولہ, Bengali: নবাব সিরাজদৌল্লা), more commonly 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 sometimes called, and his name rendered, "Sir Roger Dowler" or "Sir Roger Dowlah" by some of his British contemporaries, and "Sau Raja Dowla" by John Holwell, as the tittle of Nawab or Nabob was rendered "Nawale", and Allahabad became "Isle of Bats". However these distorted early English renderings, among others like "Sepoy", were rebuked and ridiculed by later writers


Stock Photography - clive on the roof 
of the nawab siraj 
ud daulah's hunting 
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Clive on the roof of the Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah's hunting lodge, India, 1757


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



Stock Photography - arrival of the 
nawab siraj ud 
daulah before 
clive's position, 
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Arrival of the Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah before Clive's position, India, 1757


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. 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.

 Black Hole of Calcutta

Sir William Meredith, during the Parliamentary inquiry into Robert Clive's actions in India, vindicated Siraj ud-Daulah of any charges surrounding the Black Hole incident:
"It is true, that when he took Calcutta a very lamentable event happened, I mean the story of the Black Hole; but that catastrophe can never be attributed to the intention, for it was without the knowledge of the prince. I remember a similar accident happening in St. Martin's roundhouse; but it should appear very ridiculous, were I, on that account, to attribute any guilt or imputation of cruelty to the memory of the late king, in whose reign it happened. A peace was however agreed upon with Surajah Dowlah; and the persons who went as ambassadors to confirm that peace, formed the conspiracy, by which he was deprived of his kingdom and his life."

Conspiracy to overthrow Siraj ud-Daulah

The Nawab was infuriated on learning of the attack on Chandernagar. His former hatred of the British returned, but he now felt the need to strengthen himself by alliances against the British. The Nawab was plagued by fear of attack from the north by the Afghans under Ahmad Shah Durrani and from the west by the Marathas. Therefore, he could not deploy his entire force against the British for fear of being attacked from the flanks. A deep distrust set in between the British and the Nawab. As a result, Siraj started secret negotiations with Jean Law, chief of the French factory at Cossimbazar, and de Bussy. The Nawab also moved a large division of his army under Rai Durlabh to Plassey, on the island of Cossimbazar 30 miles (48 km) south of Murshidabad.
Popular discontent against the Nawab flourished in his own court. The Seths, the traders of Bengal, were in perpetual fear for their wealth under the reign of Siraj, contrary to the situation under Alivardi’s reign. They had engaged Yar Lutuf Khan to defend them in case they were threatened in any way. William Watts, the Company representative at the court of Siraj, informed Clive about a conspiracy at the court to overthrow the ruler. The conspirators included Mir Jafar, paymaster of the army, Rai Durlabh, Yar Lutuf Khan and Omichund (Amir Chand), a Sikh merchant, and several officers in the army. When communicated in this regard by Mir Jafar, Clive referred it to the select committee in Calcutta on 1 May. The committee passed a resolution in support of the alliance. A treaty was drawn between the British and Mir Jafar to raise him to the throne of the Nawab in return for support to the British in the field of battle and the bestowal of large sums of money upon them as compensation for the attack on Calcutta. On 2 May, Clive broke up his camp and sent half the troops to Calcutta and the other half to Chandernagar.
Mir Jafar and the Seths desired that the confederacy between the British and himself be kept secret from Omichund, but when he found out about it, he threatened to betray the conspiracy if his share was not increased to three million rupees (£ 300,000). Hearing of this, Clive suggested an expedient to the Committee. He suggested that two treaties be drawn – the real one on white paper, containing no reference to Omichund and the other on red paper, containing Omichund’s desired stipulation, to deceive him. The Members of the Committee signed on both treaties, but Admiral Watson signed only the real one and his signature had to be counterfeited on the fictitious one. Both treaties and separate articles for donations to the army, navy squadron and committee were signed by Mir Jafar on 4 June.
Lord Clive testified and defended himself thus before the House of Commons of Parliament on May 10, 1773, during the Parliamentary inquiry into his conduct in India:
"Omichund, his confidential servant, as he thought, told his master of an agreement made between the English and Monsieur Duprée [a general of the French East India Company] to attack him, and received for that advice a sum of not less than four lacks of rupees. Finding this to be the man in whom the nabob entirely trusted, it soon became our object to consider him as a most material engine in the intended revolution. We therefore made such an agreement as was necessary for the purpose, and entered into a treaty with him to satisfy his demands. When all things were prepared, and the evening of the event was appointed, Omichund informed Mr. Watts, who was at the court of the nabob, that he insisted upon thirty lacks of rupees, and five per cent. upon all the treasure that should be found; that, unless that was immediately complied with, he would disclose the whole to the nabob; and that Mr. Watts, and the two other English gentlemen then at the court, should be cut off before the morning. Mr. Watts, immediately on this information, dispatched an express to me at the council. I did not hesitate to find out a stratagem to save the lives of these people, and secure success to the intended event. For this purpose we signed another treaty. The one was called the Red, the other the White treaty. This treaty was signed by every one, except admiral Watson; and I should have considered myself sufficiently authorised to put his name to it, by the conversation I had with him. As to the person who signed admiral Watson's name to the treaty, whether he did it in his presence or not, I cannot say; but this I know, that he thought he had sufficient authority for so doing. This treaty was immediately sent to Omichund, who did not suspect the stratagem. The event took place, and success attended it; and the House, I am fully persuaded, will agree with me, that, when the very existence of the Company was at stake, and the lives of these people so precariously situated, and so certain of being destroyed, it was a matter of true policy and of justice to deceive so great a villain."

The Battle of Plassey


Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, meeting with Mir Jafar after Plassey, by Francis Hayman
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, the British responded by sending fresh troops from Madras to recapture the fort and avenge the attack. A retreating Siraj-Ud-Daulah met the British at Plassey. Siraj-ud-Doulah had to make camp 27 miles away from Murshidabad. On 23 June, 1757 Siraj-Ud-Doulah called on Mir Jafar because he was saddened by the sudden fall of Mir Madan, who was a very dear companion in battle, to Siraj. The Nawab asked for help from Mir Jafar. Mir Jafar advised Siraj to retreat for that day. The Nawab made the blunder in giving the order to stop the war. Following his command, the soldiers of the Nawab were returning to their camps. At that time, Robert Clive attacked the soldiers with his army. At such a sudden attack, the army of Siraj became indisciplined and could think of no way to fight. So all fled away in such a situation. Betrayed by a conspiracy hatched by Jagat Seth, Mir Jafar, Krishna Chandra, Umi Chand etc., he lost the battle and had to escape. He went first 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 Miran, son of Mir Jafar.

 The character of Siraj-Ud-Daulah

Siraj-Ud-Daulah is usually proclaimed as a freedom fighter in modern India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan for his opposition to the British annexation. 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.
"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: taught by his minions to regard himself as of a superior order of being, his natural cruelty, hardened by habit, in conception he was not slow, but absurd; obstinate, sullen, and impatient of contradiction; but notwithstanding this insolent contempt of mankind,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.
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 wrote this about Siraj ud-Daulah:
"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!'"
Sir William Meredith, during the Parliamentary inquiry into Robert Clive's actions in India, defended the character of Siraj ud-Daulah:
"Surajah Dowlah is indeed reported to have been a very wicked, and a very cruel prince: but how he deserved that character does not appear in fact. He was very young, not 20 years old when he was put to death—and the first provocation to his enmity was given by the English. It is true, that when he took Calcutta a very lamentable event happened, I mean the story of the Black Hole; but that catastrophe can never be attributed to the intention, for it was without the knowledge of the prince. I remember a similar accident happening in St. Martin's roundhouse; but it should appear very ridiculous, were I, on that account, to attribute any guilt or imputation of cruelty to the memory of the late king, in whose reign it happened. A peace was however agreed upon with Surajah Dowlah; and the persons who went as ambassadors to confirm that peace, formed the conspiracy, by which he was deprived of his kingdom and his life."
Source : Wikipedia

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