Tuesday 30 October 2018

A post-Plassey phantasmagoria - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Tagore wrote perceptively: The weighing scales of the shopkeeper reappeared as the royal sceptre once the night was over... The poet's allusion was to the ignominious Battle of Plassey (Palashi, in Bengali), waged near the then capital Murshidabad in 1757 between the Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, and the British East India Company, and led by Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Watson. The British, worried about being outnumbered, formed a conspiracy with Siraj-ud-Daulah's demoted army chief Mir Jafar, along with others such as Jagat Seths (Mahtab Chand and Swarup Chand), Umichand, Rai Ballav, Rai Durlabh and others. The conspirators assembled their troops near the battlefield but made no move to actually join the battle. Siraj-ud-Daulah's army with 50,000 soldiers, 40 cannons and 10 war elephants was defeated by 3,000 soldiers of Robert Clive, owing to the flight of the Nawab from the battlefield and the inactivity of the conspirators.

Judged to be one of the pivotal battles for the control of Indian subcontinent by the colonial powers, the battle - lasting only 11 hours on a hot June day -- paved the way for the British to wield enormous influence over the Nawab and consequently acquired significant compensations for previous losses and fresh revenue from trade. The British further used the money to increase their military might and push the other European colonial powers such as the Dutch and the French out of South Asia, thus leading to the eventual rise of the British Empire. 

Mir Jafar, presented on September 25 in Kolkata by Kalindi Bratyajon, recapitulated on a grand scale the turbulent time period ranging from four months after that historic battle in 1757 till the year 1764, just before the battle of Buxar, waged by Mir Kasim as one final effort to dislodge the usurping British traders, but to be decisively quashed by the latter. In the play, the murky annals of Bengal were played out almost like a fantasia: as a sequence of real or imaginary images quite often like that seen in a dream. 

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